Worst To Best
The Young Ones

Prev 2

6 Cash (1984)

The central premise of this episode - Vyvyan thinks that he's pregnant and it later turns out to be an enormous fart - is somewhat symptomatic of the crass, cartoonish tone of the second season. However, beneath the garish trappings is one of the stronger 1984 episodes in terms of dialogue exchanges. In terms of how the episode looks, it's different to others as it features the house shot from a completely different angle, something that gives it an off kilter feel to the others and shakes things up. Planer is on good form in the episode, even though Mayall's season two persona is more shouty and screechy than he previously was. Meanwhile, while Alexei Sayle gets a decent (albeit overegged) gag about police radios, his Eurovision Song Contest entry is the sort of thing that was hilarious when you were eleven.
     Yet whether the action with the main characters compels or not, where Cash really excels is in having almost inarguably the best cutaways/inserts. Sure, stuff like season one's "Nozin' Aroun'" and "Oh Crikey!" are classics, but can even they compete with "think once, think twice..." and the "I ate his fishtank" man? Even the puppet dogs are memorable, while music is provided by Jools Holland and co in a cover of Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues, something that was often on the receiving end of copyright censorship for early video and DVD releases.

5 Nasty (1984)

An episode that arguably stands up better than some of the others as it has a more rigidly defined plot. While the freewheeling narratives of The Young Ones were often the whole point, this one's framing flashback sequences and strong ending render it a notable entry. Occasionally it plays down to the negative stereotype of the programme being a lot of shouting and swearing, but there's some classic material, in particular Neil's response to whether or not he digs graves. A timely satire of the BBFC's video censorship of the period, this pacy instalment is always worth another look, whether as an historical document of the time it was made, or as a sitcom that's still pretty amusing even today.

4 Bomb (1982)

Back in 1982 TV was still decorated by RP speakers and comedy style was just people doing "turns" or acting. The concept of vulgar people shouting at each other with exaggerated violence and extreme swearing was really ripping up the rule book then. In 2012, when you can hear the word ''bastard'' before the watershed, it all seems quite tame and almost quaint on reflection. Today it's more shocking to hear words like ''spazzy'' and ''poof'' than the series' most-repeated swearword. In fact, there are lots of silly, charming little jokes in this episode, such as Vyvyan's ''cup of tea in the pot'' routine and Rik's reason for political activity: "it's very easy to sit on your backside, isn't it?" "Not if you haven't got a bottom." There was once a time when Vyvyan eating the telly or the narrative cheat of the virtual non-ending were groundbreaking diversions from the norm. Today it seems less striking, a sign that even though The Young Ones may not have changed, society and television has. Set at the height of the cold war, the pacing is a little too leisurely to have real bite as a political satire, though there are darker moments, such as three elderly ladies smashing up a phonebox (including the graffiti "wogs out") with the justification that they're doing it so young kids will get the blame and it will "stop them raping old ladies."

3 Interesting (1982)

The most political episode after Boring, Interesting has an activist friend of Rik's that he fails to impress, and an hilarious scene where the police smash up the house's record player within seconds of it being turned on. References to Adam Ant and Smash potatoes may not mean a lot when watched today, but this was also the first episode to reference cannabis. It says a lot for how likeable and charming the series was that such an occurrence seems almost childlike and appealing, rather than potentially offensive. It helps, of course, that Neil's major trip involves him meeting puppet aliens on the moon. Most famous for an hilarious tampax scene, like a lot of season one episodes it lacks the immediacy and genuine pace of the second season, but retains a true sense of identity and integrity. When fellow students and a lecturer turn up to the ill-fated party, they're real people who regard the main cast as social pariahs, rather than the main cast being prime representatives of "Scumbag College". While the four housemates get a lot of the humour of the show from their arguments and intolerance of one another, we have to believe that they could realistically houseshare, and even hold conversations together, and it's episodes like Interesting that give us this overlooked element of the show. Most of the people behind the making of the series felt that season two was an improvement, but on the strength of episodes like this I can't help but disagree...

2 Demolition (1982)

Where it all began, with a 1981 pilot episode that was left on the shelf for several months before the BBC wanted something to trade in on Channel 4's Comic Strip and belatedly commissioned an entire series. The gap in production can be felt, not just in the subtle differences in appearance and house, but in the form of comedy. The humour involved is slightly off centre to the normal comedy used in a Young Ones episode, with extensive use of non sequiturs and intentional dead laugh areas. It's a fascinating look at what could/would have been had they been given the go-ahead from the start, rather than picking things up around half a year later.
      Although an extra scene was originally planned (and reputedly shot) for the climax, having the lead characters killed by a plot-unrelated occurrence and the ironic caption "Now there's a funny thing...!" set out its stall early. This was a series that was prepared to rewire traditional narrative conventions, the programme dismissed by Dad's Army co-creator David Croft as ''an innovation but it wasn't progress''. Within the first four minutes a lead character attempts to commit suicide onscreen, while Rik's need to have Neil listen to what he has to say is less comic exaggeration but almost Beckettian desperation in this first episode. With the producers envisaging the series as originally having Rik and Neil's interplay as the main focal point, it's over five minutes before another character joins them. While Vyvyan's entrance is the most memorable, Alexei Sayle's opening sums up the desire to deconstruct what makes a sitcom function, with him identifying himself as a "crazy, wacky landlord", and revealing his real accent before acknowledging that it's "back to the acting".
     With the series getting more money by piggy-backing on a variety budget, we get the first band in the series, with Nine Below Zero giving more 80s new wave angst and energy than some of the safer groups that would make up later instalments. Demolition also features the most onscreen time for the mystery fifth housemate: an eerie, Ring-like character (pictured) who sits in the background of all the first series episodes but is never mentioned or acknowledged by any other characters. As they believe that Neil's suicide will put the rent up "by a third" then it's possible they don't even know that he's there... scary!
The episode closes with the aforementioned plane crash, an unusually macabre (even for this show) ending for an episode that features a character continually discussing death and suicide. It's bleak, pointed, and perhaps has more integrity than any other Young Ones episode. However, the offkilter characterisation and offbeat edge perhaps make it less accessible than what followed. Regardless, as with most of The Young Ones episodes, show them to someone who wasn't there at the time and they'd have no idea what all the fuss was about.

1 Boring (1982)

The finest episode of The Young Ones, Boring has a central conceit that everything is going on around the main characters without them realising it. As with Ferris Bueller, if you don't look around at life "you may miss it". Here though there's some sinister undertones, including the tent in the middle of the street that promises "free sex and money". Also involved is a king and queen of an underground realm beneath the garden, time travel and demons from Hell.
     There is a certain old school charm that now pervades The Young Ones, particularly the first season which had a greater reliance on puppets. Having Goldilocks and the three bears use the house when the regulars are out is sweet rather than surreal in the modern day.
     As well as the idea of going through an entire day without seeing any of the extraordinary events around them, there's also musings on the laws of misplaced karma. Vyvyan wins a car, only for the intervention of a satanic presence ensuring that it goes to a racist policeman without them ever knowing. This last element is particularly controversial and has been edited from some repeat screenings, as extreme racist language is used in a purely satirical manner. This isn't just a great episode of The Young Ones... it's a great episode of The Young Ones that has something to say. As the episode closes, a UFO hangs unseen overhead...

Prev 2