First Review: Jam and Jerusalem

Generally speaking, a new series from Jennifer Saunders is cause for celebration.

How we have loved Absolutely Fabulous, French and Saunders and even her early work on Girls on Top.

Jam and Jersualem, which also features Dawn French and Joanna Lumley, therefore comes with much currency. But it is poles apart from her trademark comedy of the grotesque. To dub this is a sitcom is to set up false expectations.

In the quaint English village of Clatterford St. Mary the local GP has a heart attack and dies, widowing the surgery nurse Sal, Sue Johnston (Waking the Dead, The Royle Family). When her son and his wife take over the medical centre Sal is suddenly without purpose. So she turns her attention to the local women’s auxiliary, populated by kooky, if support, characters including Lumley and French.

Writer Jennifer Saunders also takes a back seat role as one of the townspeople.

Devoid of a laugh-track, this 6-part series is something of a seachange for Saunders, who admits she wanted to write about the sort of community she was living in. Her desire was to illustrate, “how country life didn’t have to be sinister.”

Unlike her trademark over-the-top characters, these are gentle, if off-beat, folk. Lumley is unrecognisable, hunched over as a haggard old woman with big-bucked teeth, glasses and wig. French dons a ghost-white wig and track suit and is given the occasional inappropriate aside. But it is Sue Johnston who has the central role, rebuilding a senior life.

Saunders’ plot isn’t at all ambitious or targeting big belly laughs. It skates just as close to drama as it does to comedy, yet the premise isn’t particularly dramatic enough. In a bucolic comedy, Johnston’s performance is also understated – perhaps with Brenda Blethyn or Pauline Collins the role this would be more spirited.

Fans will likely be disappointed that Saunders, French and Lumley seem kept apart from screen-time together.

It’s no surprise this is airing out of ratings season on the ABC. Indeed, not all of Saunders’ work has achieved the success of her sketch series or Ab Fab. Her comedy about theatricals, Mirrorball, didn’t get past its pilot. But to her credit, a second season of Jam and Jerusalem begins January 1st in the UK.

Sadly, even this Jennifer Saunders fan doesn’t expect to be back for more tea and scones in Clatterford St. Clair.

Jam and Jerusalem airs 8pm Friday on ABC.

10 Comments:

  1. Excellent review – although I’m a convert, after some initial reticence. Saunder’s character is v.funny, as is the Irish nurse. But it’s no sitcom or satire. On the other hand it’s not structured like BallyKissAngel, Hamish McB or even our own Seachange.

  2. i have been watching j&j from the beginning and belive it to be one of the best bit of telivision i have seen for a long time………we are coming to the end of the second series and i really hope they do a third! so please BBC…….DO ANOTHER SERIES!!!! xx

  3. First episode of J & J did not inspire me to continue, in fact I turned it off. There was little else to watch the next week so watched 2nd episode and that was it – I was hooked. Generally not a fan of Jen Saunders cos I find she tries too hard to be funny at times. But this was more gentle and suits me!

  4. Excellent. I love Jen Saunders, hope this finds an audience. I think to promote it as a sitcom is to set up false expectations based on her other work tho.

    Enjoy.

  5. I totally disagree. This show has so much heart and truth. It’s funny and sentimental and dramatic all at once. The characters are well formed and work together wonderfully. Every character in the show reminds me of someone I know in reality. It really touches on real life in a lighthearted and creative way. It’s a wonderful show, and so nice to see Jennifer Saunders do something new and different. I really don’t see how you can judge the show so harshly after only two episodes.

  6. I watched the first two episodes many months ago … and it was AGONISINGLY BAD … not at all funny and most of the characters just did not work at all! They can do far, far better than this and should scrap this for some other new idea …
    Jack!

  7. Abstract Adam - Adam Oriti

    I like J&J, its fun and different. I really admire Jen for doing something a little different. Boring if you keep doing the same thing over and over! It’s a fun, comedy drama.

  8. “Mirrorball” did not continue past the pilot because Saunders decided to abandon the series in favour on Ab Fab series 4.

    She has stated in interviews that prior to Mirrorball, she did not intent to continue with Ab Fab. But working with the cast and crew on Mirrorball inspired her to do a new series of Ab Fab.

    Saunders also acknowleged that Mirrorball’s situations and characters were too similar to Ab Fab, so she might as well just do Ab Fab!

  9. it’s weird – J&J seems to be getting widely divergent reveiws. Some love it, and others hate it. THere seems to be no consensus. Hmmm, I’ll have to make my own mind up this Friday.

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