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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You're wrong.

I don't have the baggage of being there from the beginning and I loved it. U clearly had a naff day before reviewing this.

I loved it last night, it's not as good as it was but the show is honest, the writers promised a fifth series and now we have one, so stop complaining because if there wasn't one people wouldn't be happy. So I am enjoying the fifth series.

And this is what happens when you let someone who thinks the Steve Martin Pink Panther films are "far from unbearable" review something that's actually funny.

You are soooo.wrong,it is still brilliant,reviewers need a holiday,you are outnumbered.

Like everyone here, both me and my housemate loved it. Although on one of your points about it ageing, Karen isn't as prone to using child logic anymore. It's still there, just not as prominent.

I agree with a lot of the points in this review, but still had a good time with the episode. Ben feels underused and Pete has become a one-note grumpy old man.

That said, Karen is still a great character and Marquez's comic chops have not diminished with the loss of her childlike innocence.

I hope that this is just a case of the series finding its feet when so much is different.

I'm glad someone agrees with me, even in part.

I didn't want this review to be perceived as pessimistic but it appears it has. I love Outnumbered, I always have but I just didn't like this episode.

And a lot of you will be pleased to hear next week's episode is considerably better so prepare yourselves for a much more positive review.

Nothing wrong with disliking an episode. It felt to me like this one just struggled to make its new parts gel into the same coherent machine that the family were in previous series.

Definitely. Series just need an episode or two to get back into the swing of things and Outnumbered isn't an exception. Take the first episode of Series 4, The Funeral was really duff but the rest of Series 4 was very good indeed.

I think you are being slightly harsh in your review. Yes it doesn't quite have the sparkle and wit of its earlier days but is still a genuinely enjoyable show with some decent laugh out loud lines. Perhaps being with it from the start allows viewers like myself to be a little more lenient as it eases itself into its final series but I still think it has merit.

It has had 29 episodes over all. There are nearly that many in one season of How I met Your Mother or Friends or any others of that.......sort. This is a brilliant television show and well deserves getting a fifth series.

This review contradicts itself constantly. At one point the reviewer comments that Karen's character had been changed to reflect her actor's age well, and the later on implies her character has stayed the same and the show suffers because of it!

Personally, and especially with Ben's character) the whole point behind the fifth series is the contrast between the fact the characters have grown old and the fact that they are in a way still the same, therein lies the comedy. The fact that Ben is now 13 but looks notably older and still acts slightly younger.

AND anyway, as a comedy, I found myself constantly amused and I was chuckling throughout, and as that is the aim of a comedy, it works. If this had been series 5 and no sign of it stopping, than perhaps I would say it's jumping the shark or at least in danger of in. But when you know it's basically the farewell series, it's fine.

Really enjoy Outnumbered and would welcome another series, it is well written and well performed. The Family seems to be able to keep going successfully so why not Outnumbered?

What was the bit that made you laugh out loud?

I get the feeling that much of the support here can be likened to loyal supporters of a football team that have had a bad game. The first episode of series 5 was not funny at all. Mediocre at best. I hope it picks up in the subsequent episodes, as I have been a great fan up until now.

It's just like it was with Roseanne. First couple seasons were absolutely brilliant, next couple of seasons were still a lot of fun. With Roseanne, it took another five years until it all collapsed. It's really just the ninth and final season of Roseanne that was crap. With Outnumbered it seems they didn't want to wait that long and just kill if off quickly with season five. Great shame as I loved Outnumbered from the very first episode, I have all the box sets and have watched them several times. What on earth happened? How can an incredibly funny, enjoyable family series turn into a load of BS in the space of just one year? The first episode of season 5 wasn't even all that bad but the second episode was nothing but a huge disappointment on all levels. And that's coming from one of the biggest "Outnumbered" fans ever!

unfortunately the second episode was much worse than the first :(

I wonder if there isn't a bit of tension between the cast members, and maybe even the writers and cast. Has there been any comment on Marquez' change of appearance in the sitcom? You would have thought some remark would be made in a family unit. I think she may have an ego problem that results in a wierd dynamic between the cast. It must be difficult for her having spent most of her life as Karen. If I were her agent I would've told her to perform the last series with her natural hair and then dye and straighten it to separate herself from the role, rather than performing the role with her new look, which makes her look like a prima Donna.
I am not saying children don't change their appearance, but in this case her character in the sitcom seems to be playing second fiddle to Marquez' ego which causes problems.
To me it felt like the writers no longer liked her (character) and have been punishing her. That it fits with a girl starting a new school where she's feeling isolated and unpopular is a useful coincidence.

Even a slightly off episode of Outnumbered is streets ahead family sitcoms of the past. Writing this comment from the perspective of having seen the subsequent episodes it is good to see that the reviewer's fears of the show's deline were not really justified.

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