(Apologies to Alan from whom some of the ideas here were appropriated.)
Everyone hates Mrs Brown’s Boys – right? Everyone finds it bizarre that this sitcom with a dragged up old Irish Mammy is such a big hit, and such a big hit in a post-watershed BBC1 fashion, with a spin-off celebrity gameshow in the works.
But why does “everyone”, for which read quite clearly not everyone, hate it? When discussing it people often bring up Miranda as well, another seemingly old fashioned sitcom – down to its “You Have Been Watching” tag. Other instant reasons to hate both are their laugh track (or actually live studio audience) and a breaking of the fourth wall where in both sitcoms the lead often telegraphs the laughs straight to the (present) audience.
I have seen some pretty strong invective against both, which reminds me of much of the lower level of critical discussion around pop and rock music, where the opening gambit is to use the word HATE. When people drill down on their kneejerk hate, the reason is not always easy to pinpoint. We may fall back on phrases like something being derivative, lazy or unexciting. If we are really lucky we can try to construct a straw man of offensiveness: potentially it is implicitly racist, anti-working class and there must be something that covers our overall discomfort with drag. Of course we are allowed to say “it isn’t funny” but clearly plenty of people think it is. What should say is “I didn’t find it very funny”, but that isn’t very useful critically.
My gut feeling is I don’t like Mr Brown’s Boys, and I didn’t really interrogate that feeling during the ten minutes I saw it. My main reaction was disbelief that it existed, which in retrospect seems very naive and privileged of me. I am not a huge follower of comedy, but I do think that nearly everything I have seen in the last twenty years on TV has has a lineage I understand, via radio comedy, or Edinburgh stand-up. Of course I probably have a very similar background and education to comedy commissioners, so perhaps I should find everything they commission funny. Mrs Brown’s Boys sticks out from this, which perhaps is a good thing. If comedy was once the new rock’n’roll (and certainly wants to share plenty of attributes with it) it is almost certainly cyclical. Alan Carr may not just (even) be a openly gay Larry Grayson, but there is surely something a shared in their appeal. In which case why on early should I be surprised by Mrs Brown, who is the Oasis to Old Mother Riley’s Beatles?