Cuckoo, BBC Three | TV reviews, news & interviews
Cuckoo, BBC Three
Greg Davies stars in amiable new culture-clash comedy heavy on stereotypes
The Special Relationship might be on a sticky wicket politically, but in telly at least it seems to be thriving. Spooks, Downton and Episodes have all recognised the sound commercial sense in bringing together marquee names from both sides of the pond. Now comes Cuckoo, a new six-part comedy series which pitches budding US film star and Saturday Night Live stalwart Andy Samberg against our very own comic giant Greg Davies. The third lead, Helen Baxendale, presumably ticked several boxes simply for being known on either side of the Atlantic seaboard for her (terrible) turn in Friends.
So much for the game plan. What about the show? Below its modern sheen of drugs, sex and sweariness, Cuckoo is a standard-issue generation-gap/culture-clash comedy which conforms to a very orthodox template. In this opening episode Rachel (Tamla Kari) returned from a gap year positively riddled with hippie clichés clutching the ultimate souvenir: a vapid American astral voyager who, though he had been travelling for 12 years, reckoned “the longest journey I’ve ever taken is into my own mind”. His real name was Dale. He called himself Cuckoo.
Learning that their daughter had actually married the buffoon (on a beach under “a transcendental sunset”, naturally), Rachel’s parents Ken (Greg Davies) and Lorna (Helen Baxendale) had to adjust to the arrival of this spiritual pick 'n' mixer into their well-ordered, suburban Midlands nest.
Their theoretical liberal values rubbed against the very real desire to kick this waster into touch
What followed was a single-note comedy of generational and cultural misunderstanding, peppered with rites-of-passage conflict as obvious as it was awkward. Rachel went away to Thailand as daddy’s little girl and came back as an independent woman. Were Ken in any doubt of this fact, Cuckoo gave the kind of sexually suggestive wedding speech which is every father’s worst nightmare, and then spent hours with Rachel locked in some ritualistic and exceedingly noisy shagging.
The hippie gags and signifiers are generally lame - whale music, Himalayan treks, peyote trips and beads - and the battle lines so clearly drawn that it is hard to see how much comic mileage there might be in the two-and-a-half hours yet to come. The performances are excellent, though. Tyger Drew-Honey, no stranger to family comedy as Jake in Outnumbered, plays terminally solipsistic teenage brother Dylan, for whom Rachel’s 12-month absence had all the impact of a trip to the bathroom. Similarly, her return held no significance beyond the major inconvenience of him having to move bedroom.
The ludicrous Cuckoo (pictured right with Davies) is confidently portrayed by Samberg, despite the fact that his character is pitched a few ley lines beyond credulity. A shame, as a little more light and shade would have been welcome. Davies and Baxendale were both good value as the far from clueless Mr and Mrs Thomas, frugging embarrassingly to Salt & Pepa, recalling their own youth (“I hope she hasn’t taken any drugs.” “That’s a bit rich, you used to shovel them back...”) and feeling the burn as their theoretical liberal values rubbed against the very real desire to kick this berobed waster into touch.
Conforming to a comedic stereotype that goes back at least as far as Love Thy Neighbour in the early 1970s, it fell to the woman to build a bridge between the warring parties: Lorna was prepared to give the interloper the benefit of the doubt; to her, Cuckoo was a new age Mr Darcy. To Ken, he was a vapid arse, utterly self-absorbed and infuriatingly superior. A day of attempted male bonding began with Cuckoo punching his father-in-law in the face and ended with him informing Ken airily that "you’re not holding my attention”.
Written by Robin French and Kieron Quirke, Cuckoo is broad, amiable, undemanding fare, lifted by some pleasing performances and a few good gags. The big climax – Ken gave Cuckoo 10 grand to bugger off back to Bangkok; Cuckoo bought a Baked Potato van and was back by sundown – was very probably visible from space, but it neatly set up the next five episodes. Cuckoo is here to stay. What will the Thomas' do with him? What will the writers?
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Engaging series about portraiture in action captures subjects at a crossroads
Nick Read's long-stretch documentary on remote Russian prison life
Simon Schama campaigns and entertains, but does he explain?
ITV's historical drama is long on intrigue but short on action
Medical drama could have felt tiredly formulaic, but there's freshness in the well-worn tropes
Opening episode of Lord Sugar's business search is a corker
Batman origin story makes a promising start
A history of the Soviet space programme, and the story of one of its more unlikely participants
Maybe the post-Brody 'Homeland' might succeed after all
More tasty treats from the nicest contestants on television (this review contains spoilers)
A cult classic from the golden age of British TV drama
The universe, human life, everything: Brian Cox begins his biggest project yet