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How Ricky Gervais Predicted Mrs. Brown’s Boys

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When I first learnt of Mrs. Brown’s existence, I may have smiled, sighed, or even both. Upon watching, for the first time, the absurd antics of a swearing granny during a ‘greatest hits’ YouTube clip, which had put together the apparently funniest moments from the extraordinarily popular T.V. series, I realised what I had been fearing for a couple of years. T.V. comedy had finally eaten itself.

Why only a couple? Because that’s roughly when I had finished watching Ricky Gervais’ Extras for the very first time. Being roughly eight years late to the game, I had previously – and rapidly – dismissed Gervais’ new show because I found it awfully similar to The Office, his previous success. What I mistook for treading over old ground was merely the loud-mouthed comedian’s M.O.; that instantly recognisable brand of awkward, high-pitched giggly humour he’s used as a platform for every project since The Office right up to Derek. Quite a few years later, on the recommendation of many, I got round to properly watching the two series and Christmas specials back-to-back. At an embarrassingly fast speed, I realised my mistake. But aside from it being one of the most diaphragm-bruising and well-written British shows of the last decade, what Gervais did with the programme that was so special was predict the future. Using Extras as a divining rod to eek out the state of T.V. to come, he had prophesied Mrs. Brown’s Boys.

During the second series of Extras, Andy Millman (played by Gervais) is an upcoming screenwriter, finally having his shot at the spotlight after much time on the backlot. His passion project, When The Whistle Blows, a planned series whose characters, settings and themes are very close to his heart, has been taken out of his hands by the studio and morphed into something ugly, twisted, and worst of all, designed for the masses; a sitcom. Andy must now don an awful wig and wide glasses, and frequently spout a catchphrase – ‘Are you havin’ a laugh? Is he havin’ a laugh?’’ – as Ray Stokes, essentially a glorified jester leading a circus of crude, lowest common-denominator humour in cahoots with a cast portraying, in very broad terms, the working class. And ‘broad’ is most definitely the operative word here; Andy’s show has had its net stretched to breaking point and cast over a nation of easily-amused viewers, reeling them in by the million. For Andy, he gets fame and money – but zero credibility, which is what he’s been yearning for the entire time. But what Gervais didn’t know was that he had created a prototype for Mrs. Brown’s Boys; a central character in a surreal, half-pantomime mould, with a live audience cackling at any tasteless, poor man’s slapstick gag or verbal abuse he can conjure. It’s insane to think this style of loud, inelegant sitcom didn’t actually die with the ’60s, and is instead alive and well today in a comedy where a man (Brendan O’Carroll) drags up and pretends to be an old woman. Comedy, in Andy’s world, has hit rock-bottom, and the real world has now caught up.

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So upon watching that YouTube clip, the ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation, I was left feeling confused, indignant, angry. But these feelings weren’t directed at Agnes Brown; how had we, the viewer, accepted such poor quality entertainment? Mrs. Brown may have been engineered by our own apathy toward the quality of what we watch; we seem content to fall in front of a screen and switch our brains off, which is an agreeable enough desire. Sometimes, we want an easy watch. There are shows like Parks and Recreation, though not British, that fits that bill perfectly, while also being filled to bursting with comic invention. Even Friends, where the plots of many episodes are as thin and stakes-free as a water biscuit, gets by on its tremendously engaging characters. And yet, we’re giving Mrs. Brown 11.7 million viewers over Christmas time. The show may have its charms, as the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin argued in his (one-star) review of the new film, Mrs. Brown’s Boys: D’Movie, but it’s still slim pickings when there’s simply so much better talent out there.

Ricky Gervais was spot on. When The Whistle Blows has become manifest, and we’re in a poorer state for it. Admittedly, not every high-brow show is going to cater to the tastes of everyone. But when did we stop respecting our own choice for what we watch? Are we laughing because we genuinely, individually, think a T.V. show is funny, or are we taking our cues from how everyone else seems to be reacting? I’m all for switching on the T.V. set. Just try not to switch off while doing so.

Follow the editor at @GaryGreenScreen

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About GaryGreenScreen

Freelance film critic.

Discussion

7 thoughts on “How Ricky Gervais Predicted Mrs. Brown’s Boys

  1. Are you havin’ a laugh?

    …is he havin’ a laugh??

    Posted by Ray Stokes | July 8, 2014, 6:31 pm
  2. Fantastic article and one I agree with whole-heartedly. The one thing the Internet has given me (especially in the last two years) is the ability to pick and choose what I watch as the TV is beyond woeful at this stage. Cheers!

    Posted by Sam | July 8, 2014, 6:41 pm
  3. I liked The Office, but Extras was substantially funnier for me. It was nice to see other characters make terrible cringeworthy mistakes that wasn’t Gervais. That show has actually made a lot of predictions that came true. See: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/ricky-gervais-claims-another-extras-prophecy-after-samuel-l-jackson-is-mistaken-for-laurence-fishburne-9123801.html

    As for Mrs Browns’s Boys, I managed about 20 minutes.
    The violence wasn’t funny enough to be Vic and Bob, or Bottom. The storyline isn’t interesting enough, and the insults not nearly clever or sufficiently different from each other for me to find them amusing. I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the script consists of the word “feck” and variations thereof. Clearly if he used the word “fuck” (or a continuous catalogue of other swearwords), it would be much derided for being lazy (poor) writing – and probably wouldn’t be on the BBC – but repeating a “clean” version of an obvious swearword every 8 seconds is ok, is it? That’s better, is it?

    In trying to be all things to all people, the BBC has muddled through with this terrible excuse for a sitcom that should really be on ITV or channel5, if the BBC wants to stand any chance of ever regaining its previous reputation for making modern, groundbreaking, original comedy, inspiring to future generations. There’s only so long you can trade on former glories. Fawlty Towers and Monty Python were a long time ago.

    Posted by Ben Park (@BenPark) | July 8, 2014, 7:13 pm
  4. I completely agree. The BBC has been especially guilty of churning out these poorly written low brow sit coms that are barely funny and aim for the lowest level of wit! What about Fawlty Towers and OFAH?! These where great shows! More like them please and less of the camp frothy nonsense!

    Posted by Jack | December 18, 2014, 12:37 pm
  5. No, darling. These shows existed before Extras, You wouldnt know anything like that because you admittedly watch comedy 8 years late and only look at Youtube vids. Sad,bad article.

    Posted by yourarticleisshit | December 2, 2017, 10:29 am

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Gary Green: Freelance film critic.

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