A blast FROM THE PAST
Has there ever been a more unlikely TV smash hit than Mrs Brown’s Boys? An old-fashioned sitcom, it could have been dropped through a wormhole in space from the 1970s, when a 57-year-old man in drag, swearing at his family and winking at the camera was much more fashionable.
Audiences adore the show, with the first episode of the new season drawing more than a million viewers in Australia. Yet critics are baffled by its success.
Dianne Butler uses the phrase “spectacularly not funny” and the UK’s Daily Mail branded it the “worst comedy ever made”, yet it recently won Britain’s National TV Award for Best Sitcom.
Brendan O’Carroll, who dreamed up the character in a Dublin radio studio 20 years ago, admits he’s as gob-smacked as the critics by its success.
The only explanation he can offer is that it fills a gap in the market, left by TV comedy’s current preoccupation with being too clever by half.
“We’ve discovered a lost audience,” he says. “I think comedy forgot the audience for a while. It was left behind (after) Dad’s Army and Fawlty Towers.
“It’s not new, it’s nothing special, it’s just funny – y’know?
“But at the end of the day I don’t write for TV critics or theatre critics or radio critics – I write for the audience.”
When the BBC approached O’Carroll, seeking to capitalise on the popularity of his stage shows, he told the producers he wouldn’t update the character or stop breaking the fourth wall (giving a wink to the audience or leaving in mistakes).
“It was one of the things that kept us off for the two-and-a-half years it took the BBC to convince me to do the show,” he says.
O’Carroll has now guided the character, Agnes Brown, through 400 radio episodes, five novels, a film (starring Anjelica Huston), another (starring O’Carroll to begin shooting in September), three TV series, an animated pilot and hit stage plays.
With so much original material to draw on, the man who continues to write every word Mrs Brown utters says there’s little chance of him running out of ideas for the sitcom.
“It sounds like it’s a difficult task, but if you take the history of the show for
television, there’s plenty to play with so there’s no question about whether or not I have a plotline. She’s just that kind of character. You put the most ordinary of situations in the way and they’ll develop into something comedic.’’
O’Carroll relishes the freedom to do and say as he pleases when he’s made up in the skirt and wig.
“Agnes gets away with things I’d never get away with,” he says. “Agnes Brown can get away with anything.’’
Australian audiences will have the opportunity to meet Mrs Brown in person on her tour next year, along with O’Carroll’s sister, son and d daughter, son’s best friend, daughter-in-law ter-in-law and three of his old mates, all l of whom star with him in stage and TV productions. ns.
“I can’t get over the success in Australia,” O’Carroll says.
“I just can’t wait to get t over there.”
Mrs Brown’s Boys
Thursday, 9.15pm, Seven