BBC3 have a rather chequered history when it comes to sitcoms. For every relatively decent offering such as Ideal or How Not to Live Your Life, there seemed to be a trade off with another fourteen series of Two Pints of Lager: a programme that makes me want to take a sledgehammer to my TV.
So which side of the divide does ‘Cuckoo’ sit? (Or perch? Do cuckoos perch?)
Well, let’s just say I’ve cancelled my sledgehammer order for now. Ken is a sensible man, working in a sensible job, sharing his nice house in Lichfield with Lorna, his lovely wife (she’s obviously lovely, it’s Helen Baxendale, swoon…) and his son Dylan.
His daughter Rachel reappears from her gap year with her new husband in tow, who turns out not to be a decent, clean-living, Aston Villa supporting accountant which Ken had dreams of, but rather an American, New Age, spiritual hippy type, played by Andy Samberg (mainly famous for Saturday Night Live and rude songs on the interweb).
This immediately gets up Ken’s nose. And he doesn’t use his real name of Dale, he’s called Cuckoo, which also gets up Ken’s nose…and would get up my nose as well, frankly.
So we’re in several familiar sitcom types here: there’s a family dynamic at play, there’s a fish out of water scenario (strange American in the Midlands), and there’s a general cross-generational confusion at this weird young outsider, spouting his tripe about ‘mind calendars’ in his attempts to fit in.
There’s a predictable difference in the household – Lorna thinks he’s great and a breath of fresh air, while Ken thinks he’s an idiot. Fortunately for Ken, he’s being played by the terrific Greg Davies, the ‘fat Rik Mayall lookalike’ from ‘We Are Klang’ and ‘The Inbetweeners’.
This sounds rude, and I don’t mean it to be, but Davies has a great face for comedy, his features darting from astonishment to disbelief to outright anger and back in the space of a few seconds. And for a tall man (he’s 6’8”) he’s good at the physical comedy too. Episode three’s storyline involved an Ecstasy /painkillers mix-up which admittedly was signposted a little too obviously, but resolved itself by having Davies dressing in 1982-era Dexy’s gear (denim dungarees) and gatecrashing a teenage party.
The dancing was superb and very funny, and it also marked a small turning point in the relationship between Ken and Cuckoo. And this is the crux of the programme. Baxendale, Tyger Drew-Honey as Dylan, and even Tamla Kari as newlywed Rachel are very much background characters – in fact, most of Baxendale’s role seems to consist of rolling her eyes at her husband while uttering an exasperated ‘Oh Ken…’.
There’s also a sub-plot involving the family friend Connie who’s still trying to convince Rachel that her strange son Zeb is the one for her. But the most interesting relationship is between Ken and Cuckoo.
I’m on Ken’s side here – I have a daughter, OK she’s only two years old at the moment, but I’m dreading the day when I have to act chummily to her boyfriend when all I’ll really want to do is punch him in the face simply because he’s had the nerve to ask my little girl out.
Like Ken, I hated Cuckoo after the opening episode. I hated his New Age drivel, and his touchy feely nature and his ‘hey wow’ attitude. But three episodes in, and Ken’s now warming to him a little (accidental drug use helped I guess), and I’ve found that I am too. He’s pretty harmless, genuinely loves Rachel and just wants to be liked and accepted by his new in-laws.
‘Cuckoo’ has proved a ratings hit for BBC3 and I’m glad. It’s likeable well acted and very funny in places. It also means that my TV is once again safe for now.