Bringing a comedy back for a second season is a deceptively tricky feat. You either have to keep the laughter count up or you have to make up for a drop in laughs or novelty by creating characters worth caring about. BBC Three’s This Country does both.
The mockumentary takes us back to the Cotswolds, a part of England purportedly chosen by the filmmakers because it highlights the way “young people feel more marginalised than ever” in modern, rural Britain. And so we return to the tiny village that is home to Kerry and Kurtan, cousins, friends, bumpkins and losers. Played by real life siblings Daisy May Cooper and Charlie Cooper, the duo are written by the pair too, and that intimate knowledge of their characters and the convincing chemistry between them is key to the show’s unique charm; while there are laughs to be found in their often hapless adventures, there’s genuine heart too, and the show delicately asks us to sympathise with our protagonists as much as giggle at them. Even their surname is perfectly chosen: Mucklowe.
The result is comparable to BBC Three’s other stellar new comedy, The Young Offenders: they both showcase exemplary character work, able to develop and evolve their central cast just enough to make them emotionally engaging, without transforming them to a contrived degree. Kerry’s dad pops up once more, showing more interest in Kurtan than her, something that she deals with by pretending she’s absolutely fine – a display of endearing strength laced with pained melancholy, dressed up with black humour.
Kerry’s dad winds up employing Kurtan through his building firm, something that gives him a chance to do something useful – since last season, Kurtan has gone back on his decision to go to Swindon College and educate himself, and a lot of the fun of this season is seeing how out of step he now is with local village life. Paul Chahidi reprises his brilliant role as the local vicar, whose concern for Kurtan’s settling back in climaxes at a Grease-themed party, which Kurtan attends with his girlfriend. (We already suspect, of course, that the clueless bloke’s love life is doomed to failure.)
Kerry, meanwhile, has romantic interests of her own – unfortunately, though, they’re the unwanted kind, taking the form of some harassing letters from an anonymous admirer. Unsure of how to interpret them, she turns to “Big” Mandy (Ashley McGuire), who promptly sets about offering advice, providing a bodyguard service and generally stealing every scene that’s going. Kerry is a kind, vulnerable soul, something that’s emphasised by the way she spends the first episode of Season 2 trying to give something back to the community. But as Mandy tries to flog her an ancient computer monitor for the price of a second-hand PC, we get to see a resilience and stubbornness inside Kerry that matches her soft streak, which is gradually forming in response to the rural life around her.
They’re a wonderfully inept bunch, not entire clueless but not entirely successful, and it’s their shared bond and sense of loyalty – and a sincere desire to do something meaningful with their lives – that makes This Country’s second season so rewarding to see. In between the underplayed silliness (performed by the ensemble cast with a deadpan that out-Offices The Office), Kurtan repeatedly stumbles upon unexpectedly profound observations, as Charlie Cooper gently reminds us of the wasted potential of the nation’s squandered youth.
“You don’t know what you had until it’s gone,” he remarks. “Like Blockbusters, you just take it for granted. Actually, not like Blockbusters. That was online piracy. And lack of vision from the management.” What an unassuming treat this is.
This Country Season 1 and 2 are available on BBC iPlayer, with new episodes arriving weekly on Mondays.