I had no intention to review more CUCKOO after covering series 2's premiere last week (assessing the fallout caused by Andy Samberg's departure, and the damage limitation of Taylor Lautner's entrance), but felt compelled to write about episode 2, "Potato Party". You see, it wasn't half bad... in fact, I thought it was good, and interesting in a lot of ways...
While all the marketing buzz has inevitably focused on Twilight hunk Taylor Lautner appearing on a humble BBC sitcom, you can be forgiven for forgetting Cuckoo has other actors who deserve praise. Greg Davies manages to lodge in your memory (how you can fail to overlook a man that tall?), but chances are you glossed over Helen Baxendale and Tyger Drew-Honey last series...
With that in mind, it was intriguing to see "Potato Party" do some unexpected things: it pushed dad Ken (Davies) off-screen for most of the episode, didn't even focus on Dale (Lautner) very much, and instead put the emphasis on teen virgin Dylan (Drew-Honey) and older sister Rachel (Esther Smith). It sounds like a recipe for disaster, removing the funniest actor and reducing your Hollywood star's screen-time, but it actually worked in the show's favour.
I may have missed some episodes in series 1 (it was so long ago I don't recall), but I don't remember Dylan being given this much attention before... and Drew-Honey seized the opportunity with both hands, as his character threw a house party to impress a hot girl called Zoe (Holly Earl) into having sex with him.
Plot-wise, "Potato Party" didn't really amount to much, but I liked the whole approach and the turns the story took. For example: Dylan was honest about the 'party-for-sex' arrangement to his chilled out mum, which was a neat reversal of expectation. And the show acknowledged the weirdness of the "new Cuckoo" being Rachel's step-son, because she clearly fancies him over her boring new boyfriend, but Dale's oblivious and contentedly calling her "mom". Lautner's teen idol looks were also put to good use, when he arrived at the party with his father's potato van, and drew a large crowd of besotted girls after a taste of "his sauce".
And, while he's certainly no Samberg, Lautner's beginning to work in this role; he plays nice-and-dumb very well, felt more relaxed in his character (even if it feels like too much of a Samberg impersonation at times), and demonstrated good comic timing throughout.
Finally, I know many people will disagree, but as a fan of well-orchestrated gross-out comedy, this episode also had me laughing during its outrageous climax. Dylan, suffering from an upset stomach, took an erotic bath with Zoe, only to drop his guts and turn the water brown—a disgusting event witnessed by his mum and close friends, which started a daisy-chain of vomiting from revellers around the Thompson household.
It was unsubtle, lavatory humour... but it was also memorable, well-executed, and I'm sure it'll be a talking point in school playgrounds for a few days. And that's, ultimately, what a show like Cuckoo needs to be for BBC3. It has some vestigial Inbetweeners cool thanks to gangly Greg Davies' presence, a muscled teen idol for people to swoon over, and good performances from a supporting cast who are getting more to do.
Maybe there was so much focus on Andy Samberg in series 1, because it wouldn't have been worth his while to come over and play second fiddle? In contrast, Taylor Lautner's happy to just be doing something unexpected and different... and that's helping the show. It feels like the pressure's off Lautner, and Cuckoo's writers are exploring other areas and characters, without having to worry about not giving their U.S star enough to do.
Did everyone else like this one?
written by Kieron Quirke & Robin French | directed by Ben Taylor | 14 August 2014 | BBC Three