Mrs Brown’s Boys review: A hellish place where wit has gone to die

·4-min read
Brendan O’Carroll and Conor Moloney in ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys' (BBC / Alan Peebles)
Brendan O’Carroll and Conor Moloney in ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys' (BBC / Alan Peebles)

There’s nothing like a pandemic to put things into perspective. In the spirit of Christmas, I can confirm that watching Mrs Brown’s Boys is better than a dose of Covid, if only because, though thoroughly appalling, it’s all over relatively quickly.

Not that it feels that way. It still drags on, the half-hour feeling like you’ve been banished to some purgatory of anti-humour. “Created, written by and starring Brendan O’Carroll,” as the credits shamelessly declare, it’s the same old sitcom set-up, centred on “mammy” Agnes Brown, O’Carroll in drag as the familiar sweary Dublin granny and cod philosopher, plus her one-dimensional collection of one friends and family, who serve as little more than hapless foils for O’Carroll’s poorly constructed wisecracks. What passes for a storyline this year is a Murder Mystery game night at the local Foley’s Bar, the only pub in Ireland where the craic has run out.

You don’t smile, ever, when you watch this stuff; O’Carroll’s dismal scripts, wooden direction and the jaded performances see to that. The show still retains its trademark fluffed lines and the bloopers, probably because they are the nearest thing in the show to spontaneity, though this year there isn’t even much of that. An actor accidentally knocks a cup over, and a camera operator is a bit slow on the uptake. That’s your lot.

The nearest Mrs Brown’s Boys gets to raising a laugh this time round is derived from a riddle that I imagine must have once dropped out of a Christmas cracker, long, long ago. In the mouth of a five-year-old at the Christmas table in 1962, say, it may have once raised a smile for its cheesy cheekiness. But whatever charm it might once have had is drained away when it turns up, repurposed, as a contrived line of dialogue in Mrs Brown’s kitchen. It goes like this:

Mrs Brown, to the dim Buster Brady: “I said, ‘elephants have big ears.’”

Buster Brady: “Well, that’s because Noddy won’t pay the ransom.”

It works much better in the original formation of: “Why do elephants have big ears? Because Noddy won’t pay the ransom,” which has that nice groany quality to it. Uprooted and transplanted into an inferior sitcom, it just makes you wince out of a very different sense of embarrassment.

Mrs Brown’s speeches are more sickly than a glass of Baileys with a dash of grenadine (BBC / Alan Peebles)
Mrs Brown’s speeches are more sickly than a glass of Baileys with a dash of grenadine (BBC / Alan Peebles)

Much the same goes for the rest of the show, a hellish place where wit has gone to die, irony has long since been tortured to death, and comedic flair is strangled at birth. The knackered one-dimensional characters go on a death march through bucking awful puns, single-entendres and jokes so old, they can be carbon-dated to when Eamonn de Valera was a nipper. The nadir – and it is a crowded field – is when Agnes Brown’s old chum Winnie McGoogan declares, “Jacko got me to drink his nut juice.” Depressingly contrived and unoriginal as it is, it becomes a recurring, mercilessly laboured source of amusement for the rest of the show, as if the very height of observational satire. I can only admire the stoic professionalism of Eilish O’Carroll (sister to Brendan) in making the best of the almond milk-based humour. It would have been much better as a properly filthy story, but that would never do. There are also predictable jokes about getting fat during the Covid crisis, and some stuff about a Christmas tree I can’t be arsed to run through.

As always, the show concludes with a little homily from Mrs Brown, more sickly than a glass of Baileys with a dash of grenadine, and her lockdown reflection that “the streets were empty, but our hearts were full”. Pass the sick bag, Agnes.

Every year the people of Norway send Britain a great big spruce tree that goes up in Trafalgar Square, a gesture of thanks for help in the Second World War; and each year the people of Ireland send the British a special episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys, which I can only assume is some sort of payback for 800 years of occupation and cruelty. It might be well deserved, but two wrongs don’t make a right, you know. God knows what RTE and the BBC will dump on the Christmas Day schedules if Liz Truss cancels the Northern Ireland protocol.

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