It’s kind of unfair the first (as far as I know) great TV show about millenials and twenties malaise was made by someone so successful. Apart from being fired at 18 from Nickelodeon UK for being too sarcastic to the kids, Simon Amstell’s kind of had a dream career. He co-hosted the music interview show Popworld for five years, then became the second host of the pop music pop quiz show Never Mind the Buzzcocks for four series, before abruptly announcing his departure.
And after a few years, now there’s Grandma’s House. Co-created and co-written and starring Simon as Simon, who quits his pop music pop quiz show to take some time to suss out his purpose in life in the first episode. The episodes take place when Simon comes home to visit, helpless to fight his mother’s approaching wedding to her oafish (and homicidal) fiancé Clive, his aunt Liz’s continued problems finding schools willing to teach her horny son Adam, and his sweet if clueless grandparents.
The first couple of episodes are funny, but there’s some human element missing. This changes with the third episode, which is magic. Simon’s long-standing crush, the soft-spoken serious actor Ben
Whishaw Theodore (everyone’s other favorite Simon, Iwan Rheon) stops by and, because this is television, hijinks ensue. Painful, painful hijinks, starting with Simon admitting he recently tried to hit on Ben by “coming up behind him and shouting his full name” in a fit of nervousness, and when they get reacquainted in the episode’s last third, Simon manages to do it again, his family watching on, half-amused and half-cringing.
It’s the first episode to do what the rest manage so well: it balances the laughs with some genuine, emotional moments. As funny as it is to see Simon stand at the bathroom mirror, insisting, “You’re a person who can exist in real life,” it’s depressingly relatable, and such a deft mix of humorous-and-heartbreaking you’re not sure if you should be laughing at him because it is just as much laughing at yourself. The basic conversation practice he follow-through with to his reflection (“Hey. How are you. How funny to see you here.”) only makes it worse.
As the series continues, Simon only becomes more of the model twenty-something, jobless and working on his “writing” (a play ostensibly about eggs but actually about his family, because even the meta is meta), finding various self-actualizing courses and trying to convince his family he’s not in a funk. At first, it’s easy to see the family through Simon’s eyes, making him the objective observer to their craziness. By the end of the show, it’s impossible to ignore how he is just as unbalanced as the rest of them, and possibly more narcissistic. The show’s humor gets so sharp it stings, and every episode builds on the one prior as Simon just wants some happiness in his life, or Adam needs to find another school willing to put up with him, or Tanya gets closer to marrying Clive and living the high life. All these imperfect people aggravating each other can be nerve-wracking to watch, but it’s kind of the perfect family sitcom in ways that Everybody Loves Raymond or Modern Family could never get right.
It seemed at first like these six episodes were all that would ever come of the show, but in January BBC2 commissioned a second series to air sometime in 2012, almost two years after the airing of the first. (Ugh, British television, so uncool of you.) And as much as that sucks, there’s always clips of Simon shouting "BEN THEODORE? WELCOME TO MY GRANDMA’S HOUSE" around the internet, and it makes the wait that much more bearable.
words by alex, who blogs over at alexandra-ewing.