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The Cafe is no Royle Family successor

SKY 1's new sitcom The Cafe shares a lot of DNA with The Royle Family. The Cafe (Sky1) Old jews telling jokes (BBC4)

One of the co-stars and co-writers is Ralf Little, who played the Royles' long-suffering, dogsbody son Anthony.

The series' director and executive producer is Craig Cash, who co-wrote TRF with Caroline Aherne, and starred as Dave, the dopey, dozy boyfriend/husband to Aherne's even dopier, dozier and chronically lazy Denise.

Cash stays out of the picture here, yet there are other similarities between the two comedies, not least a granny character with a striking resemblance to TRF's Nana, even down to the cadences of her voice.

She's prone to rambling, just like Nana. She doesn't listen as attentively as she should, just like Nana.

She repeatedly tells the same anti-climactic stories (in the opening episode, one about a council binman falling over), just like Nana.

But that's pretty much where the similarities end, because while Little may have been taking copious mental notes about how Cash and Aherne wrote their scripts, The Cafe is very much NOT The Royle Family.

Where that series turned banality into brilliance and found pathos, truth and hilarious comedy in a family sitting around the telly talking, The Cafe, which is set in the sunny English seaside town of Weston-super-Mare, finds only more banality.

It's terrible, a stone-cold turkey dropped into our laps early for Christmas.

It's everything that's awful about British sitcoms and everything I hate in a comedy.

It's twee, cosy and full of -- and I loathe the next word -- quirky and eccentric characters who couldn't proclaim their quirkiness and eccentricities any more loudly if they wore brightly-painted signs around their necks that read, "I am a quirky and eccentric character."

It's the kind of comedy some people like to describe as "gentle", when what they really mean is "not remotely funny".

It's the kind of comedy where a character, a homosexual street performer, walks into the cafe dressed as the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz and someone says: "Who are you dressed as today?"

Though it's an ensemble piece, the protagonist is Sarah (Michelle Terry, Little's co-writer), a would-be author who flees a failed relationship and returns home to the struggling cafe run by her divorced mother, Carol (Ellie Harrington), who keeps badgering Sarah to find herself a nice husband, while Gran (June Watson) knits away in the background.

Little is Richard, an old flame of Sarah's who works at a care home and obviously still has a thing for her.

Nothing much happens in the first two episodes, which where shown back to back, other than that a bloke who used to be a fat loser at school but is now buff, handsome and driving a Porsche, arrives in town to visit his senile mother, who lives in the care home where Richard works.

Richard never liked him.

Carol immediately starts eyeing the new arrival up as potential husband material for Sarah.

You can see where this is going, can't you?

The Cafe moves at a funereal pace -- which is fitting for a sitcom with all the appeal and entertainment value of a corpse.

Old Jews Telling Jokes did exactly what it said on the grin (sorry!).

There were lots of old Jews from all walks of life, but no professional comedians, telling jokes.

Actually, some of the jokesters weren't all that old.

Some of the jokes were ancient, though. Some were ancient and terrible, others were ancient and hilarious.

The one thing that united them all was that they were unmistakably Jewish, which is a unique and unsurpassable form of humour.

Sadly, my own favourite Jewish joke, told to me by a not so old Jew and concerning the Jewish Hamlet ("To be or not to be -- this is a question?") didn't turn up, but there was a great one about a naked sideshow performer, three walnuts and three coconuts.

Can't tell it here, though; too rude.



The Cafe 1/5 Old Jews Telling Jokes 3/5


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