Mrs Brown’s Boys: A Brief and Incoherent Apologia

I like Mrs Brown’s Boys.

There. I said it.

But why am I saying it now? Well, today yet another article has appeared in the august pages of The Grauniad, this time defending the show that was the most watched thing on TV this Chrsitmas. In the past, the paper’s pages have seen several other articles that have been rather less charitable to the show. In fact, the critics seem to hate it. And more than might be seen as healthy, in fact.

And it’s always the same accusations that get levelled at it too: it plays on the “Oirish” aspect; it resorts to swearing; the jokes are old; it looks like it was made in the seventies.  Well, “bollocks”, says I. Here are the reasons I like Mrs Brown’s Boys:

  1. “It looks like it was made in the seventies”.

    Yep, you’re damn right it does. After all, look at all that really awful comedy that got made in studios in the 1970s, like Dad’s Army and The Good Life to name but two. And while we’re at it, yes, I like The Dick Emery Show as well, so maybe that’s another reason I think Mrs Brown is fantastic.  And while it might be old-fashioned, the fact that one of the main characters is gay, his partner is part of the family, and that this is no more of an issue than the habits of the other children is conveniently forgotten by critics. Rory and Dino and are just part of the family, which is as exactly it should be. In fact, as traditional as the set up seems, the Browns are not a very typical family at all. Or are they?

  2. “The acting is dodgy”.

    Of course it is. That’s part of the point. If you want deep character acting, go and watch Othello, or find something with Mark Rylance in it. This is comedy, and old-fashioned comedy at that. And what does that mean? It means the gags come first.

  3. “Real families aren’t like that”.

    Ah yes, this one. Well, speaking from experience, I can say this is just wrong. My family was exactly like this. Every family wedding or get together was exactly like this. And you know what? Lots of my Mam and Dad’s aunties were just like Agnes Brown, only more so. Agnes is actually toned down a bit compared to real women of a certain age that I knew when I was younger. Northern working-class families had matriarchs just like this. And these families were all over the north: Teesside, Tyneside, Scotland, Liverpool, Manchester. Even now, I can think of at least four of my Dad’s aunties who were like Agnes Brown, except with the volume turned up. And they were all amazing; I adored them all. They had to raise kids in tough times, so they were tough and took absolutely no shit, but if you had one of them as a friend you knew it.

  4. “It’s too ‘Oirish'”.

    Perhaps. But it doesn’t make me think any less of the Irish. In fact, because of the previous point, it makes me feel a bit closer to them; my family is just like that too, even though I’m not Irish. The accent might be different. but it could be anywhere in the north of England too. Maybe that’s the deeper problem: it’s not that is Irish, it’s actually that it’s too working-class.

  5. “It’s too puerile”.

    You’re damn right it’s puerile. That’s what pantomime is supposed to be: puerile, ribald and fun. A man running around in dress, doing lots of set-piece physical comedy, with a bunch of supporting characters is exactly what pantomime is. This is panto for big girls and boys, so some of the jokes are a bit near the knuckle.  I heard the great Stanley Baxter talking about Mrs Brown’s Boys on TV just this week. If Stanley Baxter thinks Mrs Brown is funny, who am I to disagree? There seems to be an obsession with “sophistication” in comedy. Ever since the rise of “naturalistic” comedy like The Office, anything that doesn’t fit this model is written off as dreadfully passé. Graham Linehan’s The IT Crowd kind of got a free pass, even though it was shot in a very old-fashioned way. Maybe we keep coming back to class, however. The IT Crowd is a faintly middle-class, office-based professional set-up. And it’s essentially metropolitan. It’s amplified by the fact that most of the critics are themselves essentially young, middle-class and metropolitan.

So, in brief summary: I love Mrs Brown’s Boys for exactly the reasons that most critics hate it. It’s rude; it’s broad; it’s old-fashioned; it’s puerile. Yes it is. And long may it be so.

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