When I first saw a bit of Mrs. Brown on YouTube I had a great chuckle.
I thought it was an old British comedy from the 1970s. The bloke in the frock was giving Dick Emery a run for his money and the studio audience was roaring at all the gags.
But then there were a few swear words being dropped. Including some absolute clangers. Was that “feckin'” or “f*ckin”? Or both?
Mrs. Brown, it seems, is a character created by Irish writer / performer Brendan O’Carroll starring in a 2011 series, after previous incarnations on radio. She is a proudly working class, nosey matriarch who has an opinion on everything. Usually found in her kitchen, living room or the local pub, Agnes “Mummy” Brown is generally attached to an iron, vaccum, telephone, pint of beer or the ear of a no-good son. And swearing like a trooper the whole time.
The premise of Mrs. Brown’s Boys takes a back seat to the punchlines and knockabout comedy of its star performer. O’Carroll is very skilled at his character in the great British tradition of drag comedy: Dick Emery, Danny La Rue and Lily Savage. He also displays such terrific comic timing, that it leaves you wondering why we haven’t seen more of him as an actor outside of his frock.
The combination of man-in-frock and outrageous language will probably have its appeal to some. Whereas Dick Emery would tell us “You are naughty, but I like you,” Mrs. Brown just barges right in and drops the F word. Saying such socially unacceptable words as a ‘woman’ and as a senior, is where this show seeks to derive its humour. You can expect to hear all manner of gags about willies, knickers, arses, condoms, vibrators, porn and more….. And then hear them all over again. It will be interesting to see if Seven ends up censoring any words, despite being MA rated after 9pm.
For three minutes on YouTube it’s funny stuff. As a half-hour comedy (and Seven is airing two back to back) it’s infuriating. Added to this, the supporting cast of family, neighbours and the local doctor, get no character development or sub-plots. They are there to facilitate the punchlines of O’Carroll. Most are played by O’Connell’s actual family.
There is the curious inclusion of breaking the fourth-wall, with Mummy talking to camera (even turning to the audience exasperated saying ‘I’m a man in a dress!”), wandering off the set and seeing co-stars ‘going up’ (ie. breaking into laughter). Haven’t seen some of those ideas since Maddie and David stormed off the set of Moonlighting.
The writing aspires to the work of Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft (Are You Being Served?, Allo’ Allo’) but with less plotting. At times it feels more like ‘Andy Millman’ in When the Whistle Blows -the comedy parody that featured in Ricky Gervais’ Extras. Catherine Tate also had a similar character, sensibly confined to shorter sketches. Mrs. Brown would probably have Mrs. Slocombe as a neighbour were she still alive with her pussy in 2012.
None of this will prevent Mrs. Brown from having her devotees. There will be those who wee themselves (gawd, I’m doing it now) with laughter. There will be those who are shocked and appalled. And there will be those, like me, who are just bored after ten minutes of gagging on one gag.
Mrs. Brown’s Boys airs 9pm Wednesdays on Seven.