Premiering on BBC America last night is Outnumbered, which has actually already run three series in Britain. The first episode is “The School Run,” and in it, parents Pete (Hugh Dennis, My Hero) and Sue Brockman (Claire Skinner, Life Begins) do their best to get children Jake (Tyger-Drew Honey, The Armstrong and Miller Show), Ben (Daniel Roche, Just William), and Karen (Ramona Marquez, The King’s Speech) ready for school. This becomes a difficult task; eleven-year old Jake isn’t really enthusiastic about starting his new school, seven-year old Ben is a habitual liar, and five-year old Karen has many strange questions to ask. Not to mention, Ben and Karen fight, and Sue keeps trying to answer e-mails from work. It’s barely structured chaos.
Chaos is how many families run, and so Outnumbered feels incredibly real. Adding to that impression is how the kids often adlib dialogue, so it flows freely and natural, rather than them being forced to recite something. Karen, in particular, seems to delight in her run of queries about pets and weapons. Each child also takes after their parents in certain ways, such as Ben clearly gets his lying from Sue, so the family plays like a cohesive unit, not a bunch of actors thrown together. There is not a weak link among the five.
As Outnumbered is a sitcom, one would expect funny, along with authenticity. “The School Run” delivers in both regards. Pete’s best moment is when he lectures Jake about how adults are better suited to multi-task, but is soon distracted mid-sentence by the television, even though Jake is seemingly fine at managing TV, music, chatting, and homework all at once. Sue’s strength comes from her interactions with Ben and Karen, especially fielding Karen’s inquiries about owning a nit or a giraffe as a pet. Both adults fully commit to the kids, and while the house may be messy and cluttered, and the kids do get away with things, Pete and Sue are doing their best as parents, and it shows. Anyone who has ever been in a family with more than one child will relate to Outnumbered.
Outnumbered is an award-winning show in England, and is already filming a fourth series. This suggests that future episodes and seasons will maintain the high quality already deftly exhibited in “The School Run,” and may get even better over time. There is much to look forward to, so I highly recommend not missing it. Outnumbered is every bit as good as American family shows, such as Modern Family, and it has its own unique elements and twists.
The only complaint to be had about “The School Run” comes when Pete takes a mysterious phone call. First indications may suggest he is having an affair, though hopefully that is not the case. That could very well ruin the series, and I don’t know how it could recover from such a misstep.
Outnumbered airs Saturday nights at 11 p.m. ET on BBC America.