Citizen cliché

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.

10 comments

  1. I agree it was terrible but I take acception to the sentence “but a decade or so of minimal brown faces on the BBC”. Oh course there will be fewer brown faces on the BBC than white faces, less than 5% of the make up of this country comes from Asian. The BBC should be talent driven and not there as a tool to pander to a minority that might feel a bit left out. Why should the BBC be “sensative to the times”? Already we can’t show great old shows like Steptoe and Son incase it hurts someone’s feelings. Some how I also get the feeling that this comment wont be published.

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  2. Nice piece. If you want to explain the recycling, take a look at one of the co-writers. GGM’s Anil Gupta worked on this too. He’s just borrowing gags from the 90s!

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  3. 3 Sep ’12 at 1:21 pm

    Milton Nunez

    “Manish Bhasin shamelessly cast to present a football show only after everyone’s gone to bed” brilliant.

    Would like to see mention of the Kumars?

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  4. 3 Sep ’12 at 4:44 pm

    Rohan Banerjee

    Mate, clearly you don’t know me. I’m the least PC person going. But let’s be honest, Asians have been under represented in the BBC and when they have taken to the screen, they’ve been portrayed awfully. Case in point the Masood/Zanab/Yusuf story line in Eastenders. Also, check out the the last line of the piece. Oosh.

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  5. To be honest, it looked like it was trying to pander to the non-Asian audience. It felt distinctly like an Asian-tinted-spectacle version of Not Going Out / My Family, full of one-liners, focus of the charasmatic main character, and musical-theatre acting. One particular quote “Don’t panic, Mr. Mainwaring!”, and the casting of Kris Marshall as the Mosque Manager stick out to illustrate my point.

    Perhaps the show should refocus it’s target audience?

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  6. @ Rohan, I would agree with you that on screen Asians are few and far between but to say they are underpresented within the BBC organisation itself would be wrong. Looking at the BBC Staffing figures just over 15% indentify themselves as Asian. From a numbers prospective that isn’t an underpresentation. As for Eastenders I couldn’t comment as I don’t watch it but Citizen Khan was written by the guy who plays the father so if you want to blame someone for the cliches look to him. It seemed a bit like a knock off of Mrs Brown’s boys to me.

    I agree with Joe on the people getting places on merit not on the colour of their skin point. Maybe few people within the Asian community want to work in media, maybe a question of aspiration? Anyway if skin colour isn’t an issue why does it matter so much?

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  7. I find the minimal brown faces comment rather offence. I am from a British Asian household and myself and my family intergrate well with the local community. This article seems to have a very us and them mentality which is a much bigger barrier to intergration than the colour of someone’s skin on tv. Why not complain about how few Eastern European faces there are on tv? Where are the shows about Polish households? They are after all a much smaller minority trying to intergrate. From the general tone of this article it seems like you have a bit of a chip on your shoulder for what ever reason. Most of the people I know and live around simply don’t read into these things and you shouldn’t either.

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  8. 5 Sep ’12 at 10:26 am

    Rohan Banerjee

    Ethnic minorities are under represented in the media. The tone of the article is to make light of this. It’s not something I particularly lose sleep over, just a simple truth. Honestly, I can’t understand the flak I’m getting. In this very article, I said likened the show’s recycling gags to the recycling in the third world, I termed the people “brown” rather than Asian and even mentioned a number of stereotypes I myself have encountered. Being an Asian in Britain is a roller coaster experience, and you’d be mad if you didn’t have a laugh at yourself a long the way.

    I wasn’t impressed with Citizen Khan because I felt it let down the standards set by Goodness Gracious Me, while adding nothing new to the genre.

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  9. “Ethnic minorities are under represented in the media”. That is quite a broad statement to make. What exactly do you define as the media? You seem to think it is purely an issue of ‘look at me I am brown and on tv’. The media isn’t all about whose face is on screen. Far from it. There are a wealth of people working in various positions, my own brother works for channel 4. You simply can’t make statements like that because it comes across as highly racially charged. Again you don’t seem to understand what an ethnic minority is. There are just over 200,000 Irish people in mainland Britain, under-represented? There are 800,000 Poles in the country, under-represented? 7,000 Aussies, under-represented? Skin colour simply doesn’t matter, I don’t care if the person reading the news or starring in a comedy is white, in fact it kind of makes sense when almost 90% of the country is white be they recent European arrivals or natives or what ever.

    I agree that Citizen Khan was a let down but I was also let down by the recent series of James May’s thing you need to know, they used to be far more fun. Goodness Gracious Me wasn’t a standard setting show, to me it was just as crap.

    I don’t like divisive terms. I maybe a brown woman from an “Asian household” but in many ways I am not. I am British, I have never been to the Asian continent. Islam in my house is a bit like being ex-catholic or ex-jewish, even if you don’t really believe it you are a bit like a lapsed muslim. I drink alcohol and I have slept with my boyfriend. Shock horror :O Sorry I have started ranting a bit but I am trying to emphasis something that Morgan Freeman put beautifully. The only way to stop making race an issue is to stop highlighting it. Now go get pissed down the pub and wake up in a skip like every other student. But not my skip, my skip is mine :)

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  10. 7 Sep ’12 at 9:31 am

    Rohan Banerjee

    As if you’re a girl

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