Arguing at the dinner table might be frowned upon, but it’s become something of a tradition on one of Channel 4’s most popular comedies – and is what makes them most “Jewish”, according to the show’s creator.
The Goodmans return to our screens this week, when Friday Night Dinner begins its sixth series, and creator Robert Popper describes the intensity between husband and wife and their two adult sons as “probably quite a Jewish thing”.
First airing in 2011, the sitcom revolves around a secular Jewish family coming together for a Shabbat meal and stars Tamsin Greig (Black Books), Paul Ritter (Chernobyl), Simon Bird (The Inbetweeners) and Tom Rosenthal (Plebs).
Speaking at the show’s premiere, held earlier this month at Soho’s Curzon cinema, Popper says that while he didn’t set out to write a specifically Jewish comedy, it was inspired by his own Jewish upbringing.
“The intensity of the family is probably quite a Jewish thing, particularly in this series, which is extremely intense and argumentative, and everyone knows everyone’s business,” he explains.
The Edgware-raised producer and writer, whose credits include The Inbetweeners, the Baa-winning Peep Show and South Park, says the sitcom drew upon his own Friday night experiences.
“I wanted to do a show about a family and the feeling you get when you go home and you revert to being kids again,” he says. “I used to go home to my parents on a Friday evening, which is like Sunday lunch, and me and my brother would become kind of children again. And I thought everyone has that.”
But as the writer admits, the show does not attempt to depict Jewish life in particular. Despite its Jewish elements and an allusion to antisemitism at the start of season five, he “didn’t want to put issues” into it. “I just wanted it to be silly and funny”, he says.
Other Jewish comedies tend to be stereotypical and overdone, Popper adds. “Whenever I see some Jewish comedy, or Jewish scenes, it’s either very overly emotional with like the violin playing or they focus on the candles, or it’s quite large.”
While Friday Night Dinner may not be solely about the community, there was a plate of hamantashen left by the cinema entrance for the premiere event, which took place over Purim.
The sitcom, which is mostly shot on location in north London’s Mill Hill, is “not an easy show to film”, Greig says, comparing the experience of being on set to a “Jewish Big Brother”.
“You can’t go outside of the house because you don’t want to disturb the neighbours. There’s nowhere to go. It’s always shot in Mill Hill, in the winter time so you get a lot more hours in the dark,” says Greig, who is starring in ITV’s period drama, Belgravia. “There are days when you think ‘I really hope someone’s finding it funny’ because the experience is often not.”
Friday Night Dinner starts tomorrow (Friday), on Channel 4, at 10pm.