Television Comedy Reviews

Television Comedy Reviews by Joshua Gaskell

This Country, S01E03

By Daisy May Cooper and Charlie Cooper
BBC Studios for BBC Three
Wednesday, 22nd February 2017

Each episode of This Country begins with the follow message:

In rural Britain today, studies show that young people feel more marginalised than ever. To explore this problem, the BBC spent six months filming with some young people in a typical Cotswold village.

The young people are cousins Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe (siblings Daisy May Cooper and Charlie Cooper, also the writers).* In Episode 1 Kurtan entered a scarecrow competition; in Episode 2 Kerry got a tattoo of a wolf howling at the moon. At the beginning of this third episode, Kerry restates the explanation for the cameras to an off-screen woldsman: ‘Bumworth! They’re filming us, look. Oi! Yeah, we’re on TV, look. BBC, yeah.’

So the Coopers are mockumentarians in the tradition of The Office – indeed, by their own admission, Kurtan has something of a young Gareth Keenan (or Mackenzie Crook) about him. The bucolic setting also reminds me of Crook’s Detectorists; and I wonder whether Kerry has ever been to Cribbs Causeway and sat at the feet of Vicky Pollard. None of this is to suggest that This Country is derivative in the negative sense – it isn’t.

Episode 3 isn’t quite as funny as 1 and 2, but it’s interesting in being structured a bit like ‘The Chinese Restaurant’ episode of Seinfeld – that is, around the real-time preparation of a meal. Kerry and Kurtan are waiting for their uncle, Steve ‘Nugget’ Nuggins, to get home from prison; and in the meantime, Kurtan is cooking a pizza, and Kerry some turkey dinosaurs.

this-country-2A photograph of Steve ‘Nugget’ Nuggins

Nugget was imprisoned for hijacking a bus in Swindon and going round a roundabout for four hours. Kerry explains: ‘It was a miscarriage of justice, though, ’cause what people forget is twelve outta them twenty hostages actually found it funny.’ To right this wrong, Kerry and Kurtan launched the ‘He Was Only Having a Laugh’ campaign.

this-country-1‘He was only having a laugh’

However, some of the things Kurtan says when he’s on his own suggest there is a darker side to Nugget. And the campaign has not convinced either Auntie Pat – who, according to Kurtan, ‘says she can’t trust him with a bargepole’ – or Kerry’s mum, Sue (Ivy Woodcock). Sue is in the house while the pizza and dinosaurs cook, but, like Margaret in the Little Britain ‘pirate memory game’ sketches, only shouts down the stairs from off-camera.

The Cousins Mucklowe kill the time before Nugget’s much-anticipated arrival by exchanging items of monkey news. But the episode ends with an anticlimax – Steve Nuggins, Gloucestershire’s answer to Francis Begbie, never arrives! An intertitle explains:

Steve ‘Uncle Nugget’ Nuggins never arrived at Kerry’s house.
That night, he was arrested after wielding a samurai sword in a local Tesco Metro.

The Tesco Metro in Ciren? Tewksbury? Kidlington? We may never know.

This Country is the best new comedy I’ve seen for a while – maybe since Fleabag. Online-only BBC Three continues to exceed expectations, and the Coopers should be congratulated for creating a sitcom that’s fresh, loveable, and funny.

* And the village is Northleach, half an hours’ drive from Gloucester.
† When Kerry shows the campaign’s website to the camera, it’s possible to see that Kurtz has been searching for ‘Robert Robinson’, the long-lost school friend he obsesses about finding in Episode 2.
‡ She calls Kurtan a ‘nasty piece of work’, which is also Charlie Cooper’s description of himself on Twitter.

The Windsors Christmas Special

By Bert Tyler-Moore and George Jeffrie
Noho Film & Television for Channel 4
Friday, 23rd December 2016

‘[I]t was a referendum and we must respect the public’s decision.’

This isn’t the EU referendum, but the one that closed the first series of The Windsors, when the public voted for Prince William (Hugh Skinner) to replace Charles (Harry Enfield) as first in line to the throne. This is the backdrop to what Harry (Richard Goulding) refers to as Christmas ‘with the rellies’. The setting is the royal family’s preferred Yuletide residence, Sandringham.*

The royals beetle off to Sandringham in twos and threes. None has a line that isn’t intended to exhibit the defining characteristics familiar to viewers of Series One (and, in several cases, earlier depictions): Charles is a pompous bore (‘It was Gordonstoun that fucked him up’), Edward, a.k.a. Rock-steady Eddie, (Matthew Cottle) is a failure (‘I’m Santa at Debenhams, King’s Lynn), Princess Anne (Vicki Pepperdine) is austerity personified, Prince Andrew (Tim Wallers) loves practical jokes at the expense of his dim wife, Fergie (Katy Wix), and their children, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie (Ellie White and Celeste Dring), are Internet-enabled Sloanes.

Over the course of this one-hour special, Fergie moves from the stable block to the house, Harry invites some homeless people around to impress a girl, Catherine (Louise Ford) talks Anne out of lobotomising her and cooks a traditional Christmas dinner of ‘pike schnitzel mit crispy spätzle’, and the Ghost of George III-cum-Christmas Yet to Come (Paul Whitehouse) convinces William to ignore the result of the referendum and make Charles first in line again.

However, as the drama nears its close, Charles uses his newly regained authority to declare war with the EU. A nuclear strike is only averted when Catherine guesses the password of the EU’s automatic defence system – ‘farageisawanker’ – allowing the royals to negotiate with a robot called Gargantuan (which speaks English in a German accent):

WILLIAM: No! Only the prime minister can declare war. It was just Dad!
GARGANTUAN: No, the head of state declares war, and Prince Charles is your acting head of state.
WILLIAM: Look, the title is ‘head of state’, but monarch is just a ceremonial position.
GARGANTUAN: Does not compute. What would be the point?
WILLIAM: I don’t know. We’re just a weird hangover from the past, like the Channel Islands or televised snooker. […]
GARGANTUAN: But the monarch has to ratify all your legislation.
CAMILLA: It’s just a rubber stamp. The royal veto hasn’t been used since the 1700s.
GARGANTUAN: Interesting, but I need to hear this from Prince Charles.
WILLIAM: Father, sit there and tell them we are completely irrelevant. It’s the only way to stop a nuclear war!
CHARLES: But I’m the Evening Standard ‘Londoner of the Decade’.
WILLIAM: Do it! […]
CHARLES: All right. I’m utterly irrelevant. […]
GARGANTUAN: Three… Two… One… Launch protocols… Halted! […]
CHARLES: I did it! I saved the day again!

To my mind, this exchange is more Eurosceptic than Europhile and more monarchist than republican. In any case, The Windsors isn’t satire, because it is devoid of moral outrage. But nor is it trying to be satire – Channel 4’s description of it as a ‘comedy soap opera’ is right. Even an ostensibly satirical line, like the one spoken by a pleb to William at Sandringham’s gate – ‘You’re so normal, despite being inherently better than us’ – is actually quite a good distillation of the sort of paradoxical thinking that keeps the monarchy with us. As with the Royal Family in Spitting Image, these characters are essentially likeable, despite the rude jokes made at their expense. In fact, there’s probably an inverse relationship, in depictions of royalty, between number of rude personal jokes and genuinely subversive intent. In The Windsors, many of the rudest jokes are about the future king. Harry Enfield plays Charles – a part he didn’t get to do in Spitting Image – with relish:

Charles

This Christmas special, which is just as good as the first series, will be most enjoyed by those who quite like the royals but aren’t deferential enough to mind them being compared (clockwise from top left) to Gollum, Nazis, Big Brother housemates, and, er, that one.

* William pronounces it /ˈsɑːndrɪŋəm/, which in reality must join plɑːstic and Glɑːstonbury in the box marked ‘try-hard’.
† Princess Anne was once unkindly described as a ‘A Sloane sans charm’. Here, Pepperdine (apparently wearing her false teeth from Up the Women) plays her as frosty, dour, and repressed.

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