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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

'Next of Kin' DVD: BBC '90s Sitcom Proving Humor is Relative

Image result for next of kin dvd penelope keith images
[EDITOR'S NOTE: This Region-4 DVD set will not play in a standard U.S. DVD player; it requires a (well-worth buying) international player.]

Australian DVD producer Madman Entertainment one again boldly goes where both U.S. and U.K. media companies fear to tread in recently releasing the four-DVD set of the three series (my people call them seasons) and the (not previously released on DVD) Christmas special of the mid-90s BBC Britcom "Next of Kin."

The concept of this series is that British borderline upper middle-class couple Maggie and Andrew are on the verge of achieving the dream of retiring in France only to learn on returning from a successful house-hunting trip there that their estranged son Graham and his wife have died. The impact of that tragedy includes Maggie and Andrew being the only living relatives (i.e., sole options for guardianship) of the three children of Graham.

Youngest child Jake, who is seven, is an annoying inquisitive child with a menagerie of small animals and an initial refusal to eat any kind of food. Brother Philip is largely agreeable but only eats Spam. Daughter Georgia is a strident pre-teen who shares the rigid views of her mother regarding vegetarianism, the environment, and several other causes.

The ensuing "sits" that provide the "com" in ""Kin" relate to Maggie accepting her duty to care for the kids but still feeling frustrated and the kids in turn feeling their own frustration and embarrassment regarding having their grandparents as their caregivers. At the same time, all this is civilized and lacks any element of the crude jarring nature of "Roseanne" from the same era.

In other words, the Brits once again prove their superiority over Americans regarding television comedies. "Kin" is wonderfully unsentimental with a slight touch of darkness without being at all strident or offensive. Much of this success is due to the tremendous talent of Britcom veteran Penelope Keith in the role as Maggie. She can be complaining to Andrew one minute, arguing with Georgia the next about cooking bacon or some other "atrocity," going on to badger (no pun intended) Jake about cleaning the cage of Henrietta the hamster, and yet be gamely leading a cub scout troop or competing against a group of much younger mothers in a foot race the next.

The "Kin" writers go even further in making Maggie seem like social-conscious (and climbing) Hyacinth in the Britcom "Keeping Up Appearances" by having her mourn the loss of the more privileged lifestyle to which she was accustomed before assuming the cost of raising three children. These scribes further have Maggie both endure the same types of humiliating experiences as Hyacinth and contend with the same types of undesirables. An awesome example of the latter is the surprise appearance of crude individuals on the family doorstep prompting a Julia Sugarbaker (of the U.S.'90s sitcom "Designing Women") style rant.

On a larger level, "Kin" includes an entertaining element of karma in that Maggie and Andrew seem to be paying a "triple penalty" for sending Graham off to boarding school and otherwise not actively parenting him during his childhood. Specific prices for this include now having to stand out in the cold watching a soccer match, trying to make a (fall-on-the-floor hilarious) locust costume, and enduring a fairly rustic vacation at a family campground painfully close to a palatial chateau at which Maggie and Andrew once stayed.

Additional karma comes in the form of neighbors viewing Andrew and Maggie as the form of disruptive family that used to bother them and our leads contending with the same type of distant parents that they were regarding Graham.

The first season largely focuses on the efforts of every member of the new family to adapt to their new reality. The fact that the mother of the children was critical of Maggie does not help matters. A quasi-dark early episode has Maggie and Andrew become the victims of a suspicion of child abuse.

Later episodes retain these elements but increase the degree of standard sitcom elements. These include Philip being concerned that Maggie and Andrew will embarrass him at a high school dance, Jake embarrassing Georgia in front of her boyfriend, the family needing financially burdensome car repairs, and parental responsibilities repeatedly conflicting with personal plans.

All of this ends on a nice note that shows that the group is somehow forming a family without getting unduly sentimental about it.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Kin" is welcome to either email me or connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.