“Friday Night Dinner” is an enjoyably offbeat British comedy (is there any other kind?) that aired over there earlier this year and begins on BBC America on Saturday night. In concept, it sounds almost too simple: A family dines together once a week.
The Goodmans — Martin and Jackie — are a middle-age, Jewish-ish empty-nest couple in the London suburbs who, while perhaps not keeping an observant household, have kept one tradition inviolate: On Friday nights, their two 20-something sons come home for a routine, sit-down family meal.
That’s all that the show’s about. In some families, the little spats, quirks, burps, insults and mealtime interruptions would provide just enough absurdity to launch a series.
With a fritzed-out hearing aid and propensity to come to the dinner table shirtless, Dad (Paul Ritter as Martin) saves unused ketchup, hoards stacks of old science magazines and always makes a cooked-squirrel joke about Jackie’s entree. Mum (Tamsin Greig as Jackie) comes undone when no one notices the new drapes or when the DVR forgets to record her favorite addiction, “MasterChef.”
The show takes place entirely in (or immediately around) the Goodmans’ house. Jonny (Tom Rosenthal) and Adam (Simon Bird) arrive together and immediately revert to adolescence, elbowing each other or surreptitiously salting the water in each other’s drinking glasses.
Like many parents, Martin and Jackie are nosy about the state of their bachelor sons’ dating lives, an inquiry Jonny has deflected with the dubious existence of a girlfriend no one’s ever seen. Nerdier Adam, however, endures a constant offensive (including Web links to Jewish dating sites) by his father, who drags him into the hallway loo to discuss prospective females.
“Females?” Adam says to his father. “D’ya have to call them females? You’re not a policeman.”
“All right, birds,” Martin says.
“Chicks? Hello, Elvis.”
Like much post-modern comedy — especially the Brit variety — “Friday Night Dinner” is duller in concept and on the script page than it is in rapid-fire execution. There are a few laughs per episode, but there is also a bit much of that millennial-era, ironic disdain for anyone older than 50. In the name of humor, Jonny and Adam overtly condescend to their parents, who don’t care because they’re mostly oblivious.
Meanwhile, any number of events can distract the Goodmans from Mum’s pot roasts. Sometimes Grandma (Frances Cuka) is there for dinner, in a bikini, perhaps, or playing dead on the kitchen floor, or just working Jackie’s last nerves. A creepy, dog-walking neighbor (Mark Heap) rings the doorbell during each meal with one strange request after another — a recurring bit that grows old fast.
It’s difficult to discern where “Friday Night Dinner” wishes to take its characters in its mere six episodes, besides using them as a way to acknowledge the universal weirdness in all families. Greig, who was the best part about Showtime’s comedy “Episodes” earlier this year, is delightful as a mother who seeks only the perfection seen in the framed family photographs on the wall. Bird, whom British comedy fans may know from “The Inbetweeners,” is another reason to keep watching.
As soon as they walk in the door, Adam and Jonny seem itchy to get dinner over with and leave — you know the drill. It seems both sons adhere to the Friday night routine for two reasons: one, to eat a home-cooked meal, and two, to make sure their parents really are as batty as they seem. Even with the cross-pond cultural differences, young adults who are perennially baffled by their aging boomer parents will feel right at home here.
(30 minutes) premieres Saturday
at 11:30 p.m. on BBC America.