Hearing we were expecting our third child, a good friend of mine once told me we were about to experience what family life was really all about. “You really know it when you’re finally outnumbered,” he said. And he was right, as is the insightful comedy by the same name now airing on ABC3.
Outnumbered is a British sit-com built around the Brockmans, a middle-class family living in South London whose two parents are ‘outnumbered’ by their three tween and teen children. Husband Pete (Hugh Dennis) is a 50-year-old history teacher at a local high school and wife Sue (Claire Skinner) is a 45-year-old part-time office worker. Together they’re raising the constantly surly teen Jake, the red-cordial-for-blood Ben and the adorably inappropriate Karen. Their spread of ages ensures they’re able to encompass every painful parenting problem from middle school dating to Muslim-spotting games at the airport. Add to this some very serious adult problems, like what to do with an aging grandfather, and Pete and Sue have a household as comic as it is realistic.
Outnumbered is an above-average comedy that relies on unsteady documentary camerawork and a healthy dose of unscripted lines to produce realistic TV. My wife and I have been as much surprised by the excellent delivery of the child actors as we have the number of situations we could tick off that actually happened in our own family. Dealing with difficult parents, inappropriate teachers and unruly children in public places are just some. So too, the more intimate couple moments like struggling to hold in your laughter as your son explains just how inappropriate your behaviour is. There are even more than a few religious incidents that illustrate the pressure parents come under to explain life’s most important issues:
Karen: [pointing to her artwork] That’s Jesus, that’s Satan and that’s a Zebra. And [Mrs Braidwood] says Satan is everywhere, not just in Hell hurting people.
The ABC is currently airing the second season of Outnumbered in which Pete and Sue are increasingly encountering the harsh tongues of unruly teens. “It’s nothing to do with slippery slopes,” Ben rages at his father. “You were in a bad mood since you arrived you stupid pillock! You’re stupid!” And if there’s one thing Outnumbered illustrates perfectly it’s that parents will always find themselves in the minority if they don’t stick together. It might seem funny, a nine year old telling his dad he’s stupid, but we found mum’s agreement the least funny thing in the show. Pete and Sue may in most circumstances demonstrate the problems that parents can’t avoid, but they’re also good illustrations of what happens when mums and dads fail to support each other, or when they fail to discipline their children.
Jesus taught that a family unit actually begins with a husband and wife, long before they become mum and dad:
“A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”
Children don’t create a family, they join it. So if a family is going to grow in a healthy way the primary relationship that has to be preserved is the foundational one – in this case Pete and Sue. But the more they opt for the easy way out, allowing their progeny to take a piece out of the other, or shirking their responsibility to discipline, the more trouble they lay up for themselves. Karen might be precocious at six, and Ben a tolerable tear away at nine, but they’re both just disrespectful Jakes, waiting in the wings. In this sense badly behaved kids are not comic, they’re karmic. The longer the series goes on, the more it becomes clear that Outnumbered laughs at some problems that are common to all but many more that are self-made. Or as the Bible puts it, Pete and Sue have sown the wind, and the whirlwind is on the way.
Distributor: ABC3 / iView
Release Date: Saturdays, Sundays 6:00 PM