A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Keeping Up Appearances is an acclaimed British comedy about an overbearing woman on an unrelenting quest to further her social standing, which usually results in frustration for her family and friends. It's typical British comedy in that it comprises a cast of quirky characters who often rub each other wrong but who superficially tolerate their relationships just the same. The full effect of its humor will escape all but the older teen crowd, who should be fine with its occasional language ("hell," mostly) and references to sexuality among adults. Expect references to marital discord, divorce, an elderly character's senility, and other mature topics, all of which are meant to be funny rather than concerning.
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What's the story?
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES centers on Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced "Bouquet," per her request) (Patricia Routledge), a snobbish middle-aged Englishwoman on a lifelong quest to escape her working-class background and ascend the social ladder by impressing people of wealth and status. To this end, she often hosts elegant dinner parties and imposes herself on high-society people, usually involving her long-suffering but compliant husband, Richard (Clive Swift), in her efforts to separate herself from her less-refined relatives, sisters Daisy (Judy Cornwell) and Rose (Mary Millar), and Daisy's sluggish husband, Onslow (Geoffrey Hughes). On the other hand, her privileged sister Violet's (Anna Dawson) lifestyle is more to Hyacinth's liking, despite her contentious marriage. By sheer proximity and despite their best efforts otherwise, Hyacinth and Richard's neighbor Elizabeth (Josephine Tewson) and her brother, Emmet (David Griffin), are usually pulled into the chaos as well.
Is it any good?
A self-important social diva with designs on accelerated status. A group of followers who just can't say "no" to her, despite the fact that her plans usually leave them in shambles. An impossibly severe differentiation between the "cool" people and those whose association is the equivalent of social suicide. If Keeping Up Appearances was written about, say, a teenage girl, its message would be altogether different, but because it's rooted in English propriety and niceties, the effect is a hilarious commentary on status and social graces. It's no wonder that Routledge's performance garnered two BAFTA nominations and a British Comedy Award, given her spot-on portrayal of the single-minded, self-absorbed, but nonetheless lovable Hyacinth.
Because this series is in keeping with the style and structure of British comedy, it will be an acquired taste for some adults and likely not a hit among the teen crowd. If yours do take a liking to it, know that topics like sexuality and marital unrest are fair game, as are some fairly loose stereotypes about socioeconomics and promiscuity. For adults, though, an exceptional cast and riotous slapstick comedy make Keeping Up Appearances a true delight.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what the show has to say about status. Is social standing something we can change with effort? If so, what factors play into it? Do you think it's worth the effort? Are there privileges to being at the top of the social ladder? Are there drawbacks?
Teens: In your experience, would Hyacinth's treatment of her family and friends fly in the real world? Why do they tolerate her behavior? How does it compare to bullying? Are there any tangible rewards to following suit when someone acts like she does?
How does British comedy differ from the American brand of it? Is there any type of content that's more prevalent or obviously absent from this show that is common to American sitcoms? How is the issue of sexuality handled in this series? In what ways does entertainment reflect the culture from which it's created?
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