Sunday, 14 October 2012

Comedy Reviews: BBC3's CUCKOO & Channel 4's FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER

Sunday, 14 October 2012
BBC Three's CUCKOO was my pick of the week not long ago, but I never got around to reviewing it. The premise has middle class couple Ken (Greg Davies) and Lorna (Helen Baxendale)—from the Midlands, just to further stress how intermediate they are—discovering their beautiful daughter has married an American hippie calling himself "Cuckoo" (Andy Samberg) while on vacation. From there it runs through the expected culture clash comedy check list: dad hates that his baby girl's married a New Age loser; mum's initially concerned but grows to like her daughter's exotic other half; and Cuckoo is oblivious to the division he's causing in this close-knit suburban family.

The premise doesn't feel like it will last long before exhausting itself, and the first few episodes weren't particularly funny, but there are things Cuckoo has that rescues it from the doldrums: like a fantastic cast and oodles of charm. Samberg (a major star in the US, best known for appearing on Saturday Night Live) lights up the screen whenever he's around, and overcomes the fact Cuckoo's a rather thin caricature of modern-day hippies; while Davies is doing a superb job as the exasperated father desperate to get rid of his son-in-law without breaking his daughter's heart in the process. Davies had a memorable role in The Inbetweeners as the sociopathic teacher Mr Gilbert, but Cuckoo feels like it's truly announcing him to the world of sitcom. He's really good and has a fantastic dynamic with Samberg, which was largely responsible for the brilliant third episode where Ken and Cuckoo finally managed to bond thanks to recreational drugs.

I just wish Cuckoo was a touch funnier without relying so heavily on the performances of Samberg and Davies to raise smiles and pull it through, but I'll keep watching because it's well-made and has undeniable heart.

Finally, Channel 4 has made the odd decision to move FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER from Friday nights (um, when all Jewish people have dinner?) to Sunday evenings. Robert Popper's family sitcom is back for another six episodes, which is incredible given how it barely managed to justify six last year. The best sitcoms impose restrictions on the characters, so I'm not against FND's narrow concept in principle (that two brothers return to their eccentric parent's home every Friday for a family meal), but I do have to wonder if the show might have been improved by broadening the idea slightly. There are only so many squabbles, fraternal fights/pranks, and visits from the weird next-door neighbour (Mark Heap) I can take before my brain itches for something more diverse. Similarly to Cuckoo, it's the frothy performances that keep you engaged—particularly Tamsin Greig as bemused mum Jackie—and the premiere at least ended on a brilliant visual involving a beloved stuffed rabbit and a lawn mower. I just wish FND had a concept that suited the dynamism of Popper's imagination, because there's something about it that has me screaming for the self-imposed boundaries to be lifted.

Cuckoo (BBC3, Tuesdays - 10PM); Friday Night Dinner (Channel 4, Sundays - 10PM)