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. They love each other but express their love through sarcasm most of the time. Their kids are:
- Nick, 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, 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, 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, Ben's Phoebe-ish Ditz/Cloud Cuckoolander (it varies) cousin. Later seasons see the appearance of Butt-Monkey Roger (Ben's fellow dentist and later husband of Abi) and Alfie, 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.
The result is a show which can be funny, but that often falls a bit flat because there are already plenty of these type of shows being imported from America anyway. It seems to have developed a fair-sized Hatedom and in any discussion about the decline in quality of British TV or recent sitcoms, My Family is guaranteed to be mentioned at some point. On a more positive note, it came in twenty-fourth in Britain's 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.
- 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.
- Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Ben and Susan, many times.
- 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.
- Brainless Beauty:
- It's implied that Susan's mother Grace was one
- 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 catch phrase, "moisturise me".
- 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.
- 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.
- Dumb Blonde:
- Abi, although she is more of a Cloud Cuckoolander variety.
- Dysfunction Junction: YES.
- 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.
- Faux Horrific
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I "Uh" You, Too:
Abi: What are you doing?
- Abi and Roger:
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.
- It's a Wonderful Plot: Parodied 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.
- Lethal Chef: Susan.
- Little Mr Snarker:
- Michael, in earlier series.
- 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.
- 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 Zoë 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 series ten.
- 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 series nine (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 girl-friend. 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 earlier series, though the trait was dropped as he grew older.
- 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 one of his cousins 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 Kenzo is born in the fourth series yet is mentioned as nine years old in Series 10. Janey is fifteen years old 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...,"
- Suddenly Sexuality: Michael comes out as a homosexual in Series 10. After nine seasons of being consistently attracted to women and showing no interest in men.
- 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 Bus Came Back: Nick has made two return appearances since his departure from the show, and is reported to feature in the final Christmas special for 2011.
- 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.
- They Do: Roger and Abi.
- Your Costume Needs Work: Abi auditions as a drag queen and is told she isn't a convincing enough woman.
- 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.
- You Make Me Sic: 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.