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My Family (2000-)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of My Family (2000-)
BBC1, tx. 19/9/2000 -
100 x 30 min episodes across 9 series, colour
Production CompanyBBC Television
CreatorFred Barron
ProducerJohn Bartlett
Writers includeFred Barron, Ian Brown, James Hendrie, Jim & Steve Armogida

Cast: Robert Lindsay (Ben); Zoë Wanamaker (Susan); Gabriel Thompson (Michael); Daniela Denby-Ashe (Janey); Siobhan Hayes (Abi); Keiron Self (Roger); Kris Marshall (Nick); Rhodri Meilir (Alfie Butts)

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Dentist Ben Harper and his wife Susan battle their children and each other.

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Originally conceived by Fred Barron as a mass-appeal comedy along American lines, My Family became the longest-running British sitcom of the 2000s. Although often derided by critics, its constantly revolving team of writers ensured a rapid turnover, passing the 100-episode mark in 2009.

Characters came and went over the years, but the Harper family was initially composed of father Ben, a self-concerned dentist; mother Susan, an obsessive control freak; spaced-out eldest son Nick; rebellious teenage daughter Janey; and studious yet mercenary schoolboy Michael. Barron's ambition to provide characters with which all age groups could identify was fulfilled with the later introduction of Susan's mother. When Janey left for university she was replaced by cousin Abi, while the dim-witted Alfie Butts was introduced as the Harpers' lodger when Kris Marshall left the show, claiming he was too old to continue playing the twenty-something Nick.

The ever-changing roster of writers (Barron bowed out after the fourth series) resulted in a generic sitcom style; storylines typically focused on the in-fighting of this dysfunctional middle-class family who could be relied upon to pull together in times of trouble. If critics felt they had seen it all before, the show consistently found favour with audiences, due in no small part to the likeable performances of its lead actors. Its longevity also allowed viewers' continued identification with favourite characters who they saw literally grow over the years, Janey progressing from spoilt brat to single mother upon her return in 2004, and Michael from put-upon sibling to scheming Machiavelli.

However, despite continuing ratings success, the programme was criticised even by those who worked on it. Marshall revealed in a Radio Times interview that it was not something he would ever choose to watch, while in 2007 Wanamaker complained about the repetitive nature of the scripts, claiming that the initially quirky series had turned into 'a machine' powered by "a football team of writers". In 2009 Lindsay referred to some of the episodes as 'dross', saying that only one in ten represented good comedy writing.

Allegations of unoriginality aside, the programme's prolific production rate ensured its place in broadcasting history, even if its popularity was perhaps more often due to the efforts of its cast than the quality of the scripts.

Richard Hewett

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Video Clips
2point4 Children (1991-99)
Lindsay, Robert (1949-)
Wanamaker, Zoë (1949-)
The Sitcom Family