Flowers, a sitcom where Dahl meets Dali

Julian Barratt in the new not-a-sitcom sitcom Flowers
Julian Barratt in the new not-a-sitcom sitcom Flowers

As a child, I read a lot of Roald Dahl books – Danny, The Champion of the World is still one of my all-time favourites. It never really struck me than that some of those books – in fact, most of those books – are really quite odd.

In many of them, the parents of the hero or heroine are dead, often in unusual circumstances. In James and the Giant Peach, for example, young James’s parents are killed by a rhino escaped from the zoo.

Dahl’s poor, orphaned children are then sent to live among cruel, grotesque people, and face horrific dangers from child-hating adults.

Graduating on to his older fiction, you get a much greater sense of his odd, off-kilter world. Read The Swan, for example, and you really start to wonder how on earth Dahl got anything published.

The thing is, that odd world is brilliantly-realised, so aligned to our own experiences, yet ever-so-slightly skewed, like looking at your reflection in a very old mirror.

Which brings me to Flowers (Channel 4, weeknights, 10pm), a new comedy-drama which aired on consecutive nights this week.

It features Julian Barratt as Maurice Flowers, a children’s author who writes his fiction – about a strange family called The Grubbs – in a small shed in the garden of his lovely country home.

So far, so Dahl.

And the first time we see him, he attempts to hang himself, only failing because the tree branch he ties his noose around gives way.

The Flowers family – and the world they inhabit – is Dahl-esque in the extreme, off-centre, skewed. A hospital is painted pink and green. There are odd inventions, and strange language. The whole family seems unhappy, and in fact a real sense of sadness runs under everything.

Having fun yet? Well, you should, because the characters are recognisable. The Flowers children bicker incessantly, each knowing which buttons to push. Maurice and fragile wife Deborah (Olivia Colman) know their marriage is in trouble but don’t know how to fix it.

The whole thing teeters on a knife edge between oddly brilliant and, frankly, wilfully silly, but on the whole it keeps its balance.

This week’s Marcella update: The man crazy cop Marcella thought was a murderer tried to murder someone, but wasn’t the murderer they were trying to catch.

The real murderer could be any one of around 9,000 suspects, including the butchering baker, the alcoholic Norwegian, him off the Office who was clearly far too fond of his stepdaughter, Marcella’s ex who paid people to beat him up (I know!) and the creepy Polish guy who’s a walking advert for Brexit.

I’m watching just to see how much crazier it can get.