Top positive review
still stands up
on 17 November 2017
At the time, the Royle Family was revolutionary in its 'video diary' style, its celebration of ordinary uneventful lives, and its ability both to be streetwise and to embrace emotion. Other comedies were experimenting on the same lines but it was the Royles that killed the traditional sitcom stone dead, because it was the only one of these shows universal enough for a prime-time BBC1 audience. It instantly exposed shows like Victoria Wood's Dinner Ladies as irrelevant dinosaurs produced by people in the London media bubble.
A big part of the joke is that the family never do anything but watch the telly. Though seen affectionately, they are supposed to be the ultimate in a passive, vegetative life. The irony is that the show probably wouldn't be representative of family life now. The Royles at least gathered around one telly and chatted about what was on. Nowadays everybody would be on their separate screens all evening, the kids probably in their own bedrooms.
Maybe the joke wears a little thin, or the novelty wears off, as the show goes on. But 'The Queen of Sheba' is genuinely moving, not mawkish; and 'The New Sofa' is a true Christmas special, ie a show about the specialness of Christmas, something which is thin on the ground these days. It has to be said though that Tom Courtenay as Dave's Dad (good though he is, and getting to do his own accent for probably the first time since Billy Liar) bears little resemblance to the mean, unseen 'Peg Leg' figure of the first series.
Possibly 'The Golden Egg Cup' was a special too far, but it's significant that for a while the Royles stepped into the Trotters' shoes for flagship Christmas shows - because actually the lack of incident is deceptive. Only Fools and Horses is the only other show to take us through the vicissitudes of ordinary life, births, deaths and marriages, with this sort of warmth, humour ant truth.