Forgotten TV: Roger and Val Have Just Got In
Created by Dawn French, and written by a formidable writing team of twin sisters, Alan Parry remembers a largely forgotten sitcom that should be ranked as one of the finest of the 21st century.
Do you remember Roger and Val Have Just Got In? Have you even heard of it? If not, why not?
I would go as far as saying that this was one of the finest sitcoms of the last decade, and next month its five years since the last episode aired. But, for some reason it appears to have almost disappeared into the ether.
The premise was simple, we watched on, in real time, as Roger and Val returned home from work.
Too simple perhaps? Any such show would require an excellent script. Tick. And any such script would require a pair of very accomplished actors. Tick again.
Episode by episode, we gradually gain an insight into the reality of their life together. Some topics, such as the one that has undeniably affected the couple the most – the death of their son, Christopher – is not introduced directly. Rather, the writers cleverly include subtext to their conversations. Nor do the characters speak directly of Christopher, their heartache clearly being all too raw.
Roger and Val was created by and starred Dawn French, and written by twin sisters Beth and Emma Kilcoyne. So in an age of increasing diversity, and empowering women, how have we let this show be forgotten?
Sitcoms generally follow the wider rule of thumb that has prevailed in the wider world of comedy. There have been successful female writers, but all too often the bullshit perceived wisdom from too many is that “Women aren’t funny”. These Kilcoyne sisters should be keeping company with Jennifer Saunders and Victoria Wood, but for some reason they’re not.
It’s not a talent issue. I refuse to accept that, for a start Alfred Molina (Boogie Nights, Raiders of the Lost Ark) would not have got out of bed for anything half baked. And French is a national treasure. These are stellar names, and should help the show gain more attention, but it has never panned out like that.
Perhaps it was a matter of timing. Comedy can often come across as a bit of a boys club, so perhaps it came five years too soon.
At present, the importance of women in comedy and the television/movie business at large, both in front of and behind the camera, is being underlined. In today’s climate, Roger and Val may have warranted a great deal more attention.
It is sad that we can’t easily go back and revisit what should have been a classic. It was dropped by both Netflix and Gold after short reruns, which aired with little fanfare, and it is unavailable on BBC iPlayer. In fact, you would have to fork out nearly £30 for the pair on DVD, but its well worth it mind.
And here’s why.
It is by far one of the finest pound for pound comedies that the BBC have aired this century. It is amazingly well observed, witty, and gut-wrenchingly sad.
It holds its own with all-time greats like The Royle Family, and Steptoe and Son. In fact, the mileage that these two women got from basically two characters in a room is remarkable.
Over the course of two series we are taken on an emotional rollercoaster. We watch as Val vies with a colleague for the Deputy Head position at her school, and as Roger goes through a disciplinary process at the garden centre. There is real joy, and genuine tragedy from seemingly trivial matters and a couple of major happenings don’t eclipse what the show is at its heart.
Perhaps, it would have been better suited to the stage. I think that there are similarities to Willy Russell’s Educating Rita, and another sitcom which focussed on the minutiae of daily life, Early Doors is about to embark upon a live adaptation. This option could easily be explored with such brilliant source material.
But, what can’t happen, is that we forget about this true gem. Such brilliant writing, and bittersweet performance deserves better. If you haven’t seen it, find a way. And be prepared for your heart to be pierced.