“Dear The BBC,
I [name] am writing to let you know that the sitcom The Walshes was really, really good and I would like more of it as soon as possible please.
Above is a nifty and necessary template for you to fill out and send to the BBC. We’ve done all the legwork for you, you just need to fill in a name and send it by email, airmail, owl etc. Whatever suits you. Because this new sitcom, from Graham Linehan and the Irish comedy group Diet of Worms, deserves all the recognition it can get.
The three half-hour episodes teased us with something which was more than a pilot, but not quite a series. The basic plot is a standard family-based comedy, with embarrassing parents, farcical misunderstandings and awkward conversations about sex. But what The Walshes does with this base is something original, touching, and very, very funny.
Set in the fictional West Dublin suburb of Strollinstown, the show looks at a family forced into closeness. Ciara (Amy Stephenson) and Rory (Rory Connolly) are twentysomethings still living at home with Mum, Carmel (Philippa Dunne) and Dad, Tony (Niall Gaffney) with visits from friend cum handyman Martin (Owen Roe). In this setup there’s a hint of something unsaid. Why are they living at home? For Rory it’s straightforward: he’s a kind of man-child who pretends to still work at the closed down video store, while actually just practicing high kicks against the permanently-closed shutters all day. But for Ciara it’s something else. Is she back from uni and unable to find independence in a safe job? The closest she can get to a place of her own is a door number screwed into her bedroom door. “She likes to pretend she doesn’t live with us,” Tony tells Ciara’s boyfriend Graham (Shane Langan) “so we just leave her mail outside the door. Does the trick.”
The characters and setup originate from Diet of Worms’ 2010 web series The Taste of Home, and is intensely well-observed and lovingly crafted. It’s reductive to label the characters as the classic archetypes: fussy mum, joker dad, nerdy boyfriend; but there is so much more to them than that. Graham is parentless and timid, terrified by the family’s full-on first impressions but grateful, all the same, to have somewhere to call home. He’s evicted from his cupboard sized flat, works in a burger restaurant, but is supremely well-read and quietly intellectual. Dunne’s performance as Carmel is astonishing, not only for its spot-on hilarity – something of Hugh Laurie’s Prince George about her blank, panicked smile – but for the heartbreaking moments of raw motherly affection that shine through.
This may well be Linehan’s influence. The depth of emotion he brought to the bumbling fool Count Arthur Strong took critics and lovers of the character utterly by surprise. The Walshes is in no way short of laughs, however. You have Carmel kicking the door down while Ciara’s in the bath because she’s worried that she’s drowned, only to ask her to taste the gravy while she’s there – “Now tell me, does it need more water, or granules?” Then you’ll be struck with elements of glorious surrealism. Rory’s existential crisis upon discovering a photo of a cat sitting on the lap of a man dressed as the Easter Bunny: “But what does it mean?!”
Linehan’s direction has all of the characters crammed into tiny claustrophobic frames, yet perfectly uncomfortable as it is, you can help but enjoy being part of their world, part of their ludicrous yet loving family. It is a perfect reflection of what family really is: the characters make you cringe, they frustrate you, but then they also make you laugh aloud and feel so much faith in humanity. Caricatures they may be, but they’re also very familiar. And it’s that which made The Walshes such a bright spot tucked away on BBC Four, and what makes it so necessary that we get it back.