CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Give the Royles a middle-class makeover and what do you get?
Thank gawd it's not just my family, then. The Cockfields (Gold), a three-part sitcom about a bloke taking his girlfriend home to meet his parents, is crammed with lines so true to life, it sometimes felt like a documentary.
'Do you need any washing doing?' gasped Mum (Sue Johnston) as she dashed out of her house to greet Simon and Donna (Joe Wilkinson and Diane Morgan).
'Do you want to pop your car in front of mine?' ordered her husband, stepdad Ray (Bobby Ball), biting back his disapproval of Simon's sloppy parking.
Comedy fans will have spotted that the cast is solid sitcom aristocracy. Once half of the double act Cannon and Ball, Bobby has enjoyed a resurgence as Lee Mack's coarsely cheerful father in Not Going Out.
The Cockfields (Gold), a three-part sitcom about a bloke taking his girlfriend home to meet his parents, is crammed with lines so true to life, it sometimes felt like a documentary
The Cockfields: L-R Diane Morgan as Donna, Joe Wilkinson as Simon, Sue Johnston as Sue, Ben Rufus Green as David and Bobby Ball as Ray
Diane Morgan, as well as playing the sublimely stupid TV presenter Philomena Cunk, is the slobbish, sharp-tongued Liz in Motherland.
But it is Johnston who steals this show. As fretful mother Sue, doting on her son and desperate to impress his girlfriend, she witters and fusses like a hen having a panic attack.
Leaping up from the table in the garden, where she has laid out a groaning spread of salads and gala pie, she dashes into the house and emerges clutching something in both hands. 'Napkin rings,' she cries.
Despite so many lines that are ruthlessly spot-on, The Cockfields isn't a gag-a-minute comedy with set-ups and punchlines.
Paternity looks a long way off for Tom, 18, a Yorkshire apprentice desperate to settle down and raise a family, as First Dates (C4) returned
Instead, it's a collection of moments from an excruciating weekend, with Simon and Donna staggering from one embarrassment to the next and trying to pretend everything is fine.
On their afternoon walk along the cliff-top, Sue takes it into her head to show how she can start the dog howling, by kneeling down and baying into its ears. Then Ray insists on walking straight across the cricket pitch, in the middle of a game, because the field is a public right-of-way.
Though only one scene in the first episode is actually set in the living room, with Sue nattering away to Donna while clipping Ray's horrible toenails, the show is almost a middle-class remake of The Royle Family — the father a selfish pig, the mother happily subservient and the children bound by love to their parents.
Wilkinson, who co-wrote the script, says: 'However much they do your head in, you haven't got for ever with them so you're really torn. And I think when you get to a certain age, you start to think about that more and more... they're not gonna be there for ever.'
Only one element doesn't quite ring true: bearish, bearded Simon's real father is played by the suave and slim Nigel Havers. The Cockfields continues this evening and tomorrow: maybe one of the episodes will feature a DNA paternity test.
Paternity looks a long way off for Tom, 18, a Yorkshire apprentice desperate to settle down and raise a family, as First Dates (C4) returned.
He took one look at 19-year-old law student Abbie's off-the-shoulder dress and asked whether it was a one-sleeved tank top. Bad start.
First Dates is relentlessly formulaic, with every couple bringing past pain along with them for dinner — bereavements, divorce and shocking secrets that must not be revealed until the second bottle of wine. But the opportunity to eavesdrop can be irresistible.
Dottie, 71, and Jonathan, 69, spent the evening making stilted, formal conversation, which wasn't calculated to kindle a romance — and neither was Dottie's repeated declaration that she wanted a lover who looked like a Greek god.
Careful, Dot. A chap's ego bruises easily.