9 August 2004 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
A "Dad"-ly funny sitcom
It's interesting how actors in Britain tend to have career arcs radically different from those of Stateside actors. In the USA, a name-value actor generally works exclusively in film or exclusively in television (or transitioning from one to the other), whilst in Britain there's much less demarcation between the two media. Also, in America a name-value actor tends to specialise in either comedy or drama, rather than working equally in both.
George Cole has had a long and distinguished career as an actor in Britain, changing easily from comedy to drama, from television to film, and back again, gracefully accumulating a wide range of roles. This sort of career is not especially uncommon in Britain: John Thaw and David Jason are similar examples. It is, however, extremely atypical in America, and I can't think of any Yank actor who occupies a place in Stateside popular culture remotely comparable to Cole's reputation in Britain ... or, come to that, Thaw's or Jason's.
The 1997 series 'Dad' is no relation to 'Comrade Dad', another sitcom previously starring Cole. 'Dad' will never be quite as prominent on Cole's CV as 'Minder' or the St Trinian's movies, but it's a family sitcom well above average in its humour and performances. Cole (as grandfather Brian) is the best-known name in the cast, but it could be argued that the show's title actually refers to Kevin McNally's role, which is really the central character here in terms of both plotting and family relations. McNally plays Alan Hook, son of Brian and a father (and husband) in his own right.
'Dad' is one of those comfy, easy-peasy shows in which poor old Dad (Alan) is made to look a berk by everyone else in the family. His wife Beryl always knows best. (This ceased to be innovative a long time ago. Will we ever again see a sitcom in which the husband is cleverer than the wife?) Vincent, Alan's teenage son, is more sensible and less emotional than his father. Kevin McNally is a comedic revelation in the central role as Alan. As wife Beryl, Julia Hills reveals deft comic timing. Ms Hills is quite pretty without being excessively glammed. I dislike TV shows in which a fairly ordinary bloke has a wife who looks like a page-three girl.
Refreshingly, this series avoids the easy trap of making the teenage son 'trendy', and also avoids the cliché of intergenerational rivalry. When Alan's father or son disagrees with him, it's always a matter of personal conviction rather than degenerating into speeches about 'in my day...' or 'get with the times'.
The humour is realistic and quite funny, in the dialogue and performances from this uniformly excellent cast. Even the opening credits are funny, featuring animated gags in which Alan - in typical Wile E Coyote fashion - manages to cock up all the activities that the rest of his family would have done successfully. Each episode's title punningly inserts the word 'DAD' into a longer word. 'Dad' is a highly enjoyable series, worth a good laugh on anyone's viewing schedule. Anglophile viewers in American and Australia will get an honest depiction of middle-class life in Britain (for once) without the extremely parochial UK references that work against some other Britcoms. Hooray for 'Dad'!