The Royle Family marked an on-screen reunion for Brookside-actors Ricky Tomlinson (who plays bearded, big-hearted, banjo-playing Jim Royle) and Sue Johnston as his wife Barbara, the driving force behind the Royle household. It is smart casting because The Royle Family is as much a soap opera as a situation comedy. Now in its third series, The Royle Family has seen its characters develop like real folk. Denise and Dave got married and now have a little sprog; Barbara starts menopause (how many sitcoms are brave enough to use that for laughs?) and Denise's kid brother Anthony shakes off his surly adolescence when he turned 18 in series two. Unlike Oasis, who provide the shows theme song "Halfway Round the World", this programme just keeps getting better.
But no soap--not even Brookside in its dafter moments--has one-liners as brilliantly crafted as The Royle Family. (The scripts from the series are available to buy.) Slouched in his armchair, Jim's dour running commentary on the TV shows that are on at the time are particularly priceless: Changing Rooms, for instance, boils down to "a Cockney knocking nails into plywood... Is this what its come to?" Not quite: because as long as the Royle Family are around, there is something worthwhile to watch. --Edward Lawrenson