The Family

Tuesday, September 9, 2008 by

The Family

The Family

“There’s nothing remarkable about this family at all, except one thing…”

So runs John Simm’s narration at the top of C4′s keenly anticipated new fly-on-the-wall series. Very much posited as a successor to Paul Watson’s 12-part documentary of the same name – which followed the fortunes of the Wilkins of Reading over two months in 1974 – this series, unbelievably, proves itself equal to the task.

Filmed around the clock over a period of 100 days, cameras bring us into the home of the Hughes family in Canterbury, Kent. They’re defiantly ordinary (although, with a penny or two going by the size of their house) and very likeable.

The opener focuses on two strands. Firstly, mum Jane’s upcoming 40th. “I couldn’t sleep – because I’m old,” she says. “I’m getting old! I don’t want to be 40… can we turn the clock back now?” Secondly, and more potently, we also follow the continuing conflict between Jane, husband Simon and 19-year-old daughter Emily. The teen is constantly spending nights in clubs, calling in sick to work, and stomping around the house, removing herself from all family activities. “Emily! Em! You’re doing that thing where you’re missing out again!” shouts Simon up the stairs, as Jane’s birthday unfolds in the kitchen.

There’s real drama -”I don’t know who the bloody hell she thinks she is – what have we raised?” (Simon again) – but also moments of real affection. The Hughes’ 14-year-old, Tom, is openly loving to his parents, and there’s a heart-warming sequence put to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline.

Most of all, there’s the messiness of family life. A terse encounter with Emily – which is interrupted by two mobile phone calls – ends when Dad asks: “Shall we stop now? Because we’ve got roast duck for dinner.” And, as you’d expect, there’s no real sense of closure. Despite an afternoon spent mucking about with her mum and singing pop songs together, Emily still opts to go out on the town, ruining a “nice” day. Simon and Jane seem powerless. “I don’t know what to do,” he says.” She craves independence but won’t let go… of us.”

Clearly the best programme screened so far by C4 this year, The Family starts on Wednesday 17 September at 9pm.


6 Responses to “The Family”

  1. Zokko on September 11th, 2008 3:54 pm

    I never saw the original, but Benny Hill’s send-up was very good.

  2. Jack Kibble-White on September 19th, 2008 8:56 am

    I gather this programme has received only luke-warm reviews, but finally getting round to watching it last night I thought it was excellent. My only minor gripe is that I felt by having Tom act as narrator on a couple of occasions, the programme was seeking to define him as the family’s defacto observer – existing somewhat outside the dramas that unfold within that household, and for me that felt a bit contrived.

    That aside, I thought it effectively and rather sensitively captured the sense of impotence parents must feel when their teenage kids are going through “that phase”. With regards the programme’s publicity, unfortunately I think the methods by which it was shot (cameras positioned in various parts of the house and switched on for near enough 24-hours a day) has allowed critics to simply dismiss it as “Big Brother Lite”. A shame as this is just about the best doco I’ve seen on C4 this year.

  3. Graham Kibble-White on September 20th, 2008 9:18 pm

    Just been watching previews of episodes two and three. Two is narrated by Emily and three by Simon.

  4. Rob Williams on September 21st, 2008 5:18 pm

    Problem is the critics are used to Big Brother, so they have forgotten what real reality television. Anything which harks back to a proper documentry is alien to them as they never see beyond any of the main channels.

  5. Jack Kibble-White on September 28th, 2008 4:43 pm

    What a disappointment the second episode was – no focus, aimless shouting, and no real sense of what was going on. I wandered off halfway through.

  6. Jack Kibble-White on October 17th, 2008 10:13 am

    Well, I am back into this now. I watched the last couple of episodes in quick succession, and although at times I do think it gets a little bit aimless, it all feels a lot more focused and interesting than it did back in week 2. As Tom Paulin might say, it’s “strangely moving”.