I dunno. You wait ages for a post-watershed sitcom about a Jewish family starring a well-known Simon, then two come along at once.
In case you haven’t seen them, the two sitcoms in question are Grandma’s House, starring non-actor Simon Amstell, which went out towards the end of last year; and Friday Night Dinner, starring, frankly, non-actor Simon Bird, which started this weekend. I liked Grandma’s House a lot; nothing ever really happened, but it made me laugh, and its matter-of-factness felt real, even though the characters were caricatures. And everyone except Simon Amstell could act, and Simon Amstell not being able to act was sort of part of the joke, so it was OK.
And I liked Friday Night Dinner, too. It had more proper laughs than Grandma’s House, and the wonderful Mark Heap who is such a brilliant physical clown that I could just watch him moving around silently for half an hour. And Simon Bird plays his likeable self, which is just as well. Had I seen it without seeing Grandma’s House, I would have given it a resounding thumbs up, if gestures can resound, which I suspect they can’t.
But they are really, really startlingly similar! The characters in Grandma’s House may be more overdone than in Friday Night Dinner, but they are, fundamentally, the same characters. There is a Simon (although he’s called Adam in Friday Night Dinner); his irritating younger relative (Jamal Hadjkura in Grandma’s House and Tom Rosenthal in Friday Night Dinner); the married couple whose house it all happens in, who are fond of one another deep down but can’t help squabbling (Geoffrey Hutchings and Linda Bassett/Paul Ritter and Tamsin Greig); the overbearing and dowdy Jewish mother whose main occupation is nagging at the rest of her family (Rebecca Front and Samantha Spiro both play this character in Grandma’s House; in Friday Night Dinner it’s still Tamsin Greig), and the weird outsider who turns up halfway through each episode and unsettles everybody (James Smith/Mark Heap).
Coincidentally, in each case the overbearing mother and the weird outsider have also jointly starred in an earlier sitcom (The Thick Of It and The Green Room, respectively), but that really must be down to chance. Well, of course it’s all down to chance – the creators of Friday Night Supper must have had their scripts complete and ready to go, if not filmed, by the time Grandma’s House aired – but the two are so very alike that I almost wonder why, having seen Grandma’s House, they didn’t go back and rewrite.
But I’m not really complaining; as I said, I am delighted to be able to watch a Jewish sitcom that isn’t Seinfeld, and I like both programmes a lot (although I’ll like them even better if they manage to introduce a comedy Jewish woman who doesn’t look like a 1970s Geography teacher). And anyway, there’s only been one episode of Friday Night Dinner, so it’s a bit early to judge. If episode six is set on an aircraft carrier and Simon is fighting Godzilla, I promise I’ll eat my words.