Ant Heald reviews the second series of The Tuckers, considering the ways the show adapts pantomime-esque tropes for the small screen.
At the end of Series 2 of The Tuckers, a realisation dawned, so startling that I had to scroll through every episode to check I wasn’t mistaken: it has never rained on the Tuckers of Trefechan Street (that Welsh language in-joke nodding to the ‘small town’ of the programme’s setting). Not only has it stayed dry, but the sun shines continually from a clear blue sky throughout all six episodes. Perhaps they just got lucky during filming, but it underscores my feeling that criticism of the first series as trading on Welsh stereotypes is far from the whole truth. It’s always raining in Wales, right?
Series one ended with most of the Tucker clan looking out over their valley. “You’re right Murph”, says Glyn to the Uncle (Robert Pugh) he’s spent most of the series at odds with, “It is like a magic carpet.” That line illuminates a strand of comedy that runs through every episode: The Tuckers is in part a pantomime made for TV. Much of the comedy relies on implausible slapstick, often with Billy (Joshua McCord) as the butt of the joke, trapped up a ladder by Clock (Jâms Thomas) after pinching his window-cleaning round in episode 2, or turned munchkin green in episode 5 by Lush’s (Kimberley Nixon) bargain knock-off spray tan.
Billy is an Aladdin figure, always looking for the magic charm that will make his fortune, or make him lucky in love with the insatiable Dawn (bondage gear and super-hero cape in episode 1, Uncle Murph’s mint-placebo ‘Viagra’ in episode 4). Meanwhile, Billy’s brother Bobby (Ben McGregor) plays the role of Prince Charming to the ditzy and besotted Lush, while to Natalie (Alexandria Riley) he is the unrequited Buttons to her Cinderella as she spends the series dreaming and planning her escape from small-town Trecarreg to the bright lights of ‘Ponty. The narrative backbone is this classic love triangle of Natalie, Bobby and Lush, who were significantly absent from that hill-top family tableau as Peggy (Lynn Hunter) squeezed Bobby and Natalie’s daughter Shakira (Hope Reynolds) to her side, following up Glyn’s ‘magic carpet’ line with “And we’re family – together forever”, which could be nothing more than schmaltz except that Shakira’s family are no longer together.
The dramatic arc of series 2 flows from this rift, yet remains comfortably predictable. The ‘Will they? Won’t they?’ of Bobby and Natalie’s potential reconciliation is a familiar trope that runs through every episode of this series, deepening in significance as the effect on Shakira is explored, until an unlikely misunderstanding, leading Lush to thwart Natalie and Bobby’s expected reconciliation at the end of the final episode leaving us in a suspense that will surely be fulfilled in Series 3. So far, so familiar. But there is a difference between the shallowness of stereotype and the deeper resonance of archetype; and if the comedy relies on the former, surely much of The Tuckers’ broader than expected appeal comes from the latter.
Peggy is the archetypal matriarch around which her wayward family orbits. There is a pantomime element here too, not far from Mrs Brown’s Boys, or drag-queen dames, in Peggy’s bawdy romps with Dai ‘Up and Down’ (Alan David); but there is more to her than that. What turns predictable comedy into compelling viewing, is the ability of the actors to turn in a moment from farce to pathos, or even to present us with both at once.
Dai’s death in the final episode, hands behind his head, a smug grin on his face after enjoying a bit of ‘up and down’ in bed with Peggy, is preposterous. His corpse wedged into a coffin, still in the same pose, even more so. Yet even as Glyn schemes with Billy to get his hands on Dai’s property, leading to a Keystone Cops chase around the streets after Dai’s (inevitable) other lover to stop her gate-crashing the funeral and revealing all, we nevertheless feel a real sense of Peggy’s grief at losing the one bit of pleasure that was purely hers, beyond the comforts and constraints of family. Similarly in episode 3, Glyn wanders into the bedroom of new sweetheart Sandra (Maxine Evans) with a bunch of flowers, and her casual reaction as her latest conquest rolls off her, and the banging of the headboard stops – a cheery, “Oh – hiya! This is Eddie: I ran into him in the ‘spoons!” – is as unrealistic as Glyn’s deflation is convincing and poignant when she tells him “You do know you and me was only a bit of fun, don’t you?”.
An easily overlooked strength of the show is its portrayal of what serious drama often flags-up as ‘issues’ — the sexual and emotional needs of older people, or the mixed-race partnership of Bobby and Natalie — as simply part of life. Such authentic rather than performative inclusion matters, even in light-hearted comedy. The series, even amidst the cartoonish capers, touches us with sensitivity to a spectrum of felt experience, derived from superb acting by a cast with real gravity, coupled with Speirs’ keen insight into what holds an audience, gleaned from acting and writing on the likes of Extras and Stella. As an aside, the tonal underpinning of Andrew J Jones’ spaghetti-Western-influenced incidental music, meshed with sharp-eared musical choices drawn often from the contemporary Welsh music scene, seems to me to do significant work in giving coherence to the shifts in mood and tempo.
The Tuckers may not be exactly ground breaking, but nor is it only formulaic. This sun-drenched feel-good nonsense has been made with a deep heart, and a keen eye that has been sharpened in Season 2 to lift the whole into territory that perhaps I even dare suggest merits its own genre label. I’m going to go with farcical realism, and look forward to returning to the absurdly unbroken sunshine of the Welsh valleys in series 3.
Series 2 of The Tuckers is available on BBC iPlayer now.