Flowers is an imaginative, cinematic new sitcom starring Julian Barratt and Olivia Coleman, which will be hitting Channel 4 screens in two weeks’ time – on 25th April. Here’s our non-spoilery preview of the series:
Writer and Director Will Sharpe has said of his creation: “People are weird; people are different; people are colourful, wild and delicate; people are insignificant and vulnerable and even the hardiest are easily destroyed: Flowers, you will have got by now, is a title with an almost heavy-handed double meaning.” The show tells the story of a dysfunctional family of four (the titular Flowers clan): depressed children’s writer Maurice (Barratt), his unhinged wife, music teacher Deborah (Coleman), and their maladjusted adult twin offspring, Amy and Donald (Sophia Di Martino and Daniel Rigby respectively). This oddball familial group is supplemented by Japanese cook/illustrator, Shun (Will Sharpe) and a motley collection of neighbours and relatives.
On the surface of it, it’s a construct that bears a passing resemblance to the hackneyed sitcom format of old; however the result is anything but – all thanks to execution. The performances, writing, direction and styling have combined to create something gloriously fresh, fantastical and funny.
Written, directed and featuring the disgustingly young and talented Will Sharpe (who also played young Pat Quid in Brian Pern, TVO fact fans!), Flowers raises the stakes on “dysfunctional family” and gives it an edgy modern twist – in much the same way as Catastrophe reframed the “dysfunctional couple” and Nighty Night pushed “dysfunctional neighbour” to another level. Like both of these reference points, the storyline and characters in Flowers teeter just on the right side of believability – you can imagine these people really do exist, though the profane and profound version of life it presents is darker, sillier and more extreme than anything reality would throw at us. Let’s hope anyway.
Although unequivocally modern in its mindset, the visual environment of the show is intentionally timeless; wardrobe, props and locations present a quirky pocket of life that we unthinkingly assume is current, whilst only including elements from eras past and nothing that clearly places it in today. It’s the posh, shabby and eccentric version of Britishness we get to glimpse in Gogglebox’s Giles and Mary – but on steroids. The Flowers’ rambling, shambolic house, which groans with a generation of cumulative chaos is a fully-realised character itself.
Sharpe’s style of direction shoves the viewer deep inside the environment that he has created, utilising extreme close ups of both cast and setting to evoke the sense that we’re experiencing it with them. Whether it’s a worm caked in soil which fills the screen or a lingering shot of someone’s laughter (worry?) lines, you feel like you can touch, smell and taste these people’s lives. Whether intentional or not, Flowers is blessed with a cast of character actors whose appearances respond well to this level of visual scrutiny: these are complex, well-hewn faces with stories to tell. And they all posess the acting chops to pull it off.
Indeed, performances are another strong point. Olivia Coleman is well-known for her skill at combining vulnerability with silliness and making it loveable – and here she does it in spades. Julian Barratt more than matches her; Maurice is selfish, judgemental and unloving, but still your heart aches for him as he fights his self-inflicted inner demons. To evoke sympathy for such extreme personalities is quite a talent, and both leads do it brilliantly.
So is there anything about Flowers that’s anything less than wonderful? At a push, I’d say that some of the humour is a little obvious and one or two of the secondary characters are a tad 2-dimensional (Barry the builder and Deborah’s sister Viv spring to mind – funny though they are). However, one of the reasons these lesser moments stand out is because the rest of it is so delicious. You wish it was all as perfect as the best bits – which are really, really good.
Unlike the standard sitcom (which resets at the beginning of each episode), the story of the Flowers family develops across the show’s six episodes. Channel 4 are leveraging this to screen the entire series nightly across one week. It remains to be seen whether this tactic will work; Flowers feels like a strange world that one would do well to dive into – and then climb back out of to admire from afar. A daily immersion may not be the best approach to give viewers the distance to appreciate its giddy, dark treasures fully.
Catch Flowers on Channel 4 w/c 25th April, with a double bill starting at 10pm on Monday then an episode a night until the finale airs on Friday, 29th at 10pm. Click on the images below to view at full size: