When Sitcom Gets Serious: Roger and Val Have Just Got In

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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 twenty-first century. However, 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 and any such script would require a pair of very accomplished actors. Roger and Val… was created by and starred Dawn French, and was written by twin sisters Beth and Emma Kilcoyne. So, in an age of increasing diversity, and empowering women, how have we forgotten this show?

Episode by episode, we gradually gain an insight into the reality of their life together. It is a life filled with everyday drama, disciplinary procedures, extramarital affairs, bickering, and promotion races Yet, the one that has undeniably affected the couple the most is the death of their son, Christopher, and it this which gives the show its heart. It is because of this that I care so much for Roger and Val.

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 bull-shit perceived wisdom from too many is that “Women aren’t funny”. Comedy is too often considered the domain of men and maleness. These Kilcoyne sisters prove an exception to this and really ought to 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.

I believe that Roger and Val… is 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 the two series, we are taken on an emotional rollercoaster. We watch as Val questions her position in the marriage, and as Roger loses his father. 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.

Given that Gold recently aired the two series again, it might be that a new audience will discover this masterpiece. What cannot 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.

Originally publixhed on Planet Slop.

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