Imagine if your family was so indulgent that your mom and dad build a TV studio when you announce you want to host a chat show. On The Kumars at No. 42, Sanjeev Kumar (Sanjeev Bhaskar) hosts a talk show at a studio his mom and dad (Vincent Ebrahim and Indira Joshi) built for him in their Wembley home. Each week, Sanjeev greets celebrity guests, and is joined by mom, dad and his grandmother (Meera Syal). While Sanjeev has aspirations of being like a Michael Parkinson, he’s plagued by an almost-pathological inability to do much right, and his family members insist on butting in, asking questions about marriage, babies or property prices.
The show is part sitcom, part chat show. Partly improvised, game celebrities come on the show and jump into the spirit of the show, participating in the banter which included trading quips with the flirtatious granny or comparing mortgage rates with dad, Ashwin. The show works when the stars are either witty comedians themselves (like in the case of Stephen Fry) or if the guest is a good sport, willing to join in the absurdity of the show (Minnie Driver in particular is having a good time). The DVD set of The Kumars at No. 42 is an incomplete compilation of some funny episodes of the show – while some of the guests may be a bit irrelevant to American audiences, there’s still a lot to enjoy with this show.
But there’s a lot to worry about, as well. While clearly a spoof on stereotypes, the show doesn’t really transcend them, either. The cliche of the immasculated, infantalized Asian man is clearly on display on this show. Sanjeev, despite being the apple of his mom’s and dad’s eyes, is contantly henpecked by his over-protective mother and his boundary-less grandmother. It’s all done with tongue-firmly-in-cheek, but still a bit troubling, because Sanjeev, while a lovable loser, is still a loser nonetheless. And while we laugh at Sanjeev, and his creator, Bhaskar, is in on the joke, the joke could get out of his hands, and confirm lots of racist prejudices some audiences may have. Still, there’s lots of sharp, insightful wit on the program.
Bhaskar’s the lead of the show and is comfortable playing a hopeless boob, but it’s Syal and Ebrahim steal the show. Syal, who is the same age as Bhaskar, plays the randy grandmother with gusto and abandon. Ebrahim’s great, too – he’s got this great running joke where he joyfully tells anecdotes to the guests, that have no point or end to the stories. Joshi as Sanjeev’s mother, Madhuri, is also good, but her character is much more low-key and is the straight man of the show.
It would be great if there were some more DVD releases – and if the shows chosen for the releases, had bigger, more international names – on this set, American viewers would probably only recognize Driver; former Spice Girl, Mel B; and possibly Fry, opera singer, Lesley Garrett and indie actor, Richard E. Grant. The other celebrities were either athletes, reality stars or British television personalities – and while they all are pretty funny and go along with the humor of the show, some of the references may go over Yankee audiences’ heads. This isn’t a perfect show – and some of the race-based comedy may be cringe-worthy, but still worth a look.