This review contains spoilers.
1.2 Family Meeting
It is the dead of night, and all is not well in the house of Thompson. Ken wakes from a bad dream, in which he was trying to force an unwelcome intruder out of his house. Who could he possibly be thinking of? He goes into the kitchen to get a glass of water, and is confronted by an alarming sight. Cuckoo’s meditating on the kitchen table, stoned out of his mind and totally starkers. The ‘spiritual ninja’ is, as usual, unfazed, and Ken tries to match his composure, but ends up offering him an Aston Villa tea towel to put between the table and his nether regions. As he awkwardly helps his son-in-law to manoeuvre himself out of the lotus position, Ken is treated to a view of Cuckoo’s most private part. Still fuming, he goes back to bed, telling Lorna that he’s had enough of his son-in-law’s shameless nudity. Lorna soothes him, and the couple begin to get close…only to be disturbed by Cuckoo, still very naked, who’s come to give Ken the water he forgot in his rush to get away. He’s still wearing the towel. Unfortunately, it’s on his head.
The following morning, Lorna and Rachel are organising the guest list for a homecoming party for Rachel, who’s making her mum promise not to spill the beans to any of her friends about Cuckoo. Ken’s looking for his digital camera, which Dylan was last seen with but is denying all knowledge of. At the threat of a family meeting that evening, Dylan cracks and tells Ken it’s in his room, but Rachel is angry when she realises that Ken’s real intention is to challenge Cuckoo again. The latter is obliviously decorating his potato van, which he plans to use to spread the word of peace, reconciliation and…war against the state.
That night, the family gather round the table. Cuckoo’s dressed this time, although the leopard print number he’s donned is only a little less eye-catching than the nudity. Ken makes it clear that the meeting will target nobody in particular, and that it will provide everyone in the house with a chance to air their complaints. He then takes the first opportunity to zero in on Cuckoo. Cuckoo reacts well to Ken’s request that he keep his clothes on when not in the shower, making love with his wife, or, indeed, making love with his wife in the shower, but he has a small favour to ask in return. As Ken’s study is the best place for him to meditate, he wants his father-in-law to shift his extensive collection of books on the Nazis. Ken protests that he has a perfectly valid historical interest in wartime Germany, but Cuckoo persists. He gently reminds Ken that there really isn’t much to know about the Nazis – they invaded Italy, they died of influenza – and that in his opinion, which Ken is free to disagree with, they weren’t very nice people. Cuckoo’s worry is that, surrounded by Nazi imagery while meditating, he himself could be overcome by the fascist vibes emanating from Ken’s shelves. While Ken’s mind is boggling, his family gang up on him, saying that he’s actually a bit like Hitler himself, and is being unreasonable. Ken stands firm. He most definitely does not have eyebrows like Hitler.
Lorna tries to persuade Ken, but he’s reluctant to give way. She wonders aloud whether this all boils down to the fact that Ken wants to prove he’s the bigger man than Cuckoo, and, having seen them both in the altogether…Ken demands that she finish that thought. Lorna blusters that Ken is definitely the more physically impressive of the two (ahem), so should give way. Ken is mollified, and we next see him summoning Dylan to meet him at work. Ken wants Dylan’s vote, but there’s a price to be paid. The lustful teenager is determined to pull Zoë, the daughter of Ken and Lorna’s friends, Steve (Ken Collard) and Connie (Selina Griffiths), and wants her invited to Rachel’s homecoming party. Ken sets off on a mission to do just that, but struggles to convince the parents to change their plans and let Zoë spend time at their house before another party she’s committed to later that same night. Eventually, after making up a cock-and-bull story about some work experience training Zoë has to do, and offending Connie by refusing a snack (“I don’t like your food”), Ken gets his way.
After a conciliatory hug with Rachel – and a very unwelcome one from Cuckoo into the bargain – Ken’s scheme, and the party planning, get underway. After scrubbing an excess of aftershave off Dylan, the family is ready to welcome their guests. Lorna gives away more of the secret than she planned, and Dylan has an unwelcome rival for Zoë’s affections in the shape of Charlie, a terrifyingly precocious twelve-year-old. When Rachel calls everyone together to make her big announcement, she’s disappointed to find that Lorna’s ‘hints’ to the guests have already done the job. Cuckoo makes one of his speeches about everyone being an embodiment of love, leaving the room baffled, while Dylan’s plans to get Zoë alone for ‘massage practice’ are scuppered by Charlie, who’s keen to volunteer himself for a good rub down instead. Ken, however, has his own close encounter with Zoë, who accuses him of an unhealthy interest in her when he summons her to his study to get the spurious ‘training’ over and done with.
Rachel, meanwhile, has to run the gauntlet of supposed well-wishers. Connie is keen to remind her that her son’s only too available for when she and Cuckoo inevitably go their separate ways – as Cuckoo stands there, beaming obliviously – while an old ‘friend’ from school is full of scarcely concealed hatred behind her rictus smile, insisting that she, the ‘pretty one’, will soon be getting married too. This is, apparently, news to her boyfriend. The party picks up pace, and everyone starts dancing, because missing the opportunity to show Samberg getting his ridiculous groove on would be a real error on the part of the writers. Rachel talks Zoë into getting off with Dylan, but disaster strikes when Steve offers to take a photo of the new family group, only to find snaps of his daughter swimming stored on Ken’s camera. Ken stutters his incomprehension, but soon twigs that Dylan has been spying on Zoë during his lifeguarding duty. Steve is incandescent, and launches a chicken drumstick at Ken, but is eventually persuaded that the photos are actually Dylan’s. Mortified, the scheming teen plots revenge.
Sure enough, we next see Ken in his garage, surrounded by his beloved Nazi book collection. His deceit has been revealed. Cuckoo brings him a cup of tea as a peace offering, and sits down for a heart-to-heart. He tells Ken that he forgives him for trying to interfere with the democratic process, and that he sees him as the naughty one among his pupils – as opposed to Lorna, the happy one, Dylan, the dimwitted one, and Rachel, who’s the one he has sex with (‘a lot’). He envelops Ken in a warm hug. Ken’s face is that of a man with no energy left to scream.
This second episode of Cuckoo was much funnier than the opener, with some fantastic, laugh-out-loud moments – Cuckoo’s garbled understanding of Nazi Germany, the hilariously uncomfortable scene in Steve and Connie’s house, the pitch-perfect depiction of strained relations between supposed friends and neighbours in the backbiting atmosphere of the homecoming party. Trouble is, this is a show of two halves. On one side is Andy Samberg, with his spot-on portrayal of a Californian stoner, smiling beatifically, babbling hippie nonsense, and occasionally letting rip with the kind of surreal genius fans of his Lonely Island and Saturday Night Live work know and love. On the other is the rest of the cast, who really bring a lot to this episode. Greg Davies is brilliant, his expressions of disgust, confusion and despair really selling his lines, while Helen Baxendale gives Lorna a lovely zany quality that takes her beyond the sitcom mum stereotypes of last week.
Between these two elements of Cuckoo, however, is an ocean, and I’m not talking about the Atlantic. Funnily enough, the fact that Samberg’s American isn’t the issue; his character’s nationality is, refreshingly, never played for laughs, and writers Robin French and Kieron Quirke deserve plaudits for avoiding the easy pitfalls of cheap US versus UK gags. The real problem is the massive difference between Samberg’s comedy style and the scenario into which he’s been plunged. Samberg and his Lonely Island pals are masters of sharp satire, visual allusions and pop cultural references. Unfortunately, he’s had no hand in the script, so what we’re getting at the moment is a traditional – and often very funny – British sitcom, with a cheerily silly performance by Samberg at its centre that sometimes seems to have been grafted uneasily onto the rest of the programme. It feels like something written for Russell Brand before Hollywood beckoned, which isn’t a problem, as such; it’s just a bit of a waste of Samberg, whose particular brand of bonkers is rather different.
Watching Cuckoo always makes me want to stick Hot Rod in the DVD player immediately afterwards. If you like Samberg here, you’d be well advised to do the same. I dearly wish he’d crossed the Atlantic in time for a guest slot on one of Graham Linehan’s comedies, to join the Boosh on a journey through time and space, or even to out-crazy Vic and Bob on the late, lamented Shooting Stars. Any of these shows would have been a little closer to his natural habitat. As it stands, I can’t help but recommend Cuckoo for its many funny lines and array of lovely, if mismatched, performances, but, at this stage, it’s difficult to imagine that it’ll amount to more than the sum of its admittedly excellent parts. Next week will hopefully prove otherwise, with Cuckoo set to go on a boys’ night out with Ken that, with any luck, will see Samberg and Davies – who really do work well together – given a chance to shine.
You can Gem’s review of Cuckoo’s first episode here.
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