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TV Review: Citizen Khan

TV Review: Citizen Khan

August 31, 2012

The BBC presents its first British-Asian sitcom. 10 years on from Goodness Gracious Me, expectations were always going to be high.

With British-Asians making up around 6% of the UK demographic, it’s a miracle that it’s taken this long for a sitcom specifically based on a British-Asian family to grace the BBC. What lends to this surprise is the success that products like Bend It Like Beckham, East Is East, Four Lions and Goodness Gracious Me have had, showing that there is an audience for this kind of programming. 

And this brings us to what may be Citizen Khan’s greatest attribute, but also its worst enemy: expectation. A large number of viewers will be curious to know how the BBC’s first British-Asian sitcom, and the UK’s first British-Muslim sitcom, will stand up. However, in turn it will also have a cynical audience who will be resolved to hate it even before seeing the starting credits. With far-from-kind criticisms befalling previous British-Asian sitcoms like Mumbai Calling (ITV) and Meet The Magoons (C4), it is difficult not to blame them.

Unfortunately for Citizen Khan, despite some flashes of brilliance, it goes over very familiar territory of plastic-covered furniture, parents who don’t know what their ‘good’ children are up to, the over-exaggerated pride of the homeland – it’s all been done before. It’s not a crime to recycle these old stereotypes, but it would be good to see them dealt with originally.

With the exception of some dialogue on Facebook and texting, the script could have easily come from the early 80s. Not only because some of the scenarios felt as they’d escaped from a Carry On…film, but because the modern day British-Asian family has moved on in leaps and bounds since then. The characters depicted here feel like a calorie-free East Is East. With a post-watershed viewing time, both character and dialogue could have been much, much edgier. It just feels that, like the Canadian-Muslim sitcom The Little Mosque On The Prairie, it plays it far too safe. Chris Morris broke so many boundaries with his suicide bomber comedy Four Lions – that’s not to say all Asian comedy should be about forced marriages and terrorism – but there should be at least some stakes involved for the characters. Although Mr Khan risks ruining his daughter’s engagement, it doesn’t really feel like he cares.

There are times when Adil Ray’s comic-timing as Mr Khan makes a few of the jokes fall flat, and the editing could have been a little tighter too, such as the moment where Mr Khan’s youngest Koran-reading daughter strips off to go out clubbing. However, the sitcom comes into it own with the presence of the show’s non-Asian character, Dave, played by Kris Marshall (My Family). Both his performance as the converted Mosque Manager, and the chemistry he has with Mr Khan holds much promise for the rest of the series. The blatantly racist behaviour Mr Khan has towards Dave holds up a great mirror to some of the narrow-mindedness that goes on in British-Asian circles, and it would be great to see more of this, than the typical moronic-father-messes-up-and-tries-to-fix-things-for-his-family scenarios.

Nonetheless, it is to be remembered that this is only the first episode, and as with every sitcom, it will take a while for us to warm to each of the characters, and come to terms with what makes them funny. It’s good to see a lighter side to a British mosque than what we see in Dispatches and could make an interesting world to play out as a comedy. If it stops limiting itself to how few viewers it can offend (with the exception of Somalians), Citizen Khan has the potential to grow into a real crowdpleaser: maybe even the first hit British-Asian sitcom. Here’s to hoping. 

8 Comments

  • A Singh
    By
    A Singh
    05.09.12 05:02 AM
    Shai, I hear what you are saying it's just that I am constantly disappointed. Every now and then something like Four Lions comes along and gives me hope that it can be done.

    I am very familiar with Russell Peters and have seen him live on a number of occasions. He's not the best example. Much like GGM, he was funny once but the joke's kind of worn off now. As a big stand up comedy fan I just think funny is funny and Asian stand up comedians (and I have followed them all) seem to me now, to be more of a novelty act for non-asians - something different. Nothing wrong with that. Either that or Asians who do not usually follow stand up and will laugh hysterically at anyone on stage making obvious jokey cultural references that they can relate to.

    It's refreshing to enjoy a comedian who is just plain funny and whose Asian background is incidental. Aziz Ansari a case in point
  • Shai
    By
    Shai
    05.09.12 04:23 AM
    @Mr Singh: I was one of GGM's biggest fans when it came out, and it continues to influence my scriptwriting work, but I do agree that it became a bit too samey samey towards the end. There is nothing wrong with being influenced by previous classics - all creative work is influenced by something - but to repeat the same jokes 12 years on is a bit blah.

    Asian culture does have the potential to inspire high standards of comedy - Russell Peters is testament to this (if you haven't seen his stand-up, I thoroughly recommend his earlier work!) The TV and film commissioners just need to stop paying attention to the minority of uptight idiots who get offended and start taking more risks on edgier material like 4 Lions for example.

    @Harry Happy you enjoyed it. A few of my friends liked it too, so it did tend to divide the crowd. Though I wasn't a huge fan of the pilot, I just saw the second episode and, other than some joke echoes from GGM, was a vast improvement. Yep, I'm hooked. I'll moan, but I'm hooked.
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    04.09.12 08:45 PM
    @ Shai

    I watched the first episode on I-player and you know what, it was funny in cheap kind a way. :)

    HARRY
  • A Singh
    By
    A Singh
    03.09.12 06:34 PM
    Shai, I did not manage to watch the show last week, but your review pretty much summed up my expectations. Probably why I did not make up enough of an effort to catch it.

    You measure it against the standard of GGM, but even that show became tiresome to watch and very cliched.

    I sometimes think that asian culture does not have the potential to inspire the high standard of comedy that other ethnic groups, e.g. Jewish, African, American, are able to.
  • Shai
    By
    Shai
    03.09.12 02:48 PM
    Hi Wendy. The sad thing is that none of this would have been labelled offensive if it had been set in the world of Christianity, so why should it be any different in Islam? The sitcom never makes fun of the religion, but pokes at the double standards that some hold (though not nearly enough). If it was to show real sodomy happening, that would have been offensive (and more disturbing than funny), but it wasn't ever intended to simulate - it was mistaken.

    The throwaway niqab gag has been used in countless Asian comedy sequences in different forms - East Is East (they waft away the smell of bacon when they hear their dad coming), Bend It Like Beckham (changing costume from football kit to desi gear), even Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (Amrish Puri enters, the whole family switch from dancing around the house to sitting down and listening to classic Hindi songs). The only difference again, is that it's in a Muslim form in this sitcom. What makes it funny is that many Asian girls (and boys) to one extent or another have lived these double lives, in a hope to hide their western influences in case they get a full serving of thappar.

    The app to Mecca was so OTT, you just can't take offence to. It just doesn't bear to take seriously - it just took a dig at the 'there's an app for that' application-heavy world we live in.

    But the Bernard Manning school of comedy, I'll give you. I was offended. I'm definitely with you on that :D
  • wendy jones
    By
    wendy jones
    03.09.12 02:28 PM
    You missed the obvious abuse : simulated sodomy in a mosque, the throwaway nikab (plastered in makeup) and faith, reading Koran he says this is the best bit. App to pray to Mecca but Muslims pray to God in the direction of Mecca. Not to mention the Bernard Manning school of comedy
  • Shai
    By
    Shai
    03.09.12 01:21 PM
    Hi Harry. I had high-ish expectations for sure. Hope you enjoyed the pilot. Would be good to hear your thoughts :)
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    31.08.12 07:45 PM
    @ Shai

    I think you and I are expecting too much from this sitcom, do you not think so? If it's as good as review, then I will definitely watch it. Or at least first episode for starter.

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