You cannot turn your back on Cuckoo (BBC Three) for a minute. In its first incarnation, this British sitcom – BBC Three’s highest rated comedy debut – was about a gap-year student called Rachel who returned home from her travels with a moronic hippy husband called Cuckoo in tow, played by Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Andy Samberg.
Other commitments ended Samberg’s participation after series one. The show might have died there, but they killed off Cuckoo instead. In series two, Twilight’s Taylor Lautner stepped in as Cuckoo’s long-lost son Dale, playing opposite a new Rachel (Esther Smith). Their complicated connection eventually led to the immortal line: “What’s to explain? I love you, you love me, we had amazing sex. I’m not ashamed, Mom.”
The show is now back for a fourth series, and God forbid if you missed any in between. The baby that Rachel’s mum Lorna (Helen Baxendale) had a while back is now ready for nursery. Ken (Greg Davies) is back at work. Rachel works for Nina (Juliet Cowan) and Dale is not one jot less naive, despite the six months he spent with Chinese gangsters between series two and three.
The plot of the first episode revolves around Ken being nominated Lawyer of the Year (for Lichfield) and Dale looking for work, but don’t get too hung up on what is essentially a formula enabling Ken to humiliate himself and Dale to emerge unscathed. The idea that Ken could be nominated for any kind of award after the humiliations of series one through three is inconceivable, but who cares?
There’s a kind of courageous recklessness to Cuckoo – the writers must feel they can do anything now. The top-notch cast, perhaps aware that everybody is potentially expendable, consistently give it their all, and it still somehow retains the perky perversity of series one. Neighbour Steve (Kenneth Collard), a character who really should be dead by now, is as delightfully demented as ever.
Long-running shows often take desperate measures to revive a tired formula, but Cuckoo made a virtue of jumping the shark early on. The season opener begins with a big outdoor dance sequence. It is apropos of nothing, but, like most of what happens in Cuckoo, it is pretty well carried off (Lautner’s dopey physicality is an asset). When it works it can be very funny, and when it doesn’t quite work, it’s hard to mind.