A British Dom Com made by The BBC. It feels somewhat more like an American series than most other Brit Coms, because it was created by an American, Fred "Caroline in the City" Barron, and was produced by the more American styled "team of writers" format (British sitcoms usually only have one or two writers).
The plot is centered around the (of course) dysfunctional Harper clan. Ben (Robert Lindsay), the Dad, is an Al Bundy-esque dentist (only less of an intentional jerk, more of a man of many misunderstandings). His wife is the Control Freak tour guide Susan (Zoë Wanamaker). They love each other but express their love through sarcasm most of the time. Their kids are:
- Nick (Kris Marshall), who is one part Schemer and one part Lazy Bum. While old enough to move out, he hasn't yet (Ben wishes he would, Susan can't stand the idea). He does eventually.
- Janey (Deniela Denby-Ashe), the standard Bratty Teenage Daughter obsessed with manipulating her family to get her own way. Not a Daddy's Girl, however, as Ben doesn't trust her as far as he can throw her.
- Michael (Michael Thomson), the Teen Genius, easily the smartest and most responsible member of the family. Not that this is particularly hard.
Janey eventually moves out to go to university (she later drops out) and then becomes a single mother. She is replaced by Abi (Siobhan Hayes), Ben's Phoebe-ish Ditz/Cloud Cuckoolander (it varies) cousin. Later seasons see the appearance of Butt-Monkey Roger (Keiron Self), Ben's fellow dentist and later husband of Abi, and Alfie (Rhodri Meilir), Nick's Welsh Cloud Cuckoolander friend who comes to live with the family. In later years, Ben becomes the prominent Butt-Monkey to the point of Deus Angst Machina and sometimes even Kafka Komedy.
It came in twenty-fourth in Britains Best Sitcom.
Contains examples of:
- Actor Allusion:
- One episode centres around Susan being stuck in a foreign airport because her flight is cancelled, and meeting a mysterious traveller known as "The Doctor", played by John Barrowman.
- In one episode, Nick gets a Madam Hooch trading card, which is a role of Zoë Wanamaker's.
- In the 2009 Christmas special, Michael (played by Gabriel Thomson) tells Kenzo how to pronounce the angel Gabriel's name.
- And a Diet Coke: In one episode, Janey takes a waitress job at a restaurant in Soho (hoping to be spotted by a movie producer), but doesn't bother keeping her bad attitude in check. She gets fired after snarking at a customer over this.Janey: Right, so that's a slimline tonic to go with your slimline foie gras, slimline steak and kidney pie and slimline chips. Oh, and may I recommend the slimline sticky toffee pudding?
- Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: Ben is insulted when nobody hits on him in the gay bar.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When Susan says; "Janey's pregnant," "I'm leaving you," and "Nick's wearing your trousers." Guess which one gets Ben's attention.
- As Himself:
- Ainsley Harriott and Rolf Harris in the 2010 Christmas Special "Mary Christmas" when the Harpers and neighbour Mr Casey hire them in an attempt to outdo each other's New Year's Eve parties.
- Also, the 2005 Comic Relief short, which guest stars: Jamie Theakston, Anthony Head, TV presenter Myleene Klass, historian Adam Hart Davis, athlete Nell McAndrew, newsreader Dermot Murnaghan, and Clive Russell as themselves.
- Anne Robinson in Series 7's "Susan of Troy".
- The late Richard Whiteley in the 2003 Christmas Special.
- Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Ben and Susan, many times.
- Michael and Janey in the later series.
- Basement-Dweller: Nick, Janey and Michael all live at home well into their twenties and maintain much the same kind of lifestyle as when they were teenagers, although Nick does eventually move out. Janey briefly went to university but dropped out and returned home. Michael supposedly goes to university and then lives with a boyfriend, but spends as much time hanging around the family home as he ever did.
- Big Eater: The 2009 Christmas episode showed that thirty years into the future Janey has become a compulsive eater and enormously obese.
- Big "OMG!": When Abi runs away to become a nun, she leaves a letter explaining her actions for Ben and Susan, but words it as something like "I'm leaving to work for the boss. Yes, the boss, the big guy." After a moment's confusion, Susan realises what she means and lets out a shocked "Oh my God!"Ben: Yes, that's who she's referring to.
- Bottle Episode: "Sixty Feet Under" sees Ben, Susan, Nick and Michael stuck on a subway train due to signalling problems.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: During the episode set in 2039, Susan mentions several times that the reason she looks so youthful is down to moisturiser- before turning to the camera and winking, indicating that she's had plastic surgery. The basic implications are obvious to everyone, but the hidden joke will only be apparent to Doctor Who fans: Zoë Wanamaker played the infamous surgery-addicted Lady Cassandra, who had the well-remembered Catchphrase, "moisturise me".
- The Bus Came Back: Nick made two return appearances in season five and the 2005 Comic Relief special before never returning to the show again.
- Bus Crash: In the eleventh (and final) series, Susan's mother Grace is revealed to have died offscreen, and the Harpers attend her funeral.
- Butt-Monkey: Ben, especially in the show's past three seasons or so.
- Celebrity Paradox: Anthony Head appears in the Series 4 episode "May The Best Man Win" as Ben's cousin Richard, and later guest stars As Himself in the 2005 Comic Relief short.
- Christmas Episode: There's one every year.
- Classical Music Is Cool: In "Droit de Seigneur Ben", Ben is horrified when Susan reveals that she has tickets to a performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni, as he hates opera. Susan insists that he listen to a recording while reading the libretto before they see it live, and Ben ends up enjoying it immensely. (He also finds parallels between the title character's use of Droit du Seigneur and the episode's A plot, in which Janey is set up on a date with an aristocrat's son, who tries to force himself on her.)
- Clip Show: For the show's 100th episode.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: Nick, Abi and Roger Bailey are all just a little cuckoo.
- Comically Missing the Point: In the first episode of the show, Ben's assistant Brigitte criticises him for not making the time to treat his own wife and children, comparing him to the story of "The cobbler's children who had no food." Ben corrects her, and she replies that "That makes no sense, their dad was a cobbler."
- Commuting on a Bus: Roger in series 10 (he appears in only one episode).
- Control Freak: Susan.
- Critical Psychoanalysis Failure: "The next time you try to quit, do it on holiday."
- Daddy DNA Test: In series ten, when Ben suspects that a visiting house guest (who's also Janey's new boyfriend) might be his son from a previous relationship. He isn't.
- Deadpan Snarker: Ben and Susan seem to be engaged in a constant deadpan snarkery contest. Easy to see where Michael gets it from.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: A scene in the pilot where Ben finds out Susan went to another dentist for a filling is treated as though she had an affair.Susan: It didn't mean anything
Ben: It didn't mean anything?!... What was he like?
- Dogged Nice Guy: Roger, friendzoned by Abi for a long time.
- Droit du Seigneur: As you might gather from the title "Droit de Seigneur Ben", the A plot of the episode in question sees Janey being set up on a date with a local aristocrat's son who tries to take advantage of her; Ben likens the incident to the invocation of this trope by the title character in Don Giovanni.
- Dumb Blonde:
- Abi, although she is more of a Cloud Cuckoolander variety.
- Dysfunction Junction: YES.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: In the first series, the layout of the house has some key differences, such as an extra fireplace in the living room next to the kitchen. Ben and Susan's bedroom also has their window and en suite on the other sides of the room from where they are later.
- Fake High: A marijuana joint that actually turned out to be made of cinnamon and oregano powered by the placebo effect shared by Ben and Susan. Effects range from Susan overcoming her habitual mental block as to how horrible her cooking is, Ben correcting the lyrics to Jimi Hendrix songs at the top of his voice.
- Flashforward: The episode "2039: A Christmas Oddity" takes place 30 years after the airing of the episode (in 2009) and gives us a glimpse at what the family has been up to since then.
- Fourth-Date Marriage: Janey marries a guy she's known for only ten days, because they met at a wedding where a fortune teller said Janey would meet her true love. She runs off with someone else and asks for a divorce on the same day.
- Funny Background Event: In one episode, Nick gets a job as an extra and spends several scenes practicing by appearing in the background of Ben and Susan's conversations. It gets weird when he brings home several fellow extras to form a co-operative, including a traffic warden, an old lady and a city gent.
- Girl on Girl Is Hot: In one episode, Janey brings a lesbian friend home, leading the rest of the family to suspect that she's gay.Nick: My worst nightmare - two lesbians sharing a bed in my house and one of them's my sister.
- Grammar Correction Gag: Season 1, Episode 7.Janey: Well, I wish I was dead!Susan: Janey! How can you say that? I wish I were dead, the subjunctive.
- Head-Tiltingly Kinky: Ben and Nick when they try to look up dentists online with the phrase "oral services". Later, Michael and Alfie, when they look up who has occupied the homepage name Welsh boys.
- Her Boyfriend's Jacket: One episode involves Janey being given her boyfriend's jacket and taking a liking to it so much she tries to avoid giving it back even after dumping him. Eventually he tricks her into giving it back, though she manages to coax it out of him by dating him again.
- Hidden Depths: There are occasional hints that Nick isn't quite as stupid as he usually comes across; for example, in "Droit de Seigneur Ben", he claims that he has decided to become a painter because Leonardo da Vinci appeared to him and said "Nick, mate, two words: nude models." Ben scoffs at the idea, then Nick adds that it was actually "Caro Nico, due parole: modelle nude."
- Incest Subtext:
- Michael accidentally kisses Susan, mistaking her for his date.
- Susan matchmakes for Michael, getting him a girlfriend exactly like herself.
- And of course, Nick and Ben often mistaken for a couple.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: Ben all the way.
- It's All About Me: A family trait on both sides.
- I "Uh" You, Too:
- Abi and Roger:Abi: What are you doing?
Roger: I am writing a list of the guests.
Abi: Why is only my name on it?
Roger: I am a little nearsighted.
Abi: Why are little hearts around it?
Roger: Because I love... writing lists.
Abi: I love... writing lists, too.
- Janey and Michael say it word for word in series 11.
- Abi and Roger:
- It's a Wonderful Plot: Parodied in ""It's A Window Filled Life"" with Ben falling into the river and saved by a man named Clarence.
- I Take Offense to That Last One:Grace: The point is until he gets back, I'm here for you, darling.
Susan: Here for me as in running up the phone bill, insulting the neighbours and draining the drinks cabinet?
Grace: I hardly use the phone!
- I Was Quite a Looker: Susan and her mother Grace, who, despite being in their 50s and 70s respectively, still seem to attract quite a bit of male attention.
- Jumping Out of a Cake: In one episode, Ben is asked to throw his cousin a bachelor party. Susan is upset at his plans to hire a stripper to jump out of a cake, and decides to take the stripper's place. The cakes get accidentally switched, so Susan ends up at a convention for pipe-smokers, and the bachelor party gets a cake containing a guy in lederhosen smoking a pipe ...
- Karma Houdini: Almost any of the Harpers with the clear exception of Ben can get away with crap, especially if it's at his expense. They are sometimes dragged down with him however.
- Just about every child character with a speaking role.
- Living in a Furniture Store: Averted: Janey's room, at least in "Death Takes a Policy", is as messy as a teenager's room should be.
- Long Bus Trip: Nick does not appear at all throughout the last six series, after Commuting on a Bus in series five.
- Low Count Gag: In one episode, Susan runs for the local council and is shocked when someone else is declared the winner. She immediately demands a recount, which the adjudicator performs right then and there to reveal that Susan got all of one vote (presumably her own).
- Mistaken for Cheating: In one episode, Susan and a business partner book a hotel together while on a business trip, only to learn at the front desk that they've been booked in the same room despite having apparently asked for separate rooms. Ben, who already suspected they might be cheating, is even more suspicious when he learns this and starts spying on them, eventually becoming so convinced that he bursts into the room to try and attack the man. Which leads to...
- Mistaken for Prostitute: In the same episode, after Susan and the business partner disappear into the elevator, the concierge and receptionist turn to each other and agree that Susan must be a prostitute. Shortly after Ben bursts in, the concierge also walks in to find Ben wrestling with the business partner, and the three of them are immediately kicked out with the admonishment that "this isn't that kind of hotel".
- My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: Susan's attempt at speaking Spanish while on holiday in Lanzarote, despite everyone else having no trouble speaking to her in English. The high point is when she accidentally seduces a pharmacist while trying to buy sunscreen.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Janey, who studied French, Economics and History at A-Level and went on to university, is a clear-cut example of this trope.
- Older Than They Look: Robert Lindsay and Zoe Wanamaker are sixty years old as of the latest series, and Wanamaker in particular appears to be getting younger with each series.
- Online Alias: In one episode, Ben gets advice from a forum. A joke is made about the wisdom in getting advice from someone going by the name "Yoda 212".
- Only Sane Man: Usually Michael, sometimes Ben or Susan. Alfie too occasionally plays this role. Bear in mind that this leaves 50% of the cast to be as mad as hatters the whole time.
- Operation: Jealousy: Susan's friend Megan finds out her husband has a young lover. She and Susan scheme that Ben will play Megan's lover at the same restaurant where the husband and his girl-friend are having dinner. It looks hopeless, but it turns out it worked and he returns to Megan.
- Parental Incest: Played for Laughs with Ben and Nick, disturbingly often (such as in the episode where Nick is watching Kenzo whilst in Ben and Susan's bed).
- Promotion to Opening Titles: Kenzo, in the 2009 Christmas Special.
- Punny Name: Janey became Jane Rochester after her extremely brief marriage, but later changed her name back to Harper after asking for a divorce on the wedding day.
- Really Gets Around: Janey.
- Retcon: Susan's mother is initially named as Rebecca and later as Grace. Ben's cousin Richard is introduced as Abi's father but there is no mention of her when he reappears in the 2009 Christmas Special (perhaps because her actress had left the show by this time.)
- Reverse Psychology: Turns out using it to get money out of Ben doesn't really work.
- Romantic Spoonfeeding: During one dinner, an older man feeds his young girlfriend. Megan, the older guy's wife who tries to top him and make him jealous, asks Ben (who plays her lover) to spoon-feed her as well. Ben is a bit clumsy, though, and it's very awkward.
- Running Gag:
- Nick's rapid career changes, usually after he cocks up the previous job.
- If Ben has hold of a camera, there's a safe bet the flash will go off in his face at close range.
- Sanity Ball: Never goes anywhere near Nick, Abi or Roger.
- Screaming Birth: Parodied in the episode where Janey gives birth to Kenzo. As Susan and Ben drive to the hospital to see her, they have flashbacks to the Screaming Birth of Nick. When they arrive, Janey has had the baby with no fuss at all and is sitting up painting her nails.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness:
- Abi, in an episode where she applies for a job in a library and memorises an entire dictionary to help her prepare for the interview.
- Michael was like this in the earlier series, though the trait was dropped as he grew older.
- Sibling Team: Michael and Janey (sort of) in the later series.
- Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Ben has an occasional one in the form of the Harpers' neighbour Mr Casey. He's also been shown to have rivalries with his cousin Richard and with an old friend who became a celebrity dentist.
- Snark-to-Snark Combat: Ben and Susan seem to be engaged in a constant deadpan snarkery contest.
- Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Going by Christmas specials and in-show references, the show appears to take place in real-world time with a year in between each series; but Janey is 16 in the first series but in Series 10 claims to be "almost 30."
- Stylistic Suck: Alfie writes guitar-assisted songs in the style of Phoebe Buffay. For example, "My dog and I go together like a jacket and a tie. (beat) My dog and I. Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof...,"
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Abi for Janey (initially, although Janey returned later), Alfie for Nick. Then Alfie left and was replaced with Michael's new boyfriend Scott, a Suspiciously Similar Substitute for a Suspiciously Similar Substitute! For some reason, no one was brought in to replace Abi, but Roger had become a more prominent character over the storyline involving the Roger-Abi romance.
- Teen Genius: Michael. It's also implied Kenzo will be one when he's older.
- Temporary Blindness: Susan from the shock of catching Michael with a girl in his bed.
- The Unfair Sex: Subverted. This is one of the few sitcoms where the females are just as bad as the males and not depicted as being in the right for it. Granted due to the scale of luck Ben and other male characters have, they still usually get away with it a lot more often.
- Unfortunate Search Results: In the first episode, Ben is looking for a dentist online, hoping to locate them using the phrase “oral contacts”. Although the audience doesn’t see what he locates, it does cause him and Nick to reel back and tilt their heads in shock.
- Will They or Won't They?: Roger and Abi. They did, and got married - but then Abi converted to Catholicism and left Roger to become a nun.
- World of Snark: Ben and Susan seem to be engaged in a constant deadpan snarkery contest. Easy to see where Michael gets it from.
- Your Costume Needs Work: Abi auditions as a drag queen and is told she isn't a convincing enough woman.