“He’s not exactly Paddington.” “He’s exactly fucking Paddington.” That’s Peter (Rufus Jones) and his wife, Katy (Rebekah Staton), after they discover Sami (Youssef Kerkour) in the boot of their car. Smi, it turns out, is a Syrian refugee who has fled to the UK for asylum. It’s the perfect starting point for a sitcom, embracing the traditional cuckoo-in-the-nest trope and giving it an all-too-topical edge: here, it’s not just social embarrassment in jeopardy, but someone’s life, and Home doesn’t hesitate to remind us of that fact – a pained phone call between Sami and his family, who got separated from him, makes the stakes movingly clear. And yet, at the same time, Home manages the impossible thing: it makes us laugh about the refugee crisis silently engulfing the world.
What’s so remarkable about Rufus Jones’ show is that it lets Sami be the one doing the most laughing. Played with heart-in-your-mouth earnestness and desperation by the excellent Youssef Kerkour (who impressed recently in Nightflyers and Bounty Hunters), Sami is also a wickedly amusing, charmingly positive figure. “Have you got ebola?” quizzes Peter, panicked. “No,” says Sami, then immediately starts pretending to have ebola.
He’s offset brilliantly by Jones himself, who takes on the part of Peter with a stick up his rear and a lump of coal in his chest. But while the uptight man-of-the-house stereotype is far from new, Home turns the familiar patriarch into a recognisable embodiment of our current society: he’s proof of how easy it is to go through life not caring or going out of one’s way to consider others, and how hard it is to drum up some empathy for people outside of your bubble. Jones plays it with a sigh and an irritated, prickly tone, ping-ponging between exasperated and self-centred and slightly less exasperated and self-centred.
In between them, Rebekah Staton is the pivot that makes this delicate balancing act work, calling Peter out on his terrible qualities and trying to genuinely give Sami a helping hand – even if it’s just by letting him have her Cafe Nero loyalty card (even the most well-intentioned characters in this middle-class suburbia are still guilty of unthinking privilege).
The result is sharply written and even more sharply performed, producing what promises to be one of the most surprising and touching comedies of the year. If British sitcoms have always been, at their core, about home and family, this is a wonderfully witty redefining of those notions for the world today, where starting to cross the bridge between belonging, acceptance and identity only takes a warm heart and a contagious chuckle. Invite this into living room immediately.
Home starts at 9.45pm on Channel 4 on Tuesday 5th March, with episodes airing weekly and available live and on-demand through All 4.