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TV review: Boomers tries too hard for nostalgia

Recently, I've taken to watching pigs.

The cast of Boomers
The cast of Boomers

In the 80s, my Dad bought me a video of the Pinky and Perky show, wanting to relive his childhood days of Muffin the Mule and Andy Pandy with me as his excuse, but I was unimpressed; black and white pigs just didn't do it for me.

So I was perplexed to find myself on YouTube last week hunting for clips of those very same high-pitched pigs. I found an episode, 'Where There's Life, There's Soap', and revelled in the 1960s weirdness of a mouse shaving some coconuts, a squirrel in a sequined evening gown, and the eponymous pigs enjoying powdered soup with Michael Aspel. But that one episode wasn't enough. I was soon online buying a VHS tape of their porcine japes, despite having no video recorder to play the thing on.

So why all this fuss? At the age of 33, and relatively well-educated, why am I suddenly keen to watch children's TV? For the same reason my Dad was making me watch it in the 80s: simple nostalgia. Watching the pigs clunk their heads together and giggle, then drive their tiny wobbling car through the streets of Central London is soothing. I can say 'ahhh, look how nice and simple it was then. Wee pigs in sailor suits! Not like your modern stuff. Cartoons are all about violence these days' - saying it even though I've not watched children's TV since Terrahawks was on.

So, as soon as I find a video player at the Barras, I'll be reliving my childhood, happy as a pig in schmaltz. Yet, if you showed me a current children's show about puppets I wouldn't be interested. It's the nostalgia I'm after. I want that connection to something long since gone.

And maybe that's what'll happen with Boomers (BBC1). Perhaps, years later, I'll come to appreciate it because I think this sitcom needs nostalgia to make it lovable.

Nostalgia is central to the show, being concerned with the Baby Boomer generation who're now facing age and death and reassessing their lives. The famous cast would alone lend it a nostalgic quality: Alison Steadman, Russ Abbot, Nigel Planer, Stephanie Beecham etc.

Set in damp, flat, windy Norfolk, the first episode was about death. The Baby Boomers are required to attend an increasing amount of funerals but, rather than being glum affairs, they're seen as a social event and a chance to catch up with old friends. Most of the comedy was drawn from the idea that funerals can be fun: the women get dolled up and the men look forward to a few drinks and a chance to assess what car so-and-so's driving these days.

Much time was given to the old dears fussing and tutting at their menfolk, or fretting about finding a parking space. To the credit of the actors, this was done far too well. They were utterly authentic but who wants to watch old women nag?

Most of the comedy came from the men. Russ Abbot was good (I never thought I'd type such a sentence) playing John, a man who's tetchy and irritable at the arrival of the flash Mick (Nigel Planer). Mick moved to Spain and arrives at the funeral to boast of his villa and sun-kissed life, whilst trashing rainy Norfolk. To rub more salt in the wounds, he turns up with a gorgeous Lithuanian bride. But all is not as it seems with the swaggering Mick. His bride is at the bar revealing far too much to Trevor (James Smith) whilst he tries frantically to impress her with his knowledge of Lithuania: 'I think your chief exports are textiles and wood chip.'

Boomers is gentle and pleasant but not much else. Stephanie Beecham has compared it to Friends, but the only 'will they, won't they' tension here is will or won't the characters die. Boomers isn't about comedy, it's about nostalgia and harks back to the jolly, middle-class 80s sitcoms like Butterflies and Terry and June, but you can't import nostalgia. You can't instantly create it and install it in a sitcom. It is earned with time and distance. Boomers will just have to be patient and maybe we'll love it in 20 years.

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