"Comfortable" is the word I'd used to describe much of Sky's latest comedy; as recent shows like Trollied, Mount Pleasant and The Café plow very genteel furrows. There's nothing edgy or trailblazing about them, they're just lightly amusing. Parents can be added to this growing pile, as a warm-hearted sitcom with clear lineage to My Family and Modern Family, although the concept feels more like an improvement of BBC2's short-lived 2009 sitcom Home Time (where Emma Fryer played a middle-aged woman forced to move back home with her parents). In Parents, that concept is opened up wider, as mother-of-two Jenny Pope (Sally Phillips) loses her job, has her house repossessed, and consequently moves back home with her dimwit "entrepreneur" husband Nick (Darren Strange). Needless to say, living with mum Alma (Susie Blake) and dad Len (Tom Conti) proves to be awkward and slightly humiliating for everyone, as the Pope's try to claw back their independence...
I wasn't expecting to enjoy Parents as much as I did. The show isn't doing very inventive or original, but it's a surprisingly pleasant show with enough funny moments that kept me engaged and smiling. A lot of that has to do with the excellent performances: Phillips, whose smiles can transform into hilarious rictus grins in a split second; Strange, who joins the ranks of deluded sitcom dads using half a brain cell; the wonderfully deadpan Conti, whose docile Scottish brogue is put to great understated use; and the brilliant Blake, whose character can barely hide her disdain for her daughter's failure.
Even away from the core cast, the guest stars were equally as funny in the opening two episodes—especially Cold Feet's John Thomson as slaughterhouse magnate Kelvin Mann, who had an indecent proposal for Nick regarding his first love Jenny; and his long-suffering wife, who appears to have slipped into a waking coma at some point during their marriage. The always amusing Daisy Haggard (Psychoville) even appears here, as one of Jenny's contemporaries with a demeaning and hypercritical attitude to others. A much better use of Haggard than the higher profile Episodes, where she spends every season pulling faces.
You have to bear in mind the audience these Sky comedies are aiming at. Are they trying to evolve comedy into a new territory? No. Are they hoping to become worshipped by Facebook-using teens? No. They're just modern-day examples of homespun sitcoms that filled the '70s and '80s, designed to be enjoyed by a broad spectrum of people. They're calculated endeavours, but what show isn't? The style of comedy is all rather traditional, but never comes across as stuck in the past. In fact, it's rather amusing that the recession-inspired concept coincidentally reflects classic UK sitcoms when it was more likely adults would be living with their ageing parents (like Steptoe & Son).
Above all else, I laughed throughout Parents. Quite a few times, to be fair. Even if the jokes weren't particularly good, the performances made them work. Jenny fabricating a story about being from Head Office when taking a lowly job in a coffee shop, Nick's energy drink pitch to his unimpressed father-in-law, almost every scene abattoir owner Kelvin Mann was in, the fantasy sequence of the Pope children leaping out of a moving car rather than listen to their mum, Jenny being forced to apologise to a work colleague by singing the business's work code to the tune of Dad's Army. They were all good moments in a show that, even between the big laughs, I found hard to dislike. It's not going to set the comedy world alight, but it's an amusing concept that hits its targets well, given added pizazz thanks to the likable actors involved.
written by Lloyd Woolf & Joe Tucker / 6 July 2012 / Sky1