In with the Flynns ; Off with the critics heads

Caryn Mandabach’s fresh northern TV  sitcom filming its second series in Salford & Manchester for broadcast later this year

For me it is heartening that “In With The Flynns”  (BBC TV )  is back and  going to begin broadcasting its brand of normal family fun for a  very welcome second series this summer  and especially pleasing since this northern based “sitcom” will be taped , not in London, but here, where it naturally belongs, in the North  via the sparkling new  Media City at our prestigious  Salford Quays and from a locally crewed production company.

Click on any image to view a larger version.

 

Spooky that just yesterday the humble typically northern red brick industrial terraced street where I live was filled with the friendly production crew as the location for filming a small part of an episode. The crew had  focused firstly at the magnificently recently restored red brick ”Lowry Mill” around the corner from ours  ( its newly glazed front entrance turned for that shoot into a hotel) and yesterday afternoon , the crew took over the street shooting mainly in  my next door neighbour’s doorway. Thus I was able to get a series of shots illustrating the surprising number of specialists needed for such things.

 

It is  notable  that Caryn Mandabach , who has  such an impressive comedy producing track record, is the excutive producer. She now divides her time these days between the UK and the USA . Caryn produced what were and remain ground-breaking  sitcoms in the states such as the Cosby Show , Roseanne ,  A Different World, Grace under Fire, Cybill, 3rd Rock from the Sun , the 80’s show, the 90’s show and Grounded for Life.  The latter was  the framework for “In with the Flynns” and indeed Mike Scyiff , creator of Grounded and Third rock co-created this adaption together with Bill Martin.  As a result of a commissioning deal with the BBC back in 2005  Caryn , a self-confessed fan of British comedy ,  started a UK company, Caryn Mandabach Productions and part of that development deal , mercifully, ensured that her company retained  complete ownership of all projects and their respective formats.

 

Originally with the working title “ Meet the Doyles “ , Caryn’s company creation, written by a team of experienced writers  was based on the US comedy “ Grounded for Life. “  “In with the Flynns”  hit our TV sets in 2011 in its first series of six episodes. It’s set in Manchester,  home of course, here in  Granada land, of the much loved, originally ground breaking, northern “reality” soap,( record breaking in terms of longlivity)  Coronation Street. What London’s Eastenders ,the southern version of that soap lacks , (both scripted parody by location of working class life)  is native local  humour but in fact more recently , for me, the northern and southern soaps merge unpleasantly,  written more often these days not to reflect actual life but with increasingly sensationalist and so often pretty sordid story lines simply to score a point or two in the ratings war.

It is of course hard to gauge the national demographic of the audience for shows like Corrie and how well such things translate down south but it has that kind of edge being a national treasure and therefore rarely the focus of critical attention but anything new is going to be seen as fair game where ordinary people may yet to have a fixed opinion and you tend to get more honesty across a pub table than you do from journalists who may know little about art but like to think they know what you should like. Since critics work post broadcast their conceit is that anyone gives a damn what they thought of something !

Some TV critics have claimed that the once thriving scripted British gag-a-minute sitcom classics  industry entered a period of decline with the rise of  self- effacing humour of squirmy embarrassment in the so called awkward reality genre with the Office, Alan Partridge  and their  ilk. The  latest hybrid  might be the, for me, over-hyped “ Miranda” which kind of bridges the gap between the two variants with its silly asides to the audience and the recycling of old gags.  Commissioning new comedy was also hit by the raft of much easier on the  budget , lowest common denominator  “reality” TV,where you struggled to suspend your  disbelief given  such regional vanity fare , for example based on fashionita dumbbell sects alive and apparently well in aspirational pockets of Essex, Liverpool , Newcastle and traveller camps. They all contain  accidental humour, no sign of any scripted  jokes but full of Narcissistic jokers who make me laugh for all the wrong reasons.

 

Comedy and humour are like beauty,  in the eye of the beholder, and as with some gags, you either get it or you don’t. I could smile at Dick Emery or Benny Hill but wanted to throttle Frank Spencer and didn’t get the Office or find Mr Gervais funny either on or off set. I personally don’t find Miranda remotely funny and her stuff is only passable when she does solo stand up comedy. For me it is very southern , safe and cosy middle class in feel .We have though some great recent northern working class dysfunctional family sit-coms harping back to Carla Lane’s immortal “Bread” and giving us Caroline Ahearne’s and David Cash’s quasi fly on the wall look at the  Royle Family and multiple  family housing estate comedy “Shameless.”

 

It can’t be that anyone could mistake “In with the Flynns” as a northern version of the “My Family” where , like so many southern produced sitcoms before it , you get essentially comfortable middle class based scripted gag a minute humour where dysfunctionality is not a function of income or location but essentially chattering classes angst. “In with the Flynns” was unfairly  damned with feint praise when it first aired by the traditionally closed minds of pompous  broadsheet TV critics and was  filmed in front of a live southern audience at Teddington studios As example  London based journalist Zoe Williams who hawks her opinions  on a range of stuff for various “quality” ( read low circulation, not that popular in the true sense  ) papers covering this and that offers a summary dismissal of the Flynns wearing  her TV critic paper hat calling it  “bland, smooth and unremarkable” and with a twist of her posh kitchen knife adds “ The acting is not great. ”

 

Critics are not of course  to be taken as seriously as they take themselves  where their only talent is shaping  their so often class biased value judgements into paragraphs to make a bean and they so often fall into the trap of telling us, directly or indirectly, more about themselves than what they are actually writing about. It’s unlikely that Ms Williams acts on stage, but curiously her writing is pretty bland, arguably smooth and yet unremarkable.  As a somewhat posh southern ex pat who actually chose to put down roots in the North here in Salford, my thoughts when I read her appraisal is that, for so many working class northern families  life is just that,  very often pretty bland and unremarkable which most people get through finding humour where they can.   Despite the snooty critics dismissals  the Flynns pretty much matched “My Family” in terms of viewing figures if “bums on seats in front of tellies” was ever a reliable indicator on the funny scale. Series 1  was broadcast in June and July 2011, with average audience figures of 3.5million across the 6-episode run which I read was a very respectable 17% audience share in the 8:30pm Wednesday timeslot.

Oldham born actor Warren Clarke, facing, gave up the prospect of a film career in Holywood as a rejection of its fakery.

Caryn described Flynns as  “”what real family life is like when you’re holding down jobs, raising three kids and having to deal with an irresponsible brother and cantankerous dad.” The cast for me is well chosen  and includes Will Mellor, Niky Wardley, Warren Clarke, Craig Parkinson, Orla Poole, Daniel Rogers, Lorenzo Rodriguez and three of them are genuine northerners . Grumpy dad Jim is played by Oldham born, life long City fan, Warren Clarke  (Clockwork Orange, Lucky Man, Coronation Street, Dalziel and Pascoe etc and who could forget his comic Oliver Cromwell in Black Adder , the Cavalier Years ! )  He  famously dismissed a potentially lucrative film future in  Hollywood because he couldn’t abide all the fakery there . His honest , no nonsense northern core makes him perfect in this role.  Bredbury/ Stockport born Will Mellor, a united fan  played Jambo Bolton  in the Hollyoaks soap , Gaz Wilkinson in the comedy, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and Olie in White Van Man. Craig Parkinson hails from Blackpool and has played various TV role including with Warren Clarke in Dalziel and Pascoe, Holby, the Bill, Born and Bred , and Misfits.

Warren Clarke an accomplished character actor but also with a dry sense of humour that makes him perfect in the role of grumpy dad Jim.

 

Makes me fume that arty farty, (mostly London based southern middle class lefty liberals ?) critics snipe at great original shows like this when they offer what is so much needed , light relief in the form of variety and light entertainment. Sit-coms like the Flynns are so well observed and written and  spice up the regular dull junk food TV diet , the  endless point and shoot induced voyeurism in easy recipe “reality” shows, posh cooking and property “shows”. Both the Beeb and ITV used to commission a lot of  script writers and welcome new ideas and offer work to emerging talent. They’d take risks to ensure a rich variety on our screens. They’d commission and  produce drama and other programmes themselves but more and more programmes are now outsourced to independent companies. Great that the BBC commissioned this sitcom and pulled in the formidable talents of Caryn from the states, the acknowledged queen of the genre. Sitcoms still have a have a valid place in the lives of normal, ordinary people and great to have a northern based one actually produced here and using local crews and actors.  In with the Flynns ; off with the critics heads, one has a purpose, the other not.

 

the beautifully restored Lowry Mill, formerly Newtown Mill, used as an improvised hotel reception for an earlier Flynn's production location

 

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