Next of Kin is a 21 year old sitcom with a charmingly macabre premise. Starring sitcom stalwarts Penelope Keith and William Gaunt it is one of very few comedy programmes with a central premise concerning death.
Maggie and Andrew Prentice are well to do and living the high life in their latter years. Looking forward to moving their quiet retirement to a house in France their plans suddenly crumble when their son and his wife die in a car crash, and as next of kin they become the guardians of their grandchildren. They were estranged from their son, haven’t seen the children for years, and are not at all looking forward to the prospect. One of the reasons they were estranged from their son was his resentment at being sent away to boarding school. They were so used to spending their money on themselves they are completely unprepared for what looking after three children will entail. Philip will only eat Spam, Jake won’t eat anything circular and elder sister Georgia is an ardent vegetarian. And they have a lot of animals. But they are their kin so they throw themselves reluctantly into the task, while trying to be sympathetic to their grief.
The opening credits, with Gaunt and Keith in evening dress singing Tea For Two, and then being joined by the children in their usual clothes is a real curiosity. It explains the set-up of the story quickly enough, but is quite haunting and ultimately very creepy. It doesn’t give you the impression that what you’re about to see is a comedy at all.
From the writers Jan Etherington and Gavin Petrie, creators of Second Thoughts, Next of Kin is actually a surprisingly tender look at the grieving process in children, wrapped in the trappings of a traditional domestic sitcom. The gags are hit and miss, but the characters and situation are so well drawn that the whole thing becomes very watchable even if you are laughing away like the members of the studio audience. There are some very funny moments, and youngest son Jake is the cause of most of the laughter over the three series. And unusually for a sitcom there are moments of real poignancy as the children and adults become more used to their situation. Those quiet moments of understanding are wonderfully dealt with on screen, and the show is quite happy to allow the emotional story take precedence. Because of this familiarity with the characters is very quickly forged between the performers and the audience, which makes viewing the show a comfortable experience.
Ultimately although it is by no means a laugh riot, Next of Kin is nicely gentle watch.
Next of Kin: The Complete Collection (Series 1-3) is out now.