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Chickens is a hoot

Written, created and led by Simon Bird, Joe Thomas and Jonny Sweet, Chickens (C4, 10.30pm) was the first of this season's Comedy Showcase outings, and it proved almost as good as 2007's Ladies And Gentlemen -- the finest offering from, well, pretty much all of the earlier pilot offerings.

Naturally, when you're dealing with proven talent, it's that little bit easier to get a show right, and Ladies And Gentlemen benefited greatly from being created by the writing talents behind Peep Show (namely Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong) and having among its cast such notables as Adam Buxton, Lucy Punch and Darren Boyd. How the hell have Channel 4 not commissioned a series yet?

With Chickens, the trio involved from script to screen have solid pedigree too, buddies Bird and Thomas playing Will and Simon respectively in The Inbetweeners, while their regular sketch show partner, Jonny Sweet, has a habit of stealing the show when it comes to BBC Radio 4's sublime sitcom Party.


That Sweet's dim cad routine (in both Party and Chickens) is not all that dissimilar to Darren Boyd's misguidedly confident Horatio in Ladies And Gentlemen sweetly blurs the line a tad between these two period comedies.

The setting for Chickens is the fictional Rittle-On-Sea, Kent, during the summer of 1914. World War One is raging, and conscientious objector George (Thomas) is sharing his thatched cottage with the flat-footed fop Cecil (Bird) and the hair-brained horndog Bert (Sweet). Naturally, the women of the town aren't all that impressed by this trio of traitors, with hate mail, eggs on the window and general abuse an everyday occurrence. Something only Cecil seems to be aware of, as Bert tries to make the most of the fact that, as he puts it, "there's never been a better time to be a single man in England", and the mild-mannered, well-meaning George struggles to win the affections of his cold bride-to-be and the approval of his cane-loving headmaster.

Not quite up there with Ladies And Gentlemen, but, given how spectacularly well The Inbetweeners movie opened last week, Chickens will no doubt be soon flying high on a weekly basis ...

Just to offer a little contrast, the welcome return last night of Outnumbered (BBC1, 9pm) -- now in its fourth season -- was followed immediately on the Beeb by the even more welcome departure of the long-running, long-suffering My Family.

Both centre on the joys, wonders and blunders that come with raising children today, but, whereas My Family plays it as panto, Outnumbered veers a little closer to Python when it comes to bringing up baby.


Not that creators Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin were setting out to re-invent the sitcom wheel back in 2007 when the series first aired, but Outnumbered certainly revels in its surrealist one-liners -- most delivered by the excellent young cast, especially show-stealer Ramona Marquez as youngest sibling, Karen.

The show's semi-improvised approach gives mum and dad (played by Hugh Dennis and Claire Skinner) room to move too, and the ability to react to the insightful nonsense kids can come up with.

The deliberations between the two Brockman boys, Jake (Tyger Drew-Honey) and Ben (Daniel Roche, who's like a mini-Alan Davies, only funny), often wouldn't sound out of place coming out of the mouths of Pete'n'Dud.

Last night's plot dealt with that old chestnut, death, uncle Bob having popped his clogs. That he not only left his wife, Dorothy, to become 'a friend of Dorothy' with his partner for the last 14 years, Bernard, gave the Brockman family plenty to discuss and dissect, and, of course, disgrace themselves with at the funeral.

And just to add to the fun, as the vicar, we had old comic dog John Sessions, who, for reasons unknown, decided to channel Noddy Holder. Sweet.