With the exception of Downton Abbey, British TV is not exactly beloved by the mainstream American audience. Sure, there are some niche followings for shows like Luther or Peaky Blinders, but by in large, Americans have not flocked to the British style of television since perhaps Monty Python. Cuckoo is different in its crossover appeal to audiences on both sides of the pond. It’s not a new show (originally airing in 2012), but with its appearance on Netflix it will be new to many Americans (and perhaps some brits that missed it the first time around).
For Americans the gateway to becoming fans of Cuckoo may be the prominent roles played by popular American actors: Andy Samberg in Season 1 and Taylor Lautner in Season 2 and 3. There is an instant familiarity to Samberg’s character Cuckoo, an amalgamation of a Buddhist priest wannabe, a hardcore environmentalist, and a political activist. Cuckoo is pure of heart and as naïve as a puppy. It’s a character that audiences will feel like they have seen Samberg play dozens of times during his tenure on SNL (though I can’t actually think of a specific character that fits all that).
The show centers around Rachel (Tamla Kari) a straight laced British graduate with high aspirations coming home from some time abroad married to Cuckoo, who is none of those things. Rachel’s family must adjust to the sudden and unconventional addition to the family which comes very easily for her mother Lorna (Helena Baxendale), with some resignation from her brother Dylan (Tyger Drew-Honey), and full-throated resistance from her father Ken (Greg Davies). The relationship between Cuckoo and the good-hearted yet fatherly Ken is the focus of Season 1. And while the father/son-in-law relationship angle has been done to death, Samberg and Davies bring great energy to the task. But while Ken and Cuckoo’s relationship is strained and humorous, Ken and Lorna’s is downright adorable. It’s a fantastic onscreen pairing and would make the show watchable even without the high wattage Samberg.
Which is fortunate because Cuckoo, the show, loses Cuckoo the character in season two as Samberg departs for his own show back in the states (Brooklyn 99). They also lose Rachel as Tamla Kari similarly moved onto other work, bringing in Ester Smith to play Rachel and prompting the time old TV tradition of everyone pretending nothing happened. Not surprisingly, Lautner is not an adequate comedic replacement for Andy Samberg, but he is serviceable and his character comes with a few interesting twists. Regardless, Cuckoo survives on the strength of its British portion of the cast. Particularly Davies and Baxendale.
Cuckoo is an undeniably British show, but it is one that American audiences, particularly those with bad experiences with British shows in the past, should check out. The humor is not overly dry and the pace is familiar for American audiences. Allow yourself to try it out knowing that the familiar style and voice of Samberg will be there to greet you. But then allow yourself to fall in love with the Brits who are the real scene stealers.