It’s New Year’s Eve 2013. Brand new BBC Two comedy special, Two Doors Down, shows the struggle of being an eager to please neighbour at a Hogmanay party. Down to earth couple, Beth and Eric Beard try to keep their cool as tensions rise between them and their difficult neighbours. With long lost sister Caroline, stuck up couple Cathy and Colin, son Ian and his new boyfriend Tony, next-door teen Sophie and friends, and new-to-the-street Nina and Henning all crammed into the Beards’ living room, mayhem, and indeed, hilarity, ensues. The special perfectly showed the humour in the everyday, and in real life people and conversations. Each character is instantly recognisable to viewers and the heightened family party atmosphere, fuelled with alcohol and festive fun was captured superbly by writers Simon Carlyle and Elliott Kerrigan.
Fast-forward to April this year when the Beards returned to our screens with a full six-part series. With the addition of Sophie’s interfering mum, Christine, to the cast, the show went from strength to strength. Each week, the likes of a broken freezer, a housewarming and even a new hot tub brought the dysfunctional street together for a half hour of guaranteed laughs. As all the best comedies are, the show’s concept is relatively simple; a group of neighbours in a little Scottish town. It is the sharp wit of the writing and the acute characterisation, however, which makes this show so fantastic. There seems to have been a trend in the last couple of years in sitcoms moving away from the surreal, alternative scene established in the late 90s and early 00s, back to observational, laughing-at-ourselves comedies. The likes of Peter Kay’s Car Share and Newcastle based Boy Meets Girl, from the same writers as Two Doors Down, are other examples of this fantastically funny, heartwarming comedy trend, that hasn’t really been seen since the all time great, Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash’s The Royle Family. Comedy is becoming much more clever, rather than relying on slapstick or shock elements for laughs. As much as this works brilliantly in moderation, it has been done. Let’s hope this more sophisticated style lasts a while longer.
Series two began last week with the usual gang back and determined to cause more havoc. Episode one saw Christine awarded over £6000 in PPI, leading to her inviting herself, along with Cathy and Colin, round to Beth and Eric’s for a celebratory BBQ. Two Doors Down is observational comedy at its absolute best and this episode showed this off beautifully, perfectly capturing the essence of a family BBQ; rows over food, someone causing an atmosphere by having a bit too much to drink and, of course, a good old British downpour. With Cathy and Colin badgering their reluctant neighbours to join them on a cruise, Christine pondering what to spend her winnings on and Beth just about managing to hold it together, series two got off to another strong start. The episode ended true to form, with Cathy and Colin storming out, after having their real intentions about the cruise uncovered; a cheap deal on your own package if you manage to persuade a friend to make a booking.
The show has also been praised for its representation of women. Actors Doon Mackichan, Elaine C Smith, Arabella Weir and My Mad Fat Diary’s Sharon Rooney provide some of the greatest laughs from their larger than life characters. Mackichan and Smith themselves have noted the rarity in having three women, over the age of 50 together on a television set, carrying a large proportion of the laughs. This show passes the Bechdel test with flying colours.
If you missed episode one, catch up now on BBC iPlayer, ready for more hilariously real and recognisable antics from those difficult people you just can’t seem to shake from your life. Neighbours- who’d ‘ave ‘em?