When I first heard about Am I Being Unreasonable?, I assumed it was some satire on the parenting website Mumsnet. The people on it spend an inordinate amount of their supposedly busy days discussing difficult tradespeople or the unsavoury sexual habits of their “DH” (Dear Husband). Oftentimes they seek validation for their actions from their fellow members, by asking “…am I being unreasonable?” Or “AIBU” in the Mumsnet argot.
The latest comedy vehicle from This Country’s creator and star Daisy May Cooper isn’t about Mumsnet as such, except that the character she plays, Nic, inhabits a quintessentially middle-class English environment (Cooper’s native Cotswolds by the looks of things), and she seems prone to asking the most intimate questions about herself on Mumsnet (eg, “Does anyone else’s husband give them the ick so much their fanny dries up?”). She has a nice house, a clever little son who’s more mature than she is, and an eccentric cleaning lady. She struggles to make friends in the village, and she is married to a bloke, Dan (Dustin Demri-Burns) who she doesn’t fancy that much, and their love life is sustained by cheesy fantasies. We also learn that there was another man in her life, Alex (David Fynn), who she did passionately love, but who came to a violent end in a freak accident involving his duffle coat and some train doors. The opening scene has Dan being splatted by a passing train, all in front of Nic’s eyes. Poor Nic has terrible flashbacks about the incident, which leaves her screaming in country churchyards. Then Nic bonds with a new arrival in the neighbourhood, the single mum Jen (Selin Hizli). Their kids play together, and the pair discover a shared dislike about everyone else in the village. Drinks are arranged.
Apart from Mumsnet, which is harmless enough, she also confides in Jen, and, after far too much white wine, talks to this woman, basically a stranger, about how the one thing missing in her life is a “real, intense passion… and you feeling like when you’re a teenager and the nerves are exposed on your skin”. Jen naturally sympathises, but, less normal, surreptitiously gets her phone out and starts recording when Nic embarks on a drunken confession that the last time she did experience that intensity was in her past affair – the one with Alex that Dan doesn’t know about (as far as we’re aware).
And so the key questions you won’t get an answer to on Mumsnet are posed – and us viewers want answers. What is Jen up to? Why, when she meets Dan fleetingly, do the pair have a sort of moment, and he seems keen to spend more time with her? Who exactly was the man Nic was having a reckless affair with? And precisely how gruesome will things get for Nic as her new bestie proceeds to gaslight, blackmail and destroy her (as feels inevitable)?
The whole set-up of AIBU has been written by Cooper and Hizli, and the script is intricately structured so as to maintain that balance between reality and deception, past and present, lies and truth – and they succeed admirably. Presumably created with themselves in mind, their respective performances are flawless; but Hizli has the tougher task as the deceiver, and she plays Jen in a nuanced, delicately weighted way that teases just the right quantum of evil creepiness out of her character’s outwardly breezy, Mumsnetty niceness. Cooper is more idiotically straightforward as Nic. It’s delightfully done, and makes for moreish viewing.
The thing about Cooper is that because of the incredible brilliance and success of her first appearance, out of nowhere, in This Country, she is forever going to have to live up to the sacred memory of Kerry Mucklowe (rather like Ricky Gervais, David Brent and The Office). Cooper is still only in her thirties, and I simply conclude that in AIBU (as in The Witchfinder last year) she is evolving as an actor and writer far beyond Kerry and beyond playing a mere caricature of herself. Unlike the downwardly spiralling Nic, Cooper is very much going in the right direction.