TV Review: This Country (BBCii!)

TITLE: This Country

GENRE: Comedy

STARRING: Charlie and Daisy May Cooper, Ashley McGuire

PRODUCTION COMPANY/DISTRIBUTION/COUNTRY: BBCii!

YEAR: 2017

RATING: 🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕 of 5

WHERE CAN I SEE IT? Hulu

It took two recommendations from Britons for me to finally watch This Country.

Based on the title and description, I didn’t want to fall into the trap that I found myself in with Little Britain. You know how you can be bumbling along enjoying pop culture and then, during one particular episode or skit, you realize, “I shouldn’t be laughing at this. It’s really fucking mean.” But by then you’ve already bought the box set and recommended it to other people. Which makes you the asshole.

My theory is that Little Britain got mean because it’s creators, David Walliams and Matt Lucas got too famous and too sloppy in their comedy. They also seemed to disdain the characters they created with little room for finding them endearing. But based on interviews with Daisy and Charlie Cooper I’m guessing they really took to heart the writers edict, “Write what you know about.” Writing about two rural wasters is pretty much who they were before Daisy upped sticks, got a place at the prestigious acting school, RADA, and let her brother tag along to sleep on her floor.

A problem, I find, with comedy is that it’s hard to relate examples from a show that strike one so funny. This Country’s premise is the same as that of the U.K. version of The Office (the funniest version of that show): a BBC film crew has gone outside its usual London-centric orbit to film. The show is a mockumentary meant to illuminate how young people feel marginalized in rural areas, this time to the Cotswolds. It features many of the same inside-joke-gazes to camera that break the fourth wall as if to say, “Can you believe what I have to put up with?” when each character is actually as bizarre as the next.

On a meta-level This Country is funny because cousins and best mate Kurtan and Kerry live lives that are a microcosm of quotidian British village life — going down to the pub, competing in the cutthroat scarecrow contest at the local fair, waiting for a wayward cousin to come home from jail are all events in their lives that are rendered funny and sometimes surprisingly poignant. As the show progresses to season two, we see Kerry and Kurtan’s relationship threatened by a Kurtan trying to move on with a job he feels official in and getting a girlfriend.

Kurt and Kerry celebrate the death of a particularly mean village resident and former teacher, Mr. Perkins: “Yeah, well, I think it’s disgustin’ you not celebration’ a man’s death.”

My favorite season one episode is number three, “Oven Space” because it shows the depth of Kerry and Kurtan’s relationship. They’re cousins and best friends so they know how to push one another’s buttons. Unfortunately, sometimes they don’t know when to stop, hence the dramatic tension in this sitcom. In this episode Kurtan and Kerry jockey for the top oven shelf to cook their snacks while they wait for their Uncle Nugget to come home from prison.

You see, Uncle Nugget was imprisoned for a crime, but he “was wrongly incinerated [sic] for just having a laugh.” (The connotations of “having a laugh” are just kidding, fooling or horsing around, i.e. doing something douchey and trying to pass it off as a joke.) But, of course, while they’re waiting Kurtan has brought over a frozen pizza that he’s really been looking forward to and he’s not going to share it with Kerry. Kerry counters with making some frozen turkey dinosaurs that she won’t be sharing with Kurtan. Strike and retaliation!

Sounds like a simple conflict to solve but the pitch battle that ensues illustrates the petty nature of Kerry and Kurtan’s daily interactions brought about mainly by boredom and under-/unemployment. More often than not Kurtan, who’s not too bright, tries to have a deep thought and Kerry’s doing something thick like watching a loaf of bread go stale on stalebreadloaf.com.

This Country is resplendent with hilarious characters, including Kerry’s mom, Sue Mucklowe, who we never see and only hear screaming from upstairs (Daisy Cooper plays her own mom off-screen), Big Mandy a tough neighbor who everyone’s afraid of but she’s got big plans for a puppet show starring the meerkats from the Compare the Market adverts, and Len, the village misanthrope who wanders around the village and irritates Kerry and Kurtan.

Fear of love Big Mandy…just don’t let her give you a home tat’oo.

In many ways, This Country is a good example of “you just have to see it” and see if it tickles you or not. But don’t only take my word for it. This Country won a three of the four 2018 BAFTAs the show was nominated for including Best Scripted Comedy.

Sidenote: since BBC3 rebranded as BBCii! in 2016, their comedies and pilots have been spot-on with including different populations, mostly young people, in funny situations. Meant to follow the audience, some shows are released only online. More often that not, I’ve watched some creative takes on British life and themes.

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