Friday Night Dinner: Am I turning into Jackie?

Friday Night Dinner is back for a sixth series — and it's the perfect lockdown binge-watch, says Keren David


Shalom! How very apt it feels that as we are cooped up with our families, the Goodmans of Mill Hill are back to cheer the nation.

I’m talking about Channel Four’s Friday Night Dinner, which returned last week for its sixth series. My family have been binge-watching series one to five since lockdown — a Jewish family of parents and two adult children watching a sitcom about exactly that set up. Every week Jonny and Adam Goodman (Tom Rosenthal and Simon Bird) visit mum and dad, Jackie and Martin (Tamsin Greig and Paul Ritter)  for the Sabbath meal. Chaos ensues.

Formerly the JC has been harsh in reviews of the show (and it doesn't help build a Jewish audience when you transmit a show called Friday Night Dinner on a Friday night). Two stars in 2012 (“slapstick interlaced with surrealism”) and in 2014, just one star (“outrageous stereotypes, slapstick, and awkward humour”). But once you fully immerse, embrace the slapstick and relax, there is so much to love.

First there’s the way the cast — all non Jewish except Tracy Ann Oberman, magnificent as Auntie Val — nail their characters. Best of all is Tamsin Greig as Jackie. I once got into an argument at a dinner party with a woman who insisted she’d never met a Jewish woman anything like Jackie. It turned out that her Jewish experience was entirely Hampstead-centric. The very next day, by complete chance I happened (surreally, but not slapstick in any way) to bump into the show’s creator, Robert Popper. We agreed that Hampstead Jews — intellectual, sensitive, haunted — have reigned for far too long. Greig is without doubt the Jewish queen of the suburbs.

All too often, Jewish mothers on screen, page and stage have been summed up by the one word: “over-bearing”. Not Jackie. She loves and is exasperated by the boy-men around her, she likes her house clean and tidy, she is fiercely loyal to her best friend Val, and she’d like the boys to meet nice girls, but what’s wrong with that? The more I watch, the more I see myself in Jackie. I even found myself kvelling last week at my beautiful hallway, cleaned by my son. Of course, that may just be the effect of lockdown.

Then there is the very strange Jim from next door, played by Mark Heap, chief source of slapstick and owner of huge dog, Wilson (replaced in series six by new monster, Milson). Jim epitomises every non-Jew whose eyes gleam with interest at everything Jewish, and then who gets it wronger than wrong every single time — whether it’s the “Jewish bath” (the hot tub), flinging a plate at the wall during dinner (“Tradition!”, “No Jim, that’s the Greeks!”) or asking if he's missed the sacrifice when he arrives (with dog) at Grandma's wedding.

The Jewishness of the family is mostly downplayed, but sometimes the show goes full on Jewish — as for Grandma’s wedding to the believably horrible Mr Morris, or an uncle’s funeral --  it’s spot-on United Synagogue; but there is always a glaring error inserted for plot purposes — “I-do” vows under the chupah for Grandma to fake a heart attack; family members expected to hoist a coffin into the grave at the levoyah. Of course this is all wrong, but I like to think it’s an inside joke, solely for the Jewish audience.

Right now, ITV's Sunday night drama Belgravia features Tamsin Greig as a rich lady with a tragic past, and — in a piece of inspired casting — Paul Ritter as her butler. I was waiting for him to cast off his shirt and start swearing, all key elements of Martin Goodman's character, all through the last episode, which would have livened it up considerably. And what's more, the other night we switched off for the news after  bingeing three episodes of Friday Night Dinner, and discovered that Jim - I'm sorry, Mark Heap -  is starring in something called The Trouble with Maggie Cole (ITV, Wednesdays at 9pm). For a few minutes I thought I was hallucinating. It is next on my binge list. 

Rumour has it, series six of Friday Night Dinner will be the last one. I hope it isn't, but if so please can it end with Jackie’s dreams coming true: success and a double chupah for her “bobbles”. Martin will learn to keep his shirt on and nothing will stain the lovely carpets.

And, like the Goodmans, I shall be making a nice bit of squirrel (chicken) and crimble crumble for dinner on Friday. Assuming I can get my hands on the ingredients.

Friday Night Dinner is on Channel Four on Friday at 10pm and can be streamed on Netflix and All 4

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