It is a truth universally acknowledged that popular dramas on the wane will do anything to attract publicity. And so, as veteran BBC sitcom My Family crawled into it’s (has it really only been) 10th series, Michael, the youngest member of the Harper clan, has come out. As a sitcom, the usual rules of drama need not apply as only the most obsessive viewers (do such people exist?) will notice the string of girls Michael canoodled with over previous series.
In a series that seems to be fast running out of fresh ideas, playing the proverbial gay card is to be expected. Certainly, this viewer had no qualms with the prospect of any man-on-man action whatsoever involving the easy on the eye Gabriel Thomson (who plays Michael, pictured below). More seriously, it was nice for a gay storyline to appear on telly without the Daily Mail getting its knickers in a twist about it.
In the preceding episode, father Ben (Robert Lindsay) became an inadvertent benefit fraudster following a misunderstanding with a cactus snowglobe, an officious council official and Penelope Wilton. Following this high farce, it was something of a surprise to see that the aptly titled “The Son Will Come Out” was something of a damp squib.
This was certainly the opinion of heterosexual friends: the comedy was lacking, and the episode lacked momentum and structure. However, whilst I agree that the plotting could have been tighter, the same could undoubtedly be said for any sitcom. The parents’ reaction – key to the drama and, in this instance, the comedy – presented an interesting volte-face with emotional, empathic mother Susan (Zoe Wanamaker) frozen out when Michael drunkenly spills the proverbial beans to his dentist Dad, only for the latter to inadvertently out Michaels boyf to his homophobic father during his next check-up.
Tackling serious issues with comedy is, my psychiatrist tells me, a defence reaction. And this certainly seems to be the case here: running low on ideas, the last of the old-fashioned sitcoms strikes out for ostensibly “modern” territory. Although the writers seem to reckon that colluding with benefit fraud (albeit comically inadvertent benefit fraud) is laugh-out-loud funny, coming out as A Gay most definitely is not.