Disclaimer a go-go:
You may think that this is shameless self publicity but in fairness it is a knee jerk reaction to what I feel is the first Asian lead BBC TV show since Goodness Gracious Me. I know you will say “what about Mumbai Calling and Meet the Magoons” but I will get to them later and anyway they were ITV and CH4 respectively.
Let me start by saying I don’t hate Mr Khan, starring the talented Adil Ray, but I did find it unfunny. The reason being is it was structured like a BBC sitcom with Pakistanis in the place of White suburban families. The dynamics, interaction and comedy timing are the same as Terry and June, just colour adjusted. I gave up watching these bland dreary sitcoms 20 odd years ago (yes, the last thing I watched was Fresh Fields!). Clearly the BBC hasn’t learned from their diversity remit, remember the Crouches? The all Black sitcom and written by the guy who created Rab C Nesbitt?
Why am I unfairly comparing it to Goodness Gracious Me? Simply because that show came out of nowhere (I know it was a radio show first) and was enjoyed by Asians as well as British people. The BBC seemed to let them do their thing, hence the freshness of the show and I didn’t feel embarrassed to talk about the insane characters from British Indian culture, which was done without being patronizing or to the detriment of the Asian community. In fact when talking to my British friends about the show they enjoyed some of the eccentricities of the culture and some amusingly even considered themselves minorities when they went to schools that were majority Asian. It was all good hearted.
Jumping further back, I was too young to watch My Beautiful Laundrette but I remember catching Buddha of Suburbia (another BBC production), which was a fantastic 4 part series and turned my head around. Finally a character I can reasonably relate to! Since then there have been great films such as My Son the Fanatic that dealt with fundamentalism before it became a hot topic. These characters were honest and real which is the main reason I hated East is East because it seemed like broad humour, playing up the stereotypes and was patronizing. Even Om Puri’s accent was over the top nonsense when you compare it to his superior role in My Son The Fanatic
Mr Khan is pandering to British audiences to the exclusion of Asians and it shouldn’t feel right that every non white person I have asked about this is bitterly disappointed by this as a missed opportunity for contemporary humour. Even Four Lions treated it’s subject matter with more sensitivity.
ITV’s disaster, Mumbai Calling, which became a reminder of Mind Your Language for the modern age with it’s stereotyping and Meet the Magoons which doesn’t register to me haven’t helped and now Mr Khan which is hardly breaking new ground is on our screens. Effectively we have gone backwards and half expecting Love thy Neighbour to come back soon.
You can’t solely lay the blame on the talented team behind this show (which people are blindly doing) as it’s the BBC commissioning team that want to make this kind of easy-to-the-eye comedy and the big problem is that the Corporation can comfortably say that they have “invested in Diversity” when they clearly just ticked a box. I am sure Adil Ray and co have better and challenging material that should see the light of day. Maybe it will on Channel 4 but seriously, if you want to make something you feel you can put your name on, then make it for the digital age like I am trying to do. The downside is no money!
One final note, look at US television and the diversity of characters within their shows. The UK is 10 years behind and getting further away.