This Friday, Channel 4 celebrates a truly great sitcom with a 90-minute documentary, Friday Night Dinner: 10 Years And a Lovely Bit of Squirrel, followed by three back-to-back episodes chosen by viewers. The anniversary special may not offer a full-scale, Friends-style reunion, but it does feature previously unseen outtakes and new interviews with superfans, creator Robert Popper and cast members including Simon Bird (Adam), Tom Rosenthal (Jonny), Mark Heap (Jim), Tamsin Greig (Jackie) and the late, great Paul Ritter (Martin). After watching the doc, here are our six main takeaways.
It’s based on creator Robert Popper’s real-life family… more than you might realise
Apparently, Popper’s actual dad really does walk around with his top off saying: “Shit on it!” He even has a habit of eating food that’s well past its sell-by-date. Bird says Popper originally sold the show to him by saying it’s rooted in “two universal truths”: one, that all dads become a bit weird around the age of 50; and two, that everyone “regresses to childhood” whenever they return to their family home. It’s a revealing insight that underlines why Friday Night Dinner remains relatable even when things get very, very strange.
The cast didn’t really eat all those dinners
Because they might spend an entire day filming a lengthy dinner scene from all angles, the main foursome learned to eat as little as possible to save their stomachs. Bird says his technique involved a lot of “cutting” and “really dicing those green beans”. Guest star Skye Bennett, who played Jonny’s American girlfriend Lisa, recalls being told she was “brave” to pop actual chunks of potato in her mouth. Sure enough, she went home that night doubled over in agony.
Jim is even weirder than we thought
Condensed into a few minutes, Jim’s best bits are not just hilarious but, well, kind of intense. Remember when he creates a makeshift yarmulke skullcap by cutting a round hole in his own shirt? Rosenthal says Jim’s awkward fascination with the Goodman family and their Jewishness is “definitely stalking”, while celebrity superfan Jessica Hynes suggests that he is “verging on a performance artist”. A little guttingly, Popper says Heap never bonded with the dogs who played Wilson and Milson. Apparently, he’s not just a dog person.
Guest star Harry Landis, who plays “octogenarian psycho-pensioner” Mr Morris, is an absolute hoot
Popper describes Landis as “lovely” but also a bossy presence on set. Apparently, he had a habit of shouting “action!” at himself instead of waiting for the director to say it. And actually, the way Landis frames a compliment about Popper’s writing has a tiny hint of Lou Anthony Morris to it. “It’s comedy, it’s not Chekhov,” the actor says, “but of the genre, it’s magnificent.”
It’s a poignant tribute to Paul Ritter
The cast and crew share fond memories of Rosalind Knight (Horrible Grandma) and Frances Cuka (Nice Grandma), both of whom passed away in 2020. But of course, the entire episode is dedicated to Ritter, who appears as a talking head despite being quite unwell at the time. Greig admits she even tried to persuade him not to take part. What comes across isn’t just the incredibly high esteem in which he’s held, but the way his perfectly-pitched performance makes Martin’s more surreal moments – keeping a fox in the freezer, for example – consistently believable. When Ritter says “I’d be nothing without [Martin] – it was the great career gift,” it’s tough not to well up.
It’s not just a celebration, but a farewell
Popper has confirmed this week that he has no plans to write any more episodes, something that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, without Ritter. Funny, affectionate and quietly insightful, this documentary serves as a fitting full stop to a show that a lot of people have really fallen hard for. As we see at the end, some of them even have FND tattoos. So as Jim might say, “Goodbye, Jackie”, and thanks for the memories.