When places like Southall and Bradford exist, it’s a wonder that it’s taken this long for the BBC to produce a sitcom specifically based on a British-Asian family. What lends to this surprise is the success enjoyed by other products such as Bend It Like Beckham and Goodness Gracious Me, showing that there is indeed an audience for this kind of show.
And this brings us to what might be both Citizen Khan’s greatest feature, but also its worst enemy – expectation. A large number of viewers will be curious to know how the BBC’s first British-Asian sitcom will stand up, while others, a more cynical audience will be resolved to hating it even before the opening credits have rolled; but following the monstrosity that was Meet the Magoons (C4), who can blame them?
Citizen Khan, despite some flashes of brilliance, returns to the very familiar territory of plastic covered furniture, naive parents who don’t know what their children are up to, and the over-exaggerated pride of the homeland – and you can’t help but feel it’s been done before. It’s not a crime to recycle stereotypes, but it would have been good to see them dealt with originally or at least applied to current affairs.
With the exception of fleeting mentions of Facebook and texting, the script could have easily been lifted from the early 80s. Not only because some of the scenarios felt as if they’d escaped from a Carry On film or that the show looked as if it had been filmed through Instagram, but because the modern day British- Asian family has moved on in leaps and bounds since then.
Sure, idiosyncrasies like doorway curtains and the Tupperware stockpile (“just in case”) are pretty timeless in the British-Asian household, but decade or so of minimal brown faces on the BBC, (Manish Bhasin shamelessly cast to present a football show only after everyone’s gone to bed), we have faced new challenges in integration – having to shave before every ride on public transport for one. I’m not saying that a modern British-Asian sitcom should centre around terrorism – or indeed the fact that having a conservatory has now replaced Mercedes as a measurement of success, but after this long, the BBC should be sensitive to the times.
The success of Goodness Gracious Me was largely down to its ability to satirise other things happening at that time, but from an Asian perspective. Features such as Skipinder the Punjabi Kangaroo (an Asian version of Skippy) or songs like I’m getting Juggy with it and Punjabi Girl (parodies of Will Smith and Aqua hits respectively) showcased the programme’s ability to respond to its surroundings. Arguably, the sketch format of GGM afforded it a greater scope than today’s sitcom, but with British Asia a now evolved phenomenon, Citizen Khan is spoilt for choice as to the topics it could address. Yet, in true third world fashion, it chose to recycle.