‘Outnumbered’ outshines other dysfunctional families in British comedy

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So far as families on British TV sitcoms go, the Brockmans are by no means the worst. They’re nothing like the nauseating obsessive compulsive Denton’s from The League of Gentlemen and nowhere near as dysfunctional as the Gallaghers or as ruthless as the Maguires from Shameless. They’re certainly not as deceitful and duplicitous as the Stonems from the first series of Skins or as debauched as the Pinchers from Little Britain. In fact the Brockmans are rather tame by those comparisons, perhaps due to the fact that two of the three children are under 11 years of age, but while they’re a lot more wholesome than those rival families it certainly doesn’t stop them from being any less amusing. Outnumbered has won numerous accolades from the Royal Television Society, National Television Awards and the British Comedy Awards – and deservedly so. This hilarious take on the nuclear family who reside in South London is available now in a sidesplitting boxed set containing all four series, the Christmas special and enough extras to keep you going until the next series is filmed (nothing confirmed yet).

Sue and Pete Brockman are the modern day parents of Ben (Daniel Roche), every mother and fathers nightmare, a hyperactive know it all who can’t tell the difference between the truth and espousing a seemingly endless web of lies, Jake (Tyger Drew-Honey) who has no hesitation pointing out how uncool his father is despite being the most reasonable of all in the house but it is Karen Brockman (Ramona Marquez) who steals the show. This precocious daughter who made her first appearance at only six years old is not afraid to voice her opinion or point out the numerous hypocrisies of her parents actions. Her candid commentary does nothing to ease the tension between her mother and her Aunty whose relationship is only ever a quip away from exploding into complete chaos.  When trapped in a packed car in traffic meltdown Karen’s mother suggests a game to pass the time; “Let’s see who can tell the biggest lie” she suggests. It downgrades the lying and makes it seem less attractive she reasons to her father. After everyone’s turn the camera pans out and Karen is asked for her response. “I like Aunty Angela” she freely admits to shocked silence. It is lines like these, delivered with impeccable comic timing that makes her the programs standout performer. See her in another scene using her toys to recreate X-Factor auditions including an impersonation of a malicious Simon Cowell and it’s little wonder Ramona Marquez became the first child to win the British Comedy Award for ‘Best Female Comedy Newcomer’.

The four series are pitched in different settings, a delayed flight at an airport, a London outing bus trip, a city restaurant but mostly take place inside the Brockman household. Whether it’s outside or a rainy Sunday afternoon preventing no chance of escape- all provide numerous opportunities to create and exacerbate family tension with equal measure of frustration and humour. While the programs one-liners are clever and often unpredictable what is surprising is how much of the program is ad-libbed. “We have a script but if we go off it it’s usually alright and they keep it” Roche (Ben) revealed on The Jonathon Ross Show. That may be in part why family arguments carry so well and lead to scenes allowing the actors to set each other up. “But he was disrespecting me” is Ben’s feeble response after his father chastises him for what is essentially his atypical behaviour; “you were specifically told no fighting, no swearing and no drinking alcohol and I caught you bashing that kids head on the floor shouting ‘don’t touch my bloody beer’”.

One obvious problem with Outnumbered- the bane of every child performer’s career is the fact they grow up. With Karen reaching puberty and Ben entering his teenage years the issues that confront Jake, the eldest sibling are closer to resembling an episode of the Inbetweeners or Skins more than the humour which made the program in the first place. In fact Tyger Drew-Honey who plays Jake predicted the show will not continue for that reason. He explained “if it gets to a point where they aren’t cute any more, though, I think it will have to stop. The point of (the program) is that it is set around the house with the school run and the madness of that. If everyone is mature I just don’t think it will work.” Fans of the show will hope he’s proved wrong.


Outnumbered Series 1 to 4 is out through Roadshow Home Entertainment.