Given everything happening in the world around us at the moment - global pandemic, new coronavirus variants, supply and production shortages, and all manner of other reminders that no matter how much we might want to be we're just not back to normal quite yet - it's no wonder viewers everywhere are seeking out comfort wherever they can find it. ('Tis the season fo Hallmark movies and hometown boys in sweater vests teaching us about the true meaning of Christmas.) This is a big part of the reason everyone's so excited for the return of All Creatures Great and Small on PBS Masterpiece next month - right now is just a great time to curl up with cozy TV and try not to think about...everything else.
And Acorn TV's new remake of the classic ITV family dramedy The Larkins fits that bill and then some. A warm, low-stakes show about a heartwarmingly boisterous family and their various misadventures in 1950s Kent, this is a perfect antidote to the bleaker, prestige titles spread across your dial. The cast is charming - particularly former Doctor Who companion Bradley Walsh as the Larkin family patriarch and Bridgerton alum Sabrina Bartlett as his eldest daughter - and its gentle plots almost always seem to revolve around the Larkins pulling together in some way in order to triumph,
You'll probably be able to tell within the first few scenes that The Larkins is a product of Simon Nye, best known these days as the mind behind the equally sweet and generally unambitious family drama The Durrells in Corfu. Where that series was buoyed by gorgeous Greek landscapes and adorable animals, The Larkins makes do with beautiful Kentish countryside and the occasional farm animal. But, it's hard to imagine that there won't be viewers out there desperate for just the sort of gentle warmth and low stakes satisfaction this show provides.
The first two episodes of the series dropped together on Acorn TV this week, a generally smart move given that the first installment, unimaginatively entitled "In Which We Meet the Larkins," spends most of its time introducing the Larkin brood and establishing the dynamics both among their family and with the rest of their village.
Pop Larkin (Walsh) is gregarious and charming, the sort of man everyone likes. A so-called "gentleman farmer" and junk dealer, he's sort of a sweet-natured scammer who means well even if he's not always quite on the up and up. His wife, Ma (Scanlon), is warm and expansive, her house is filled with kids and food and just, well, a lot of everything. She dreams of better for her family - socially speaking - than they've yet achieved, but doesn't seem stressed about their situation (Though, I personally do wonder where they get all this food since the show seems to also want me to think they're struggling financially?)
The Larkins' marriage is surprisingly sweet - it's rare to see older couples depicted as being in love and attracted to one another in this way, and their partnership is one that feels genuine and forged by many years of trials. In the first two episodes, only the elder two Larkin girls are particularly memorable: Mariette (Bartlett), who dreams of leaving home for adventures in France and longs to see the world beyond their quaint Kentish village, and Primrose (Lydia Page), who is naive and nerdy, and therefore susceptible to the attention of a traveling funfair lad.
The Larkins is a simple story, told warmly - though each episode seems as though it will present a problem for the family to solve, none of them are particularly high stakes or dangerous, and it's obvious that whatever is happening, the clan will come out all right in the end, somehow. (All while engaging in weird village events where grown adults are required to dress up like babies and chug beer.)
The first two episodes underline what most people already guessed going in - though she's considering it Mariette will most definitely not be leaving for France at the end of the summer because she's going to realize how suited she is for where she's been planted. (Every time she adorably rides her horse out on errands, just try to imagine her with a beret and a baguette in a Parisian cafe. Doesn't compute!) Plus, she appears to be well on her way to a love triangle of sorts.
Hot newcomer Tom Fisher (Stephen Hagan) seems smitten with her, as does Cedric ‘Charley’ Charlton. the tax accountant who has arrived in town to investigate the fact that Pa has apparently never paid any taxes at all. (Of course, he's basically been sent to target the family due to a complaint from Pop's rival, the snooty Alec Norman, who seems to want to take ownership of the Larkin farm.)
Charley is adorably awkward, clearly unused to people like the loud and pushy Larkin clan. But, then again, they do get him drunk to give themselves more time to thwart his investigation, and they aren't above shoving Mariette in his path to distract him either. (This would be a lot more annoying if the pair weren't so genuinely charming together and if The Larkins weren't so honest about the fact that though the Larkins are doing plenty of good in their community, they are also breaking the law in a way that has unintended consequences for others who need help too.)
In the end: The Larkins isn't the sort of show that's going to change the landscape of television as we know it. But as a weekly respite in an increasingly dark and frustrating world, it's a welcome and needed escape. New episodes drop Mondays on Acorn TV.