Wincing with the Amstells

By Alan Montague, August 4, 2010
Simon Amstell and the cast in Grandma’s House

Simon Amstell and the cast in Grandma’s House

Simon Amstell is best known for bursting celebrity egos as the host of the BBC pop quiz, Never Mind the Buzzcocks. After three years of laying into the likes of Cheryl Cole and the Sugababes, he declared himself bored, quit the show and disappeared from our TV screens.

Now he is back, making his debut as an actor in an autobiographical sitcom he has co-written with Buzzcocks collaborator Dan Swimer.

Grandma’s House is where The Royle Family meets Curb Your Enthusiasm, with a little bit of Woody Allen thrown in. Like Larry David, Amstell more or less plays himself, a Jewish, gay TV celebrity called Simon who is having severe doubts about his career path. And like Caroline Aherne, Amstell sets all the action in one place, his grandma’s home in Gants Hill, the venue for strained family gatherings.

The humour is the well-trodden comedy of embarrassment, with laughs and winces coming in, more or less, equal measure. Jewish viewers might squirm as they recognise something familiar in Simon’s grandparents, mum, aunt and nephew who kvetch and bicker over the dinner table together. Whether you enjoy it or not will depend on how you feel about Amstell’s geeky, angst-ridden persona, but he gets great support from Rebecca Front as his naches-shepping divorced mother and Samantha Spiro as the dowdy aunt resentful of his success.

At one point, his character complains that he wants to do something meaningful. Not sure if Grandma's House is meaningful, but it is funny and well-observed enough to suggest its creator has talents way beyond taking the mickey out of boy bands.

‘Grandma’s House’ begins on BBC2 on August 9

Last updated: 11:58am, October 15 2010