BBC Two’s run of new comedy pilots for its Sitcom Season starts with The Coopers Vs the Rest, a sitcom starring Paterson Joseph and Tanya Franks as Toby and Tess Cooper; the struggling parents to three adopted children.
While it’s a solid first bat for a new sitcom, it’s not without its problems.
Things pick up eventually but, as is the case for many pilots, the episode gets off to a pretty slow start because of the need to introduce everything, and it’s roughly seven minutes before the main plot of Tess gate-crashing a child’s birthday party starts. From there on the jokes improve and the pace picks up.
Coopers also walks an interesting line between the feel of a more conventional sitcom (with some dialogue that wouldn’t be out of place in shows like My Family) and moments that remind the viewer of more grounded comedies like Raised by Wolves. But, overall, it’s the general production style (no studio audience, etc) that tips the balance towards the latter.
The tail end of the episode also touches on the more emotional aspects of the family’s domestic life, which is something more common in less mainstream comedies and works particularly well here as the children being adopted means there are issues at hand that you wouldn’t find in a standard domestic sitcom.
Broadly, the characterisation works but eldest child Frankie (Erin Kellyman) comes across as a little too much of a clichéd moody teenager, and 8-year-old Charlie (Joseph West) is essentially a living prop with very little dialogue and no real personality beyond a mention of him having abandonment issues.
The strongest character based on just this pilot is middle child Alisha, played by India Brown – a character reminiscent of Outnumbered’s Karen Brockman but with the brilliant new angle of her slowly adopting her grandmother’s strong religious views to a worrying degree.
Casting is strong across the board, but the real standout is India Brown as Alisha, while Paterson Joseph is a solid presence as put-upon dad Toby and works well off the other cast members. Erin Kellyman also does well but, apart from the scene touching on the emotional side of things, is working with some over familiar material that’s not hugely inventive.
The Coopers Vs the Rest certainly has the legs to run for a full series, with the right handling, could easily become a worthy successor to Outnumbered and a welcome part of BBC Two’s comedy line-up.
Aired on Monday 29 August 2016 on BBC Two.