It's rare for a BBC One comedy to strike a chord straight away, but Emma Kennedy has certainly achieved that with The Kennedys, a semi-autobiographical sitcom about her childhood.
In 2009, Emma Kennedy released The Tent, the Bucket and Me, which told of her family's disastrous attempts to go holiday in the seventies.
Speaking at the press launch for the series, Emma explained that she wanted to create something that "people who loved the book would appreciate", and that if it were to take on exactly the same form of the book, a holiday per chapter, it would become "very boring very quickly”.
That said the series does end on a family holiday, something Emma reveals she kept to the end as a “real treat” and wanted to make sure that each episode had something in it that actually did happen as she was growing up.
Arriving onto a council estate in Stevenage as a working class family, the Kennedy's soon came around to the idea that they're now on the cusp of being considered middle class, and the series has been positioned in such a way that each episode is an opportunity to climb the social ladder. “A love letter to social housing” is how Emma described it at the launch.
The Kennedys is told from the point of view of a ten-year-old Emma Kennedy, played by twelve-year-old Lucy Hutchinson, an excellent young actress who regularly outshines the rest of the cast, which is no mean feat, considering the cast is made up of Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd, Humans), Dan Skinner (Angelos Epithimou, House of Fools), Harry Peacock (Toast of London) and Emma Pierson (Up The Women).
The series opens with a voiceover from ten-year-old Emma who introduces us to her family, "That's my mum Brenda, she's a modern woman, which means she's allowed to get away with never cooking dinner or dusting. That's my dad, he's called Tony. His hobbies are sausages, and finding a parking space in Stevenage town centre on a Saturday morning. I really like them, except for when they do kissing stuff, which is just plain wrong."
Emma's mother Brenda is played by Katherine Parkinson who for a long time now has been one of my favourite television comedy actress. Speaking at the launch, she revealed how Brenda is the character she “feels most similar to” compared to any other characters she has played before.
Parkinson describes Brenda as a “fabulous hypocrite”, something she herself admits to aspiring to be. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that Katherine puts in another effortlessly brilliant performance.
Dan Skinner who plays her husband, and Emma’s father Tony, is also excellent, and the two of them together are a match made in seventies heaven.
Sadly Brenda died three weeks before filming was due to begin on the pilot, and Emma Kennedy described shooting the pilot as “very tough”. She also revealed that her father was on set every day and that watching the scenes being filmed was "especially hard for him” but in some way she believes watching this helped his grieving, explaining that the filming process was almost as if "mum was back for a bit”.
In the first episode, Brenda is determined to be the first person on Jessop Square to throw a dinner party. But of course as we learnt from the opening voiceover, she doesn't cook, which means it's up to Tony to cook a lasagne. Why lasagne? Because she’d seen a picture of a nice lasagne in Cosmopolitan... obviously.
Cosmopolitan isn’t a recipe book so as you can imagine, attempting to cook a lasagne didn’t exactly go to plan. Let’s just say raw meat together with macaroni does not equal a lasagne, or even an edible meal for that matter.
Invited to dinner, for a night they’ll never forget, are Tim and Jenny, played by Harry Peacock and Emma Pierson, an unmarried couple and best friends of Brenda and Tony. Tim is your typical seventies alpha-male whilst Jenny is a somewhat naive young lady who for one reason or another puts up with Tim’s attitude and behaviour. They do say opposites attract, and that’s never been more evident than with these two.
Also invited to the dinner party are new neighbours the Palmers, played by Shola Adewusi and Clive Rowe. In true sitcom fashion, hilarity ensues and having now seen a few more episodes than just the first one, The Kennedys is a laugh out loud comedy that is not only beautifully written and beautifully performed, but it also looks beautiful, capturing that seventies sepia glow perfectly.
Autobiographical comedies set in the 1970s appear to be the flavour of the month for the BBC, as The Kennedys arrives just weeks after Lenny Henry’s Danny and the Human Zoo and will be aired the day after Danny Baker’s Cradle to Grave.
That’s no bad thing of course, as both those shows rate highly so it’s clear that there’s a real appetite out there for comedy set in the seventies and The Kennedys does nothing but deliver.
Speaking at the press launch Emma Kennedy revealed how she’s “raring to go” for another series but will have to wait and see how this one goes. Fingers crossed it will go well, I can’t see any reason why it won’t.