To make 20 minutes of brilliant television exclusively about cooking a pizza, you’ve got to go back to basics. You’ve got to strip away social media, politics and consider the things that really matter: whether the person who owns the oven or the person who owns the pizza gets to have the top shelf.
This Country, the comedy show about two cousins stuck in a small Cotswolds town, is peppered with quandaries like this. Which chair ‘belongs’ to which regular at the bowls club? Why did June’s scarecrow get the most prominent position in the annual competition? What happened to that weird kid from year six whose illustrated face on the class tea towel is his only remains? For people who grew up in small towns and villages across the UK and moved to big cities in search of stupidly stressful jobs and astronomical rents, switching on This Country is like diving into a warm bath of nostalgia for a simpler time.
At least that’s the surface sell of This Country, which is just starting its third and final season. I was initially hooked because I grew up in the same area as brother and sister creators Daisy and Charlie Cooper (Kerry and Kurtan). The incredibly specific references to local goings-on were a delight (there’s a line in this new season about Jamie’s Italian in Cheltenham closing, a moment so significant in regional history that my dad still brings it up. It’s been three years). But as the show’s popularity grew, people from all around the country fell in love with its relatable tropes of being from a small town; the one pub, the local hero, the myths and legends passed down from kid to kid with only a grain of truth left, the total and utter boredom of having no money, nowhere to go and no way to get there.
This Country is more than that, though. It’s deeply touching in ways I don’t even know if Daisy and Charlie expected. Kerry’s desperate-to-please relationship with her crappy dad Martin (played by her actual dad Paul Cooper, who is absolutely the opposite of his character in real life) resonated with so many people dealing with similar characteristics in their own relationships. It was hard not to feel protective and sympathetic towards Kerry, who talks tough but is clearly vulnerable, as her dad interchangeably ignores and exploits her throughout the first two series. Seeing that upsetting dynamic play out on screen to a character you feel so strongly for made it easier to transfer some of that sympathy and protectiveness to ourselves.
This season comes with an incredibly sad legacy: the death of Daisy and Charlie’s close friend Michael Sleggs. He played the character of Slugs in the show and had been battling health issues for a long time before passing away in July last year. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the first episode of the new series is an incredibly moving tribute to Michael.
“He was just so fucking funny and fucking annoying,” Daisy said, laughing between tears at a recent Q+A as she described Michael’s last wishes for the show. For starters, she says, he wanted his body in a coffin in the first episode, a request that Daisy chuckles was “absolutely fucking mental”. He also asked the character of The Vicar to be the actual vicar at his funeral. Both requests were denied (probably for the best tbh) but the love for Michael, both on stage at the Q+A and in the first episode is incredibly clear.
Michael’s death was obviously a contributing factor to the decision to end the show. “We always said we’d know [when the time was right],” said producer Simon Mayhew-Archer, continuing that the cast and crew “really felt Michael’s absence.”
Besides, it’s not like Daisy and Charlie haven’t got plenty going on in the background. Daisy is currently starring in The Personal History of David Copperfield alongside Dev Patel, as well as Armando Iannucci’s new comedy Avenue 5. Charlie, fresh from his portrayal of Sian O’Callaghan’s boyfriend Kevin in the Martin Freeman-starring drama A Confession, is appearing next in the much-anticipated Michael Winterbottom film Greed. At the Q+A however, they both say that if enough people would buy a ticket, they might – MIGHT – consider making a film. “Never say never,” says Charlie.
So goodbye to This Country, we hope just for now. Thank you from thousands of millennials across the country for filling our cynical hearts with delight, and for reminding us that not all is bad in the world and to find the joy, boredom and frustration in the small things.
And thank you, perhaps most importantly of all, for the absolute and complete inability to pronounce “tomatoes” correctly.
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