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Mark Peters

 

Forgive me if this all sounds familiar. Friday Night Dinner (BBC Entertainment, Saturdays at 6pm) is a British comedy that centres on a middle-class family living pleasantly in suburbia with their first-world problems. But hold on: before you run away screaming, this is not a rehash of the BBC's inexplicably popular My Family; it's funnier and far more clever. Written by Robert Popper ( Peep Show, The Inbetweeners), it is set in the North London home of Jewish couple Martin and Jackie Goodman (Tamsin Greig; Episodes).

Each week, their fully functioning twenty-something sons Adam (Simon Bird; The Inbetweeners) and Jonny return to the family home for Friday night supper, during which they regress into quarrelling teenagers, treat their parents with disdain and play childish pranks. The writing is sharp and believable (with some spicy language) and the delivery is so rapid-fire and expertly timed, the more obvious jokes are easily forgiven.

Friday Night Dinner does quirky realism well and even the unnervingly creepy next-door neighbour, played by the ever enjoyable Mark Heap ( Lark Rise to Candleford), is strangely likeable. Mildly eccentric Martin spends most of the first episode shirtless and rummaging through the bins for food.

While it may not be your usual laugh-a-minute sitcom, subtle nuances hit home and Popper seems to realise (through personal experience?) that nothing is funnier for a son than to see his father swear uncontrollably.

Maybe the Goodmans would benefit from a little therapy once in a while, but I certainly wouldn't recommend they seek the advice of the slightly delusional and self-absorbed psychologist Fiona Wallace. Web Therapy (FX HD, Fridays at 11pm) stars Lisa Kudrow, of Friends fame, in that role and was seen online, in 10-minute "webisodes", before being fleshed out for a move to network television.

Wallace is a counsellor with a difference: she is so preoccupied with her own issues that she finds the usual 50-minute consultations far too boring and so offers treatments that consist of three-minute sessions held over the internet. Possessed of a poor moral compass and (unknown to her clients) no formal training, Wallace's guidance is far from sympathetic.

Most of this dark comedy is improvised, which results in rather sporadic chemistry between Kudrow and her selection of television- and movie-star guests. The comedic success of each "session" depends greatly on the willingness of the "patients" to verbally spar with Kudrow, and being so reliant on the dialogue, the show misses as often as it hits the mark.

One guy who certainly doesn't miss is the impressively six-packed Stephen Amell ( Hung), who stars as billionaire playboy Oliver Queen in the comic-book adaptation Arrow (Warner TV, tomorrow at 9pm).

Following an accident at sea, Queen spends five years on an island as a castaway, presumed dead, before returning to his home city as a green-hooded guardian angel. Decked out like a vengeful S&M Robin Hood with a newly found conscience and archery skills to put Legolas to shame, Queen, like most comic-book heroes, becomes a vigilante determined to right the wrongs of his family.

It's far-fetched and over the top but Arrow is a whole lot of fun and gets off to a … a-hem … flying start.

If you're in need of more turbo-fuelled action, Discovery Channel's three-part series Driven to Extremes (Wednesdays at 8pm) may be right up your street. Part endurance test, part travelogue, this week's ultimate driving challenge pushes Hollywood actor Tom Hardy ( Oliver Twist; the TV mini-series) and ex-motorsport driver Mika Salo to the limit as they embark on a hellish road trip to the coldest inhabited place on Earth.

I think I'd rather pop round to my parents' house on a Friday night.

 

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