Angela (Claire Skinner) is making sure everything is clean and tidy for her mother’s 79th birthday party, though she goes to quite extreme lengths, worrying about it the tassels on the rug are neat enough, and colour coding the olives. After telling her teenage daughter Katie (Eve Gordon) to get out of the way, Angela moves a big, pink cake and sees her husband Jim (Steve Pemberton) hiding under there. The cake is only papier-mache, and Jim is under the table and sticking his head through a hole. He wants to give one of the party guests, Pat (Reece Shearsmith), a shock.
Pat is the husband of Angela’s sister Carol (Lorraine Ashbourne). From Angela and Jim’s conversations we learn that Pat likes doing corny practical jokes and that Carol is an alcoholic. When we meet Pat and Carol, it’s clear that what has been said about them is true. Carol already seems to have had a few drinks, and we later see that she has smuggled some alcohol in a bottle marked as suntan lotion. Pat comes in wearing a wolf mask and does that old “I used to be a werewolf, but I’m alright noooooowwwwwww” joke. Along the course of the episode he also says “I’m on a seafood diet. If I see food, I eat it”, as well as doing stuff like clingfilm on the toilet seats, inky soap and spider ice cubes. Both Pat and Carol create a lot of the bad atmosphere that comes into the house. Pat because he’s annoying, and Carol because she’s a bitter drunk, and also the fact their marriage is dead in the water.
Last but not least is woman who’s party this is, Maggie (Elsie Kelly).
Jim is hiding under the fake cake, hoping to get a chance to shock Pat, but there are a lot of setbacks. Maggie wants to get a picture of the whole spread, as well as all the family, and Pat keeps having to go back to recharge batteries or get cameras out of the car. The opportunity for the prank to work never comes, so later Jim tells Angela to get under the cake, and he’ll get Pat to try and move it. However, as Pat thinks he and Jim are alone in the room, he mentions that the “Countdown videos” Jim goes to watch in his shed are in fact porn videos, which he lends to Pat. But that’s nothing compared to when Carol comes down.
By this point, Carol is now hopelessly drunk and has spent most of the day bitterly telling Katie to live while she’s still young enough. It’s revealed that Carol and Jim have been having an affair for quite some time, not only that, but Carol got pregnant by Jim and almost certainly had an abortion. It turns out that Pat knew about it all, and had become resigned to it, but Katie is shocked at what she’s heard. Jim is worried about Angela having heard it while she was under the cake, but she hasn’t heard anything, as she decided to secretly get out from under the table and leave the house to buy Maggie a real cake.
Then everything goes to chaos. Maggie starts choking on one of Pat’s spider ice cubes, while Pat’s phone charger has overheated and gives him an electric shock. A paramedic enters, but he turns out to be a stripper, dancing to the Casualty theme tune. The stripper was hired by Pat as a surprise joke.
We cut to a bit later in the evening. Maggie seems to have enjoyed her party, oblivious to how the family has crumbled after all the secrets have spilled out. Jim sees Angela and Katie with their bags packed leaving him.
This episode spent a lot of time setting the audience up for a scare. The start of it showed the paramedic (who we didn’t know was going to be a stripper at that point) before flashing back to the party. This meant we were expecting something gory to happen. I thought something was going to happen with the papier-mache cake. At one point, while Jim is hiding under it, the candles are lit, which meant there was a risk the cake would catch fire and Jim would burn, but Angela blew the candles out. Later on Maggie plunges a knife into the cake, while we think Angela is hiding under there, but as it happens Angela left a while before. It was a clever bit of audience manipulation.
This episode reminded me of something that might have been in the third series of The League of Gentlemen. Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith mentioned Mike Leigh films as one of their influences, and this episode has similarities to those, like Secrets and Lies and Abigail’s Party, in fact I wonder if the title of the episode was a nod to Abigail’s Party? I’m not sure if the style of this episode appealed to me as much as the others. It was a little awkward and dull in places, which my well have been deliberate because it was about domesticity. The domestic, suburban setting makes it similar to series one’s ‘Last Gasp’, which was by far my least favourite episode of the first series. But ‘Nana’s Party’ is better than that. The characters are more interesting. Most of them are deeply flawed, but you still feel some pity for them, even the ones that largely bought it on themselves. It also shows that comedy and tragedy, despite being opposites, have a fine line between them, and can mix quite well.