reviews Relativity

Relativity, the BBC's Finest Sitcom of Late, Streaming Globally, Free

Relativity is a BBC sitcom written by, and co-starring, Richard Herring that takes some aspects of his own life but creates a multi-generational epic that is just as convoluted as the likes of HBO's Succession (also, weirdly, written by British comedian) but on a far more personal level. It begins with Herring's character, Ian (a name he has used for comedy purposes across his career) as an unsuccessful actor with a much younger and more successful girlfriend, Chloe, played by Emma Berrington, returning to his parents home. This elicits the title of the show – the new laws of relativity include that time passes differently in families. No matter how many years you have spent apart and grown when you return home, you return to the age you were when you left, and nothing has changed. Grown adults return to being teenagers, and running jokes kick off again. However, it is a lie, and Relativity is exceptional in every episode taking place weeks, months, years after the previous one. The characters may not change, but their lives have to. People die, people and born, and the world keeps turning.

It also helps that Alison Steadman and Phil Davies play the older parents of the family, doing their best to keep up with the world. Episode one's "I thought you were a burglar" "what burglar unplugs the hoover?" "it's a nice hoover" deliciously sets up their separate world views and how they slot together. Davies' determination to mentally stimulate his dementia-suffering mother-in-law by firing sums at her is also an early highlight.

Oh, and on that note, a warning. Relativity is one of the funnier sitcoms of late, but it gets there through all manner of bittersweet moments. There is about family, with all of its complexities. Also, Richard Herring nicks a few of the more manipulative structures from Steven Moffat. The ending of the first series and beginning of the second is right from Press Gang – though listeners had to wait a year for it to be (eventually) resolved. You won't have to wait for anything like that.

Consisting of three seasons, two sets of four episodes, and a one of six, Relativity is a real high point in the family sitcom genre, which reflects structure of great literature and great farce. It is currently being repeated on Radio 4 Extra and the first few episodes are available free, globally, streaming on the BBC Radio iPlayer and BBC Sounds, with the rest to follow.