The Royle Family: Barbara’s Old Ring, 2012.
Directed by Caroline Aherne.
Starring Ricky Tomlinson, Sue Johnston, Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash.
Christmas is coming but Barbara is not happy. Not only has she lost her wedding ring but Jim has won on a scratch card she found down the back of the sofa whilst looking for the ring and has kept quiet about his hundred pounds winnings.
The law of diminishing returns could be attributed to The Royle Family as it produces its 5th Christmas special in 6 years, but there is just something about this special show that means it doesn’t suffer the same fate as other British comedies.
For example, I loved Only Fools and Horses and still claim that 1996’s Time On Our Hands is one of the finest examples of British sitcom writing, but I am loathed to admit that every time it came back it lost a little bit of its magic. The Royle Family however always seems to always bring in the laughs while never feeling that it’s overstayed its welcome. There is something truly special about Caroline Aherne, Craig Cash and Phil Mealey’s writing and characters that mean that the Royles can keep coming back to our TV screens year after year.
This year’s special sees Dave having problems with his “dickie”, their new neighbour scrounging off them, Joe looking for a “vacant lady” with a newspaper advert, Jim winning £100 on a scratch card found down the sofa and Barbara losing her wedding ring. That’s quite a lot of storylines to squeeze into a one hour long show which often means that Barbara’s Old Ring feels more like a sketch show (as a lot of the specials have done) rather than an extended episode of the show. That’s not a bad thing though as the jokes come thick and fast and aside from a few naff set-ups here and there, the whole special comes off as a winner.
The introduction of scrounging next door neighbour Carol is probably a reaction to the lack of Ralph Little, Jessica Hynes and the late Geoffrey Hughes and she does bring a new and welcome element to the specials, but you can’t help but look at her as a superfluous character. The episode had more than enough with its multiple storylines that Carol probably wasn’t needed other than for Ahern and Cash to poke fun at ‘council estate Mums’. She’s only in two scenes and isn’t given enough time for her character to be established among the recognisable cast. While I do think she is a good character, the episode could have survived without her.
The Royle Family: Barbara’s Old Ring is a really decent Christmas special from everyone’s favourite sitcom family. The jokes work, the writing is excellent and the performances are class. Plus, it’s just so nice to see this family back on our screens again. Long may their reign continue and I hope to see them again next year.