So far so good for ITV's new sitcom The Family Pile

The Family Pile (ITV1, 9.30pm)

Can you remember the last time ITV made a successful sitcom?

Back in the day, the likes of George and Mildred, Bless This House, Robin’s Nest, Duty Free, Home to Roost and Barbara were all hits.

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But in recent years, the broadcaster’s comedy track record has been sketchy at best.

The broadcaster had high hopes for Jack Dee’s Bad Move and the revival of 1990s BBC hit Birds Of A Feather, but both failed to win over viewers and critics.

In fact, the genre was kept alive on the channel for a while by the low-brow Benidorm.

Admittedly, there have, been a few moderate successes over on ITV2, with Action Team, Plebs and Timewasters all building up a bit of a following.

But back in 2019, it looked as if ITV bosses had given up completely on airing sitcoms on its main channel.

However, in a change of tack last year, they commissioned The Family Pile, a six-part sitcom filmed entirely in the Liverpool city region.

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In case you missed last week’s opening episode, it stars Amanda Abbington (Sherlock, Mr Selfridge), Clare Calbraith (Home Fires, Downton Abbey), Claire Keelan (Nathan Barley, No Heroics), and Alexandra Mardell (Coronation Street) as four sisters who have lost their parents and are packing up the family home to sell.

Poignant and touching, the humour in The Family Pile provides an antidote to the pain the quartet of siblings are going through.

Calbraith who plays “lively, glass half full” middle sister Yvette, told PA: “We are so rubbish in this country at death, we’re so silent about it, and we all go through it and we’re all miserable on our own, and there’s something about sharing that awfulness that just helps.”

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“I’m one of five sisters, and we also lost our mum not that long ago,” adds Keelan, who plays “perfectionist” high-achiever Ursula.

“You know, when it does happen, it isn’t all schmaltzy and sentimental,” she adds.

“There’s moments of huge, horrific pain, of course, which everyone knows, but there are moments of almost hysterical humour.”

Keelan and Calbraith are joined by Abbington, who plays “matriarchal”, “acerbic” and loyal eldest sister Nicole, and Mardell, who plays the youngest, Gaynor.

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The Family Pile: Yvette, Ursula, Gaynor and Nicole

All four women are fully-fledged grown-ups with marriages and long-term partners, children, and homes of their own when we meet them, and three out of the four are firmly in middle age.

“I liked the idea of it being four women in central characters, and not younger women, women slightly older, who’ve had a bit of experience,” says Abbington.

In tonight’s second episode (the entire series is available on ITVX, if you fancy a binge watch), Nicole and Ursula uncover their father’s guilty secret while clearing out his shed. But they may not be able to keep it from the others for very long.

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Meanwhile, Gaynor and Greg are on the run from pesky sea fowl, and Connor (Sonny Lackey) pays tribute to his grandfather.

So can The Family Pile buck the trend and become a success for ITV, or will it be a pile of you know what, like so many of its recent comedy efforts?

If last week’s opener is anything to go by, the early signs are good, and the channel might be onto its first hit sitcom for a long time.