In the UK, Daisy May Cooper is a graduate television star, well known enough as an actress and series creator that she appeared in the UK version of The masked singer earlier this spring. She was the Otter.
Was Cooper revealed about the American Masked singer in February, Jenny McCarthy would probably have been totally flustered. Cooper may have been known for a few of Armando Iannucci’s projects – The Personal History of David Copperfield And Avenue 5 – but instead of This countryan award-winning comedy she starred in and made with brother Charlie, we have an American remake Welcome to Flatsch; and instead of the British hit Taskmasteron which Cooper collaborated on the 10th season, we got the US version of Taskmasterwhich bombed in its only Comedy Central season.
Am I being unreasonable?
It comes down to
Often interesting, sometimes distracting.
That is of course changing. The American public is getting a crash course in Daisy May Cooper this spring so we can catch up with this incredibly talented multi-hyphenate.
It’s probably for the best that Cooper’s first major domestic showcase was Cash Carraway’s HBO dramedy Rain dogs, a scathing and factually miserable exploration of economic desperation and lost families in contemporary London. It’s a tonally challenging show held together by Cooper’s broad yet grounded central performance.
Cooper’s second star vehicle of the spring is that of Hulu and BBC One Am I being unreasonable? which is perhaps even more of a challenge. Made with co-star Selin Hizli, Am I being unreasonable? is a comedy thriller or a silly mystery. It’s a showcase for many of the same performance features that make Cooper so attractive Rain dogs and it’s a totally engaging show to follow and try to figure out. At the same time, it’s a show that, in its attempts to be structurally ambitious, undermines its emotional core. It’s a story of two friends bound by complementary trauma that too often turns into a guessing game.
Am I being unreasonable? features Cooper as Nic, a suburban mother stuck in a psychological rut. She loves her precocious son (Lenny Rush’s Ollie), but her marriage to Dan (Dustin Demri-Burns) is in what appears to be a permanent rut and she is deeply haunted by the shocking loss of her true love, Alex (David Fynn), a grief she cannot share with anyone. She certainly can’t share her feelings with Dan or her extremely annoying neighbor (the hilariously scene-stealing Karla Crome).
Then Jen (Hizli) appears in town. She is also a cheated mother. She hates the same picky moms as Nic. Soon, with a sane alcoholic help, Nic tells Jen things she probably shouldn’t tell Jen, as Jen has secrets of her own and it’s more than possible that there are downsides to their seemingly therapeutic friendship.
The first thing to know about Nic, as a character, is that she’s very funny and very damaged, and if those are two things you need to know about Nic, they go hand in hand. Nic experiences flashbacks and hallucinations and fits of rage that, while completely justified, don’t help her make friends and influence people. Like Costello, Cooper’s character in Rain dogsNic is a devoted mother, but her monomaniacal concern that she’s raising a child who will likely match her greatest flaws isn’t entirely wrong. Cooper has very quickly proven to be an exceptional performer towards child actors and she and Rush have scenes together that are both very silly and very sweet, then a little disturbing when you step back and think.
Hizli may have the more difficult role because it’s not clear for a long time what Jen really is. Is she just a lonely new woman in town? Is she looking for a friend or is she out for revenge or something else? Hizli combines a sweet sadness with manic glints that open the door to different interpretations, and if the character remains likable while you keep guessing at her motivation, that’s to Hizli’s credit.
The guessing game aspect of Am I being unreasonable? is what keeps the show going and what I ended up finding frustrating. The entire series is driven by withholding information.
Sometimes it’s organic. Nic denies a lot of things and she knows things that, for reasons that are always obvious, she can’t tell anyone. Jen may be in denial and possibly self-delusion, but it’s equally clear why she can’t just come out and announce her backstory.
Still, the series is more invested in inserting gaps in the story that only exist for that information to fill in later in the series. If I just think, “Oh, that’s why that plot hole wasn’t a plot hole!” or “Oh, that wasn’t a character inconsistency at all!” then I approach the series as a puzzle, which it absolutely is, and not as a character study, which it probably should be.
The show has abrupt mini-shifts in genre – Ollie being an aspiring filmmaker with a funny horror fix helps justify some things – and these shocking, nightmarish detours would probably be enough differentiation without treating the story and its exclusions as something to be dissolved. Instead, bigger issues and character dimensions have been lost so far.
Am I being unreasonable? has already been renewed for a second season. I’m curious if these first six episodes – a wonderfully lively season of 30 minutes per episode – are just a quick primer to make it clear that anything can happen with these characters, but not a template for the structure moving forward. Spending more time with these two main characters as people and not pieces in a shifting sleight of hand exercise might give the strong performances a chance to assert themselves more. Then again, the show might not have much of an engine without its trickery. Reservations aside here, I’m enjoying Daisy May Cooper’s American Spring. And be sure to check it out Rain dogs.