Farewell Outnumbered – you were good while you lasted but older kids just aren’t as funny

It's right that the once brilliant BBC1 comedy about hapless parents and their naughty children is bidding farewell, says Ben Dowell

A new episode of Outnumbered is on tonight – words which would once have inspired great joy and gladness in my heart.


But less so now.

Yes, we’re approaching the end of the fifth and final series of the BBC1 sitcom and, well, put it this way: I think they have made the right decision to end it.

You see, it doesn’t feel as funny now the kids have grown up. It’s funny. Just not as funny.

When it started in 2008, the kids of Pete and Sue Brockman were five, seven and 11. There was out of control Ben (Daniel Roche) who enjoyed dive-bombing them in bed and who, when he didn’t get the his way, embarrassed his father by convincing a shopful of onlookers that Pete was a stranger about to abduct him. There was youngest Karen (Ramona Marquez) who asked questions like “What’s a twat?”, and the eldest, Jake (Tyger Drew-Honey) who had to somehow keep his dignity intact with all this going on.

This was funny, made all the more funny by brilliant performances from the children, and Claire Skinner and Hugh Dennis as their exasperated parents. The series continued to be funny, its USP being the obvious fact that the children improvised all their lines (Marquez who plays Karen was apparently unable to even read a script when the show started); creators Guy Jenkin and Andy Hamilton just whispered an idea or an attitude or a few lines into the children’s ears before rolling the cameras on a given scene.

And the beauty of this approach was that the parents were constantly subverted by the unpredictable kids – just like real parents (and children). Finally the British comedy had succeeded in telling the truth about modern, competitive, chaotic child-rearing.

But as they got older (They are now 11, 13 and 17) it seemed a little less funny each year.

Karen became less of an ingénue opining that fairies “fly down your throat and turn your heart into a pumpkin then your blood stops running and then you die” and has become, well, a bit too normal.

Ben’s violence has become a little disturbing, frankly, now he is more grown up. And Jake? Well Jake is just quite a run-of-the-mill self-conscious teenager. Stroppy teens are by their very nature a bit boring, a bit arsey, a fact which we saw in the very opening episode of the current series when a key plot point was him getting a tattoo.

As acts of rebellion go it felt a bit like an adults’ idea of nonconformity than a real-life 21st-century hormonal adolescent’s idea of dissent.

Like a lot of this current run, this just felt a bit scripted and a long way from the 2008 vision when Hamilton said he wanted the show to have children saying things that children say, not things writers want them to say based on their memories of being a child 30 years ago. 

Of course I will miss the show which, for the most part has brought great joy into my life and means a lot to me (I became a parent the year it started and now have three children of my own). But in its current form it’s probably a bit easier to bid farewell to.

So, like a parent having to face the fact that the kids are flying the nest, it’s time to say Goodbye, Outnumbered. It’s been great while it lasted.