Television Comedy Reviews

Television Comedy Reviews by Joshua Gaskell

Tag: BBC Three

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.

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Siblings, S01E01

By Keith Akushie and Daran Johnson
Bwark Productions for BBC Three
Thursday, 7th August 2014

So, the three of them go in the bank. They just look like normal guys – you know: glasses, trench coats. Then the girl drops her bag and suddenly it’s like [impersonates machine-gun fire].
Wait, wait, hold on – when did this happen?
Uh, 1999 I think. Then they did Reloaded and then Revolutions.
Have you just been describing The Matrix to me for twenty minutes? You said it was a real story!
I said it could be. That’s sort of the point of the whole film.

The first voice is Dan’s (Tom Stourton) and the second Hannah’s (Charlotte Ritchie) – they’re the twenty-something flatmate siblings of the title: he stays at home and does nothing (‘I am exhausted. I’ve spent the whole day looking for people to hang out with’), while she goes to work and does none.

Or rather, that’s what she’s accustomed to doing – for the plot of this opening episode hinges on the fact that Hannah’s alcoholic, Brent-like boss has just been fired and replaced by new broom Annette (Tracy-Ann Oberman). By way of ingratiating herself, when Hannah finds out that Annette’s son is disabled, she lies and finds herself saying that her brother Dan is too.

Naturally, a dinner date is planned for the four of them, and Dan takes to his new wheelchair qualmlessly.* Moreover, when Annette’s son Charlie (David Proud) politely assents to Dan’s theory that ‘every Keanu Reeves film is actually set within the Matrix’, Dan practically falls in love with him. The friendship briefly blossoms – Dan: ‘[I’ve] got you a little something […] it’s a locket. Inside there’s a picture of me and you. I used Photoshop so we’re both dressed as pharaohs.’ Until, that is, Dan gives the game away by means of an inevitable accidentally-rise-up-and-walk moment, which occurs at a wheelchair basketball match.

Meanwhile, at an insurance conference, Hannah and Annette get drunk with the hotel barman and, er, lie down with him à trois. So when Annette finds out the truth about Dan, Hannah uses the unbossly indiscretion as leverage in avoiding the sack – each of them has something on the other. This is a clever way to end the first episode of a new sitcom: an equilibrious state of prolongable tension.

Setting Siblings alongside the disappointing online-only Comedy Feeds that BBC Three uploaded to the iPlayer last month, we’re presented with a case of the medium as the message: that is, despite the digital-first line used to justify the plan to make the whole channel online-only, in terms of quality things are still very much digital-second. Whereas the YouTubular Feeds are a perfect example of commissioners giving what they think the yoof wants and thereby creating a fictitious demand for lower standards, Akushie and Johnson are aspiring to the better BBC Three shows; the ones which, though often crass, are nonetheless quality programmes with good writing at their heart. Siblings may not be Pulling or Ideal, but at least it didn’t make me feel like Malcolm Muggeridge watching Life of Brian.

* While perfectly able-bodied, Dan’s moral compass is – to use a PC phrase with which he’s surely unfamiliar – less able. He’s not so much politically incorrect as a-correct – a second cousin of Fresh Meat’s JP or High Renaissance Man, perhaps. It should also be said that, for what is inherently quite an audacious conceit, not quite enough work is done to get Dan into the wheelchair – less, for example, than in ‘The Work Outing’ episode of The IT Crowd, in which Roy’s quick spin is used to greater effect than Dan’s.

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