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As with any TV Series that follows the lives of young children, ‘Outnumbered’ has fallen prey to the incredible speed with which modern kids change over a short period of time; a change which has left it missing much of the magic and laughter of the earlier series’.
When we first met the Brockman children in 2007, Jake, Ben and Karen were aged 11, 7 and 5 respectively. Now, in what writers Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin claim to be their final series, the kids, aged 17, 13 and 11, are virtually unrecognisable, their characters having inevitably matured along with their bodies, and not for the better. Indeed, much of the innocent curiosity that made the children so funny in the first series has vanished.
Jake (Tyger Drew-Honey) remains much as he was, a reckless teenager, this time foolishly getting an undistinguishable tattoo in Camden Market that the others are convinced is a ‘dead spider’. In fact Jake’s more prominent role in the latest series, as the know-it-all teenager, dispensing parenting advice to his despairing mum and dad, ‘who let it all slip after him’, is a hilariously realistic portrayal of family life and still leaves us smirking at one another with recognition on our couches at home.
Physically, Ben too looks much the same, with the usual untameable mop of curls and cheeky expression. He has, however, shot up by about two feet and now towers over his petite mother, who he lifts comically into the air as if she were a pillow in the second episode. His incredible impish energy and childish insanity has been lost unfortunately, along with the stories of his outrageous exploits which used to leave us in stitches. Indeed in the latest series the loveable but dangerous little scamp is a distant memory, and in place of burning the house down or giving his teacher a heart attack, Ben’s naughtiness seems to extend to slamming the front door, a joke that while recognisable to audiences, soon becomes repetitive. There is no doubt that age mellows children, but Ben’s intense curiosity and roguish spark seems to have been extinguished altogether in this series. His main storyline, as a singing Spartacus in the new school musical, although holding potential for a comic climax is frankly dull, and draws little laughs compared to his mischievous shenanigans in previous series’.
But the major disappointment in the series comes from the youngest Brockman, Karen, who has transformed from a cute but confrontational extrovert to a sultry, dark haired teenager and as such has lost the distinctive freshness that made her so delightful to watch. As an audience we roared with laughter as the ingenious young Karen dismantled each and every adult she encountered, rendering them speechless with scathing insults and knowledge far beyond her years, particularly in the field of Law. Now those piercing brown eyes are concealed behind a fringe of dark hair, and the fierce, precocious girl has been replaced by a predictable listless teenager who struggles to fit in at her new school. Though she still maintains a ruthless attitude of being top dog, the unchallengeable confidence and audacity has been lost in the one woman whirlwind that was Karen Brockman, who instead of challenging adult authority, now avoids it by hiding in her room.
It seems then that like most children, the Brockman’s innocence, charm and uniqueness has been swallowed up by their unpreventable entry into adolescence and with it that which made them so hilarious in the earlier series’ has been lost. Although Jake’s character has been developed well, without Ben’s mischief and Karen’s wonderful ability to question everything and everyone around her, the show has lost its humorous edge and has become just another predictable sitcom.
Whilst the woebegone expressions and exhausted responses of the Brockman parents, played by Hugh Dennis and Claire Skinner, make Outnumbered still largely unmissable for its accurate portrayal of modern family life, there is no doubt that it is not as funny as it once was, a fact which is largely down to the age of the kids.