This show just gets better and better. The characters are all so believable, even the most extreme ones – such as Rosie, Dawn French’s character – that, as a viewer, I could imagine catching a train to Clatterford and meeting them all in the pub.
And Jennifer Saunders has managed to pull off that most tricksome of comedic juxtapositions; that of dropping in a bombshell of sadness spang in the middle of a laugh out loud situation. Caroline Aherne does it with aplomb too.
In last night’s episode, we saw horsey-stiff-upper-lip type Caroline – played by Jennifer – watching a video message from her son Chris in Afghanistan. Her husband had refused to show it to her, fearing she’d get “emotional” about it, but Sal insisted that she should watch it.
With a hush descended, we saw images of soldier Chris sending a warm message full of “love to” heart string tuggers, as Caroline watched, seemingly unmoved. The Vicar shed a tear, as did other bystanders, but initially, Caroline said only, “I’m amazed they allow them to have their hair that long. But I suppose since Prince Harry, anything goes.”
For a tortuous few seconds, it appeared the stoic lady wasn’t moved at all by her son’s heartfelt message, but as she walked away, the tears practically burst forth from her, prompting me to snivel too.
Introducing real life issues into sitcoms often doesn’t go well, not if they’re ‘sad’ or contentious issues, but this one managed to fit like a glove. As did the mention of the fact that Chris has written a letter to “Ma and Pa” that they were to read in the event of his death overseas.
This of course really happens, and must’ve brought a sharp pang of empathy to any viewer in a similar situation.
Ordinarily, introducing sadness into comedy is something I don’t approve of, nor enjoy. I almost needed therapy after watching the Royle Family special, The Queen of Sheba. And when I re-watch it, I have to fast forward past the scenes of grief because I just can’t handle it. I don’t want to cry when I’m promised a laugh. It feels unfair.
That said, sometimes – and with hindsight – it seems almost necessary to portray sadness in order to create more rounded characters, and in last night’s show, it worked very well.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom of course, and the high point of last night’s offering of Jam & Jerusalem for me was the fashion show. In order to help save a local clothes shop, Eileen had organised a fashion parade for which the villagers were roped in to model Miss Mary clothing.
Rosie had a problem finding anything to fit and we once again met her alter ego – Sybil styly – when Margaret burst forth and uttered some cutting words in Eileen’s direction. Again, it’s a stroke of genius to make multiple personality disorder seem an everyday occurrence.
Really, this show can do no wrong, and I’d be surprised if, in the future, it did do. It would take something monumentally crass or clichéd to make this anything other than a fresh, vibrant, relevant and totally absorbing show.