Culture

I Watched an Episode of 'Mrs Brown’s Boys' and Tried to Find the Humour

Maybe I'm wrong and exceptionally bad shit is Actually Good?

by Joel Golby
23 August 2016, 1:55pm

If you are here for a nuanced opinion that Mrs. Brown's Boys is actually good, I am probably going to disappoint you. Mrs. Brown's Boys, in my opinion, is exceptionally bad. Like: exceptionally bad. It's not even lowest common denominator stuff because even the fantastical lowest common denominator is like, 'really? An Irish dude who always wears glasses on his head dressed as a chin-mole sporting old woman who keeps falling over an exposing her tights? And that's good, is it? Really?'

But then my entire opinion on Mrs. Brown's Boys is derived from brief clips shown between actually good BBC shows to advertise it, that one time a live episode ran long and I watched the last three minutes just to see what the fuss was about, and the fact that it has a studio audience. With the readers of the Radio Times this week voting Mrs. Brown's Boys the best British sitcom of the 21st century, should I not give the show a fair crack of the whip? Should I not endure at least one single episode, in full, just to see what it was about?

"No," I said, when my fucking editor suggested exactly that. "Absolutely not. No."

And then he asked me what else I had planned for today.

And then I watched a full entire episode of Mrs. Brown's Boys.

ZERO SECONDS IN

I mean we are already off to a bad start because the title sequence is animated, which is the preserve of i. shit sitcoms from the 70s ii. shit sitcoms featuring Amanda Holden being mad at Jamie Theakston iii. Actual cartoons. In my opinion all title sequences should either be The Sopranos title sequence, the Game of Thrones title sequence, or a blank card and a lowkey theme tune with the title of the show and the writer, and it should last no more than three seconds. Anything more than that is embarrassing. This is embarrassing.

The only information I can glean from the title sequence is one of the characters is decrepitly old and smelly, Mrs. Brown herself looks like a vintage serial killer, and I hate this. I hate this.

(I mean quite literally at one point in the title sequence a bird shits on a small boy's head, and like: I mean how puerile is this? Is that a joke? Is that funny? A cartoon bird shitting on the head of a cartoon boy is funny, possibly, when you're like, six. But as the panoramic intro sweep shows the studio audience, you can see that the average age of a Mrs. Brown's Boys fan is like, a hundred. So what the fuck.)

TWENTY-EIGHT AWFUL SECONDS IN

There have been two studio laughs so far but as far as I can tell there have been zero jokes. The man on the left who looks like a deposed vicar is some sort of hypnotist. The woman in the middle is doing an impression of a chicken. Also, somehow, it is a christening. Everyone speaks in cheery, clearly enunciated voices like that weird adult acting troupe who used to come and do assemblies at your primary school twice a year to teach you all about Christianity. It's truly embarrassing to see adults behave like this.

ONE AWFUL MINUTE AND FORTY EIGHT OF THE WORST SECONDS OF MY LIFE IN

The main character, Mrs. Brown, says the word "feckin". This is Irish for "fucking".

TWO MINUTES AND ELEVEN GODAWFUL SECONDS IN

Mrs. Brown says "feckin eejit". I am pretty sure this is the only joke in the show. The only joke in the show is an old man dressed as an even older lady saying "feckin".

Maybe this is it, maybe this is actually what comedy is. Catherine Tate did this with her famous and brilliant comic character, 'nan what swears'. When it all boils down to it – when you strip away irony, and subversive humour, and meta-comedy, and cultural touchstones, and parody, and whatever comic tropes you think are good – maybe, actually, the only thing that is truly funny is people in their 40s dressing as people in their 70s and then swearing. Maybe I am wrong and Mrs. Brown is right.

TWO FIFTY-ONE, BRING ME DEATH

Mrs. Brown's posh haughty nemesis comes in and they exchange some patter that doesn't resemble human dialogue for even one second ("I hope I'm not overdressed for this christening, this is a Louise Kennedy" "I hope it fits her better than it fits you") before Mrs. Brown says she has to go home to her husband. "Are you sure?" haughty posh one says. "The champagne's chilling on ice." "Granddad's sitting in shite." I wonder if I can hire a sniper on Gumtree to distantly kill me.

THREE THIRTY-SIX, OBLIVION PLEASE ENGULF ME

The storyline in this episode, by the way, is that Mrs. Brown does not remember what she did while hypnotised on stage, and everyone is really Irishly keeping the truth away from her. I mean, I have some questions – who has a hypnotist at a christening? Why does everyone in this show sound like they're Irish but also putting on a more Irish accent? How does this show keep getting made, when it has all the production value and joke hits of a village hall pantomime that the entire cast of Gogglebox have been tasked with as part of a new and awful Channel 4 show? – but I really don't think they are going to be adequately answered over the next 28 minutes.

THREE THIRTY-SEVEN

Actually, let me call it: Mrs. Brown is going to go home, her husband is accidentally going to say her trigger word, she's going to keep doing something intermittently absurd like barking like a dog and dry-humping the furniture, and then the family are going to come home, say "feckin shite" a lot, then usher the hypnotist back to fix it. Bow to the studio audience, comedy dies an incremental death.

THREE FIFTY-SEVEN, GOD IS PUNISHING ME

Oh, okay, so: at this point there's a wobble and, with an "oh, hello!", Mrs. Brown breaks the fourth wall and directly addresses the camera. I mean ostensibly I think this is just to save money – her describing the events of the christening earlier (The fun game, 'don't say fuck but make it almost sound like you are saying fuck', makes another appearance: "The Father had never done triplets before... he nearly ran out of buckin' water!") saves them hiring a church, baby actors, a font, a father, &c., and instead can keep it running out of the weird studio set up of a shit pub they seem to be doing this from – but also the direct-address-to-camera thing is probably the only time in the day any of the ageing audience actually get spoken to by another human, so maybe that's why they keep writing in to the Radio Times to say it's good.

SIX MINUTES TWENTY-THREE

A cupboard door falls off. Everyone who likes this show voted for Brexit.

SEVEN MINUTES

Alright, there's an actually funny bit here. The daughter – I am already spending precious and finite minutes of my life watching an episode of this show, I refuse to go as far as to learn the character names – kicks the gay son, and he does a v. flamboyant "ouch!", and Mrs. Brown breaks character and ad-libs a bit – "that was a very stage-y 'ouch', wasn't it? Shall we do dat one again, ooh feckin shite" &c. &c. – and then they do they scene again. I suppose the crucial bit here is all the actors are visibly laughing and having fun: the scant amount of critical praise I've seen re: Mrs. Brown's Boys is that it's warm, family-centric, that it's harmless, but most crucially everyone filming it seems to be having a good time. This is the bit where that comes true. DOES IT EXPLAIN AWAY THE LAST SEVEN MINUTES OF SHITE JOKES AND BAD ACCENTS? DOES IT FECK

EIGHT OH SEVEN

Mrs. Brown says "finger lickin' good" and the other hypnotised old lady does a chicken impression and I just want to say, here: I called it. The crowd, creaking as they are ever closer to death, goes absolutely mental at this. I mean they are howling. It's an old woman doing a chicken impression. They are laughing like I do at this YouTube video.

EIGHT THIRTY-SIX

This girl is so Irish I literally don't understand what she's saying. I'm pretty sure one of the jokes is their kid is called 'Bono'. If you asked me to write a script for Mrs. Brown's Boys without seeing a single episode, and I was drunk and taking the piss, I'm pretty sure I'd come up with that joke.

ELEVEN MINUTES FOURTEEN

I could explain what's happening here but I can assure you it's not worth it.

THIRTEEN THIRTY-TWO

Mrs. Brown cries at a sink because one of her hundred thousand sons is emigrating to Australia and tbh I found this naked moment of emotional hell quite amusing compared to the rest of it. Suffer, Mrs. Brown. Suffer.

FIFTEEN ELEVEN, I AM GOD, I AM LORD

The 70s-sitcom-character-tropes-just-about-updated-for-2k16, 'Gay son' and 'daughter w/ veneers', are explaining how when she was hypnotised Mrs. Brown was told that, when he said the magic words, the hypnotist convinced her she was an Alsatian, and I just want to say: woah, holy shit, I am like a fucking shit sitcom wizard, I am the foreseer, I am the oracle of the truth, pray to me, pray to me, pray to me, I am the one true god—

FIFTEEN FORTY-EIGHT

She says the word 'triplet' and the old man dressed as a lady starts dry-humping the old woman dressed as a slightly older woman. I start to wonder what I'll be like when I'm old. Maybe I'll hate good things and only like shite as well. Maybe I'll enjoy smelling like a load of moths died in a pile of sand and genuinely like eating prunes. Maybe I'll sit in a clotted armchair stained with my own thin piss and watch Mrs. Brown's Boys repeats and laugh at the simple humour of it all, it's just harmless, isn't it, they love each other really, she says "feck" a lot, ha ha ha, ho ho ho. I am watching Mrs. Brown's Boys and I just know I am never going to make it that far.

EIGHTEEN MINUTES FOURTEEN SECONDS AND I AM HAVING ANOTHER EXISTENTIAL CRISIS

There are ten minutes left of this show and I'm really not sure I can take another instance of Mrs. Brown saying something, a stranger butting in with a scripted aside, and then her doing a "that's what she said"-level riposte ("But Australia is full o' dem spider dat craal out de toilets and bite ye on de ying-yang" "Dere called 'funnelwebs'" "I don't care what ye call it, mine's a ying-yang"). Might have to go and take a walk. Get a little fresh air. Grab some lunch or something. Apply for a new job.

TWENTY. FUCKING. MINUTES.

Mrs. Brown gets set off by her trigger word again and runs out of the bathroom biting a man's trousers, the pocket of the trousers clearly pre-ripped, I cannot suspend my disbelief here for even a fraction of a second. I am drafting up an HR complaint against the editor who commissioned me to do this.

TWENTY TEN

This is an old Irish man who sits in his chair and yells monosyllabic words so I guess if you've never seen Father Ted this is a good and original character.

TWENTY-ONE THIRTY-EIGHT

I've figured out another one of the show's jokes, beyond 'saying "feck" a lot', and it's 'characters walking in wearing absurd costumes for no reason and spending ten seconds looking miserable about it while the audience wets themselves'. Remember: greatest sitcom ever, this. The height of comedy. Old people are smarter and more sophisticated than us and so we should listen to them re: the economy, home ownership, financial security, Europe. They think it's funny when men dress as women. One of the greatest jokes of this century is, according to the ancient and decrepit overseers of this country, when an Irish man dressed as a drill for no reason at all.

TWENTY-TWO ZERO THRU TWENTY-TWO OH-THREE

Like a full minute where they just corpse at the fact that one of the actors is wearing false teeth. Full minute. Full minute of television. Full minute.

TWENTY-THREE THIRTY-FOUR

"Hey Dammo, can I take a break?" "No" "Ah come on: I just want a chance to think outside the box". Your mum loves this. Your nan loves this. Your granddad just about stirs from his half-decade long nap to wake up and love this. They tell you that 'you millennials know nothing' and you should 'get up off your phone and look at the real world for once!'. They think you should have bought property already and don't know why you're not married. When Dammo says 'I want a chance to think outside the box' they call you downstairs to pause the Sky because they are laughing so hard. They need a minute. Your mum is wafting her face with her hands because she's crying. Your grandparents have gone red. Your dad, who only ever seems to read the TV guide these days, is reluctantly chuckling. Is Mrs. Brown's Boys a fucking cult? Is this secretly some scientology-level shit tuned perfectly to the frequency to old, defunct brains?

TWENTY-FIVE I'VE GIVEN UP OH SIX KILL ME PLEASE

The tiny child, Bono, is sad he has to go to Australia, so the veneer daughter says "triplets" so the gran behaves briefly like a dog and then they have a conversation about Australia, and how's he's sad he has to go because "there'll be no Granny". The audience – the one that has survived this long w/out dying of gout – goes, "aw". This is the weird thing about Mrs. Brown's Boys: a relentless, shoddy charade of slapstick and sub-joke book jokes occasionally studded thru with moments of weird family pain. Anyway Bono kicks off and runs out and says "I HATE YER, DERE, GRANNY, SURE I DO, FECKIN HELL, LEPRECHAUN ME BOLLOCKS" or some other cod-Irish shit and one of Mrs. Brown's millions of indistinguishable sons pitches a shitfit. SIR, IF YOU GET TO KICK OFF AT MRS. BROWN FOR HAVING TO ENDURE HER, I SURE AS HELL WANT TO.

TWENTY-SIX FIFTY-SIX

A vicar says "baptism", the other trigger word, and Mrs. Brown starts stripping. Your nan is coughing her teeth out, now. Your nan is laughing so hard you have to give her medicine. This is the funniest thing she has ever seen in her life, and she has lived a thousand years already.

TWENTY-EIGHT OR THEREABOUTS

I know you need closure so: The last few minutes are just Mrs. Brown stripping, the hypnotist coming back, the audience laughing so hard they die, and the whole thing being so full-on embarrassing to watch that I legitimately get on a hot, prickly sweat. And so: is Mrs. Brown's Boys Actually Good, and I am Just A Snob, and the readers of the Radio Times are right, that this is the best sitcom ever made? No.

It's clear that I don't get this show. But then trying to understand how people do actually like and enjoy this is bringing me up blank as well. Normally I'm pretty good at finding some splinter of empathy, that I can embody another human, figure out how they might like a thing I do not at all like, see it from another angle, mull the problem over like a glass pyramid idly turned in a lazy hand, but this time: I cannot watch Mrs. Brown's Boys and not see it as anything more than being so bad it has bust through and become medicinal. Maybe people like this because it's not woke, it's not PC, it's not good, it's exactly like the 70s when things were bad and you were allowed to say camp jokes without your granddaughter storming out of Christmas dinner, there's no jeopardy, nobody is ever in danger, it's just an old lady who likes to swear and say 'feck' who sometimes hits her kitchen counter so hard her cupboard falls off. What danger is there in inhabiting a space for 28 minutes where nothing can go wrong? Just cosy on down into a half-hour of entirely mindless nothing. Mrs. Brown's Boys is so humourless that is is essentially zen.

But then despite genuine attempts to watch this with an open mind – honestly, I mean there was that bit where I conceded there was one good joke, I did not actively want to hate this, I just found it exceptionally difficult to watch – sadly, every single joke in this show is just... well, it's not a joke. And whatever supposed good points about MBB – the fact that it's just knockabout Irish humour, a family unit that loves each other so it does, Mrs. Brown is the only real butt of the jokes, that it doesn't hurt anyone – that sadly is all eclipsed by how low-budget, 70s-throwback, full-on shit it all is. People say: 'oh, but Mrs. Brown's Boys isn't for you'. I mean: good. I don't want it to be. But it does fill me with this heavy and unassailable feeling of dread that there is a vast proportion of the country that this is for, that do tune in to make this the most-watched show on Christmas Day, that do vote in to the Radio Times to say it is the funniest sitcom ever made, that do think Europe is bad, that do have a voice. Watching Mrs. Brown's Boys is sort of like turning up at a pub after everyone else is drunk and laughing about a joke you didn't see, and you can't get into the same mental place they are so you just fuck it off after half a shandy and go home to where things make sense, although everyone at the pub is also old, so old, that kind of old where you can't eat a biscuit straight from the packet like a normal person, you have to put the biscuit on a plate first. Is it the best sitcom of the current century? No. Is it incredibly, empirically bad? Also, technically, no. It's sort of just nothing: because there are no jokes and nothing to root for, it both exists and doesn't exist, so it's weird people think it divides opinion as much as it does when it's so middle-of-the-road. Like: I think it's shit, but I'm not ancient. Ancient people are on the other side: they like it. I'm baffled from the bottom to the top, honestly. Feck my shite.

@joelgolby

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