Outnumbered series 5 episode 2 review: The Swimming Competition

Review Patrick Sproull
6 Feb 2014 - 07:00

Patrick enjoys an episode of Outnumbered that's back on form. Here's his review of The Swimming Competition...

This review contains spoilers.

5.2 The Swimming Competition

After what can only be described as an underwhelming opening, Outnumbered continues this week with an episode that’s back on form. There are more laughs, stronger characterisation and – above all – more of a focal point, something last week’s subpar outing lacked.

There was a fair bit more action (in Outnumbered terms) this week as we saw Karen pumping herself full of confidence for a swimming gala, Jake inveighing against Pete and Sue’s parenting and Ben chatting to the family about psychology. I was curious as to where writers/directors Guy Jenkin and Andy Hamilton would take the character of Karen and it appears her gross self-assurance is actually escalating into arrogance and, subsequently, the alienation of other people her own age. Karen has always been loveable because she used to skip along and ask the most awkward of questions and get away with it but now she’s older they’ve decided to take her in a new direction. Ben, too, has been tweaked and his interactions with Jake about psychology were delightful; he showed a serious interest in it and then the situation was turned into a very funny joke. With the two youngest siblings, I can see huge development in them and it’s heartening.

A high point for me in tonight’s episode was undoubtedly Jake (although, as a Doctor Who fan, his bowtie jibe was rather offensive). First of all, his driving test anecdotes were uproarious and then there are his criticisms of Sue and Pete. We all know that the pair live their lives running around a middle class hamster’s wheel (that’s why we love them) and their parenting has always been, let’s say, flawed. It’s amusing to see Jake question how they care for Karen and Ben and how they’ve allowed themselves to cave in so quickly to the former’s demands. In our living room we always laugh at Pete and Sue for being such ineffectual parents so to see a character onscreen finally mention it is hilarious (Sue also has a strong tendency to ask them both, almost every episode, whether they are pushing/harassing/annoying – or something of this ilk – the kids too much).

This fifth series of Outnumbered has, so far, been different from previous runs and, contrary to what I believed last week, it’s for the better. In a sitcom that seems utterly changeless, having any kind of development is a given and Karen and Jake’s development is a favourable advancement.

As I noted last week, Ben has been completely moulded into the one role – volatile and danger-prone – so of course it’s hard for Jenkin and Hamilton to further his character. The Spartacus musical plotline has been, more or less, put to the side for now and the spotlight placed on his conversations with Jake. It’s nice to see his view of an adult subject, harking back to Karen’s younger, more optimistic years.

Pete’s run-in with the vigilant Daily Mail reader (Call the Midwife’s Cliff Parisi) was a particular high point, both reflecting 2014 (the paedophile accusations) and updating Outnumbered – throw in the Made in Chelsea reference too, if you like. Also Sue’s short temper with the printer (I’m sure we’ve all sworn at the ‘printer location unknown’ message when the machine is adjacent to the computer) was another situation where Outnumbered gets it just right. The show started off being so wonderful because there were so many jokes that really struck a chord with families out there – it’s one of the reasons why I like it so much and I’m glad it’s retained this in its DNA.

After being 'outnumbered' by fans in my judgments last week, I’m thrilled that this edition is a step up. It’s possible that I may have judged Outnumbered a week too early so right now I think I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the fifth series because sadly it’s our last.

Read Patrick's review of the previous episode, The Hamster, here.

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