Saturday, 9 August 2014

BBC3's Thursday night comedy double whammy: CUCKOO and SIBLINGS

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Almost two years after it began, BBC Three's CUCKOO is back for a second series. Trouble is, the two actors who formed the central romance of the show are gone; U.S comedian Andy Samberg as spaced-out hippy Dale "Cuckoo" Ashbrick, and Tamla Kari as the young British backpacker who fell for his bohemian charms and dragged him back to live with her middle-class parents in middle England.

It wouldn't have surprised me if creators Robin French and Kieron Quirke had decided to let the show die without Samberg and Kari coming back as the unconventional newly-weds, especially as series 1 ended in a satisfying way with few loose ends. Not many people have been crying out for more Cuckoo, let's face it, and Samberg fans can get their fix now he's the lead in U.S hit Brooklyn Nine-Nine over on E4. However, someone at the BBC obviously thought differently, so Cuckoo returns... and, ironically given the titular bird's thieving behaviour, has two new faces in the nest.

Esther Smith (The Midnight Beast) directly replaces Kari as Rachel Thompson, bringing a slightly geekier feel to the character; but rather than recast Cuckoo they've made the peculiar choice to kill him off (a tragic mountaineering accident, with Samberg providing vocals on a sherpa's radio), and bring in his long-lost son Dale. (I guess Cuckoo wasn't very imaginative when naming babies, and—if my maths is correct—must have fathered Dale when he was 14-years-old. Ewww.)

If you can overlook these weird changes, I'm still not sure it was worth bringing Cuckoo back for seconds. Lautner's best-known for showing his pectorals in Twilight movies, so doesn't have the comedy grounding that held Samberg in good stead. Or the same rapport with Greg Davies, as his step-mother's father. Oh yeah, that's another problem: by making Dale a blood relation of Cuckoo, it's all very yucky that Rachel and her mother Lorna (Helen Baxendale) both fancy him. If the show is still intending to be a comedy romance, at heart, this could get very uncomfortable indeed... but perhaps Lautner's character will just become more of an oddball lodger? To be fair to him, Lautner wasn't objectionable in this first episode—he just didn't leap off the screen, playing a slightly quieter character. I just wonder if drawing the Twi-hards is beneficial to Cuckoo, because at least the first series attracted discerning comedy fans aware of Samberg's work on Saturday Night Live, and with comedy group Lonely Island.

We'll have to see if Cuckoo II develops its own identity and memories of Samberg's presence melt away, but I have doubts the chemistry can be replicated. Not that the first series was a diamond, but it could have been polished with a proper return, whereas now it's back to square-one. It doesn't help that laughs were few and far between, either, but maybe future episodes will do better now this awkward transition is over...

BBC Three - Thursdays, 10PM

Immediately following Cuckoo, BBC Three debuted a new sitcom from Keith Akushie (who co-wrote an episode of Fresh Meat) called SIBLINGS, that stars one of that Channel 4 comedy's actresses, Charlotte Ritchie. She plays lazy office girl Hannah, who co-habits with her dumb, unemployed brother Dan (Tom Stourton). They're the "worst brother and sister in the world", merrily ruining other people's lives thanks to their stupidity, selfishness, and indolence.

It's a very stripped-down premise, so a lot relies on the capabilities of Ritchie and Stourton to make these potentially horrid characters sympathetic and fun. They mostly succeed, as it's easy to identify with their aim to live a carefree life as infantile adults. They also seem to have a moderately healthy relationship as siblings; as this first episode revolved around Dan agreeing to help his sister impress her new boss (Tracy Ann-Oberman), by pretending he's a wheelchair-user like her own son, Charlie (David Proud). Naturally, the lie runs away with itself and lonely Dan quickly bonds with Charlie (over a mutual appreciation of Keanu Reeves), and struggles to keep up the pretence that he can't walk.

While the set-up doesn't feel very special or interesting, this does mean the weight of the show rests on the performances and material. And, for the most part, I found Siblings gently amusing with occasional big laughs—even when you knew where the storyline was heading. Fortunately, while it was ridiculously obvious Dan would be exposed as a fraud during a game of wheelchair basketball, it was less obvious Hannah's attempt to befriend her strict boss (so she can take advantage of her) would result in an unwanted threesome with a hotel barman!

It certainly feels like there's potential with Siblings, which has a strange tone that suggests something quite light-hearted and twee (mainly thanks to the music), and yet finds the dysfunctional characters doing terrible things and digging themselves into big holes. Provided they don't become detestable idiots (which feels unlikely given the inherent niceness Ritchie and Stourtone kept exuding), I think Siblings could grow into something very good.

BBC Three - Thursdays, 10.35PM