Television Comedy Reviews

Television Comedy Reviews by Joshua Gaskell

Tag: Little Britain

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.

Man Down, S01E04

By Greg Davies
Avalon Television for Channel 4
Friday, 8th November 2013

If Alfie’s pupils in Bad Education comprise the (comedically) luckiest secondary-school class in the country, then Dan’s in Man Down are their primary-school equivalent. If any pupil went from Sandalwood School to Abbey Grove, they would inevitably one day headline Live At the Apollo.

This episode begins with Dan (Greg Davies) being taken aback by an impromptu visit from headmistress Emma Lipsey (Jeany Spark), with a couple of prospective parents in tow. Struggling to recall how a teacher is supposed to behave, Dan asks the class, ‘So, where were we with the lesson?’ Referring to their only subject of study (a sci-fi serial of Dan’s own improvised invention called Space Mission), one pupil helpfully pipes up, ‘Dennis reckoned he could kick an alien’s nut-sack off, sir.’ Alarmed, Dan reassures Lipsey and the parents, ‘We don’t talk about things like that in here.’ But the class’s twice-shod goody (who performs the same function as Jing in Bad Education) dobs him in: ‘Oh, we do. Often.’*

After the title sequence (unusual in being pretty funny in its own right) we’re in the caff, which is run by Shakira (Ashley McGuire) and Bob (who, like Margaret in Little Britain’s pirate memory game sketches, is called to but never seen). Here the main plot is introduced: Dan’s friend Brian (brilliantly played by Mike Wozniak, with a moustache to rival Steven Toast’s) has been going ‘jog-dogging’ (Dan’s phrase) with a running guru called Dominic, and Dan decides to go along. Back at home he tells his parents (Rik Mayall and Gwyneth Powell) of his plan, and their uproarious laughter is prolepsis for our own on seeing Davies appear the following morning in his ludicrously tight jogging getup.

Man Down 3‘You look dreadful. Why are you wearing slippers?’

Dominic (Ramon Tikaram), it turns out, also bears a passing resemblance (personality-wise) to a Little Britain character – Denver Mills – but is a veteran of Seoul ’88 rather than Los Angeles ’84. And, unusually, his most prominent attribute gives this episode a mild surrealism more common in sketch-shows like Little Britain than sitcoms: he has a non-naturalistically enormous arse. He is bootylicious, or, in Dan’s words, ‘he looks like a centaur’ or ‘a human baboon’. And his best line, uttered whilst handing out cranberry juice, is ‘In Seoul we drank so much of this we pissed crimson.’ At school English lessons I remember being told not to point out an example of assonance unless you are going to explain its significance. But surely writers mostly use assonance simply because phrases like ‘pissed crimson’ are pleasing on the ear.

As well as having a baboonish caboose, we soon learn that Dominic possesses a ‘secret […] so powerful he can only tell one man at a time.’ Impressed by his accurate jap-slaps, Dan decides he wants to learn the secret, and, through pity-points, bags the necessary one-on-one. The two of them go to Dominic’s house and, after a very funny sequence in which the guru inadvertently knocks over his own ornaments, he hypnotises Dan into a supposed state of ‘ultimate control’.

Man Down 2
‘None of these ornaments are more than a week old.’

Ultimate control is precisely what a sitcom lead cannot hold on to (Man Up would be a reality show, not a comedy), so after a couple of look-into-my-eyes triumphs, Dan comes crashing back to earth in a fine dénouement: round at Naomi’s house (his ex, played by Deirdre Mullins) he tells her ‘we’re gonna be OK […] I’m cured.’ ‘I’m seeing someone,’ she replies. To which Dan responds by pulling his own finger and emitting a long, squelching fart. If only it were wind he were breaking, but this is total loss of control; main-event peripeteia:

I have shat myself. Apologies. I have had an awful lot of cranberry. And I’m very tired.

* You’d think she of all people would know that the ‘T’ ought to be silent.

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