During a conference call with series writer and creator, Robert Popper (South Park, Peep Show, Look Around You), and star, Simon Bird (The Inbetweeners), I asked if Fortysomething had in any way influenced Friday Night Dinner.
Popper and Bird never heard of the show.
Admittedly the concept is not all that unique and Popper and Bird’s take on it is great fun. Their show concerns the Goodmans, a middle class Jewish family, who each Friday night get together to enjoy mum’s good cooking and catch up on the week’s events. Between playing up to mum and wondering what their very odd father is up to, sons, Adam (Simon Bird), a jingle writer, and Jonny (Tom Rosenthal), an estate agent, are constantly pranking each other by salting each others’ water at the dinner table and sending rude texts back and forth, signing them “Love, Mom.”
Martin (Paul Ritter) is the dad and is a different sort of fellow, taking to wandering around the house shirtless and using a magnifying glass to look down his trousers. Popper admits that Martin is based on his own father who did many of the strange things Martin does. “All dads, when they hit 55 plus, they go mental and a bit off,” Popper said. “And it's kind of that. I think everyone thinks their dad's a little bit odd or crazy.”
Jackie (Tamsin Grieg), the somewhat put-upon mom, is the glue that holds the family together. Her husband’s eccentricities don’t faze her much; she waves them off much like one would shoo an annoying fly. On occasion, she does lose patience with her sons but her infrequent outbursts quickly put the boys back in their place. She is the family’s calm center.
The Goodman’s neighbor, Jim (Mark Heap), could take the prize for being the oddest, most demented character on the show. His infatuation with Jackie inspires him to stand outside with his Belgian Shepherd and come up ways to be invited inside the Goodman's home. As Popper explained, “You always know, I think if you like him, and I think most people do, he's going to ring that bell and it's going to be him. I'm going to enjoy the next five minutes. You know what I mean? Like Kramer (from Seinfeld) does in a way...”
If you watch the show wondering about where the Jewishness comes into play, you may have to look pretty hard. The fact that this family is Jewish is not central to the plot.
“I don’t think Robert's out to write specifically a Jewish sitcom,” Bird explained. “I think he wanted to write a sitcom about his family, and his family just happened to be Jews. And they're quite sort of relaxed Jews. So some of the Jewish customs don't really come into it just because they're not sort of a big deal for Robert's family.”
Finally, since so much of Friday Night Dinner is based on Popper’s family, how do they feel about being the inspiration for a sitcom which can be sort of twisted? “They've been fine really. I mean, you know, it's very loosely based on them, very loosely. Although there are a few scenes which are completely one hundred percent lifted from stuff that happened in my house.”
If you like your humor quirky, politically incorrect, and somewhat left of center, you’re sure to enjoy Friday Night Dinner.
Friday Night Dinner premieres as part of BBC America's Ministry of Laughs Saturday, July 30, 11:30pm ET/PT.