Outnumbered series 5 episode 1 review: The Hamster

Review Patrick Sproull
29 Jan 2014 - 21:30

Now the kids are growing up, has Outnumbered aged for the worse? Here's Patrick's review...

This review contains spoilers.

5.1 The Hamster

Sitcoms have a limited life span, so when their creators – in this case, Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin – stretch them out for a prolonged amount of time, one can grow resentful. After tonight’s edition of Outnumbered I was left with the unpleasant aftertaste of having witnessed an old dog being begrudgingly dragged out for a walk.

The opening episode of series five feels as if it has no focus. Past instalments have had self-explanatory titles such as The Wedding or The Parents’ Evening, but here there is no central nub in the narrative. Everyone just trundles along as if they don’t really want to be there. Perhaps this is just a long reestablishment of the core characters and their updated traits before things start to kick in next week’s episode but simply going by this premiere, it’s difficult not to feel disappointed.

Tyger Drew-Honey, Daniel Roche and Ramona Marquez are not ageless - they don’t contain that vaguely sinister typically American gene that allows actors to not grow old (see: Glee) - and so the directors and writers have understandably had to change them. The eldest, Jake, has been developed well. His character has embraced later adolescence and now sports a ridiculous tattoo as a rather extreme but relatable way of showing this. Elsewhere Ben, who used to be a stream of gags, is still written as a danger-prone and thoughtless character and, considering the age of fourteen-year-old Roche, this feels like a bad move. When Ben was young and sweet he could pass off the whole hazardous shtick but now it just doesn’t work. Roche is taller than Hugh Dennis' Pete, and it’s jarring. While his involvement in a musical adaption of Spartacus is certainly toned down from previous Ben-based shenanigans, it’s still Jenkin and Hamilton flogging the same dead horse. Ramona Marquez is charged with potential as we can see her maturing and facing the perils of high school as well as the people that go with it; Karen’s interactions with the pestilential Esme were a particular highlight. Where they’ll take her I’m not sure, but it’s a glimmer of hope in an otherwise infuriating first episode.

Sue and Pete return as even more personable parents to Ben, Karen and Jake. Sue is still as concerned and panicked as ever, while Pete now comes across as a typical grumpy old man. His ever-so-slightly racist comment he made at the beginning – which Jake, thankfully, picked him up on – set the tone of ‘new’ Pete; he used to be mild-mannered and so middle class the word 'fart' was deemed an expletive in his books. Now he has something critical to say about everything. Let’s hope this was just a minor wobble in his otherwise typically plateauing characterisation.

It’s odd that with a show about children growing old and the subsequent trials and tribulations, Outnumbered itself is ageing for the worse. The whole thing didn’t need to be anchored by the kids’ youth, there’s promise (and storylines) in them getting older, moodier, experimenting with boys/girls and eventually leaving home. But Jenkin and Hamilton dug themselves a hole it would be hard to get out of. Ben’s mischief and Karen’s wonderful ability to question everything and everyone around her were largely the reasons people flocked to watch the show. Jake was a good character because he could progress in a multitude of ways (and he did as he got stories revolving around an exotic dancer girlfriend, slipping in with the wrong crowd and just generally clashing with his parents) but Ben and Karen were one-trick ponies and now that Roche is a teenager and Marquez will be one as of next month, it’s getting harder and harder for Jenkin and Hamilton to concoct convincing and realistic stories for them.

Being frank, Outnumbered had its heyday a long time ago. Its high point came and went but the show just kept returning. Series five is its last outing, and thanks to the lack of promise in tonight's episode, the worry is that audiences will come away with bad memories after the next five. Considering Outnumbered  gave us such classics as The Airport and The Restaurant, that would be unfortunate indeed. “A lot has changed…” cooed the voiceover in the trailer: that could be the understatement of the decade. 

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