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The Young Ones

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6 Bomb (1982)

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There's often a debate as to whether The Young Ones has dated, and, more importantly, whether that actually matters. It is, after all, a television programme the best part of 40 years old, not a current concern.
      The actual commercial peak of the show was post-series, where hit singles were in the charts (ones by Planer and Sayle, which still hold up surprisingly well, and one with Cliff Richard and the main cast, which doesn't) and repeats of the series were highly rated for BBC2. This particular episode didn't even make the top 10 for the minority channel back on its first air date, but reached 6th and 5th spot on its first and second repeats respectively. By the time of summer 1985, the series was breaking 6 million viewers and hitting the top spot for BBC2.
      Repeats in the 1990s saw far less interest in the series, as the immediate post-Thatcher years made it seem like a historical document just a decade after it aired. Thankfully time has served it well, where it can now be enjoyed as a snapshot of 80s Britain, even if the groundbreaking shock value of the series now seems often quaint. At the time the level of violence and bad language seemed outrageous... seen today and it's almost charming, a world when even the oft-said "bastard" is uttered in a middle class accent.
      The series has aged well without the politics of immediacy pulling it back, and the sad death of Rik Mayall in 2014 helped many rediscover just how much they loved the show and his work. It also helps that 2019 has seen a rise of Rick's much-loved insult of "fascist" abound, making the character once again satirical of a certain kind of left-wing radical. The fickle convenience of Rick's politics is also expressed here, where he utters right-wing views in the DHSS office, proving his ethics are flexible depending on circumstances. Although the series tends to be left-leaning, the character of Rick really does work as a send up of a certain kind of vocal activist.
      Of course, the best age to watch The Young Ones is 9 years old. That's not to say that the show is unduly childish, but that remarks like Sayle talking about French television in Flood ("Mr. Poo Poo Goes To The Lavatory") were hysterical to a young child, where the series had a greater appeal than with the student base at which it was aimed. Bomb still contains some rich satire, not least 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."
      But, while this is all striking stuff (and the great joke that it's several minutes before they notice the atom bomb in the kitchen, a playing on not noticing things "in plain sight", which is doubly eerie when this happens just moments after a shot of the fifth housemate) with the passage of time, events like Vyvyan eating a television have become almost the norm, rather than something daring and new. It's not the fault of the series itself, but just the legacy it left behind that what was once so shocking now seems almost... sweet.

5 Sick (1984)

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A jump in the ranking here for Sick, an episode that's well put together, but can be wearying when watched in sequence as part of the louder, brasher second series. Watched in isolation, there's some nice lines in there, in among all the child-pleasing snot, and the shots of riot police on the streets are very well done. Then there's Alexei Sayle giving arguably his best performance in the series as deranged criminal Brian Damage, while even undervalued Mike gets lots of decent lines.
     One mystery that lingered for some time was what Vyvyan actually says about Richard Briers when ranting about The Good Life. Subtitled as "sugar-flavoured snot", it instead sounds like Adrian Edmondson is saying the more surreal "sugar-flavoured snob". However, while "snob" would perhaps be more abstract, Lise Meyer kindly confirmed via Twitter in April 2020 that it's "definitely snot". (Ironically, just over nine years after the episode aired, Edmondson would play Briers's nephew in the comedy If You See God, Tell Him).

4 Oil (1982)

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Oil is by far the biggest climber in this revisit of the series, where a 2012 watch had seen it ranked last. As comedy is very subjective, it could sometimes be elements like not being in the mood on the day, or certain episodes not complementing each other well. (As noted with Sick, but also Nasty, these are episodes that can seem less effective when watched as part of the noisier series two, rather than being watched in isolation).
      With Oil, there were two main complaints seven-and-a-half years ago. One was that the anti-ending was underwhelming (which still stands, even if it wasn't the point) but the main one was that the studio audience was too overpowering, and a complete distraction. It is still a valid point, as even the smallest of lines is met by shrieks, cackles and whooping, which can get in the way of the comedy.
      Peter Davison, in his autobiography Is There Life Outside The Box? lamented the use of studio audiences, stating that: "I'm baffled how anyone thought the studio audience was a good idea. It trickled down from the early days of American radio, and we should have plugged the leak years ago. […] The viewers will laugh at the clever, well-written jokes, a studio audience will howl if someone says knickers."
      Davison's experience in sitcoms with a studio audience were far more "gentle" than The Young Ones, with titles like Fiddlers Three and Sink or Swim. Yet even though The Young Ones was "edgy" and "groundbreaking", it still contained its own middle-of-the-road reactions: the very distinctive guffawing laugh of a male audience member has been cited as probably Hi-De-Hi's Felix Bowness, a warm up man reputedly recruited by the BBC to help "sell" new sitcoms by producing a laugh which was hoped to be infectious. He can be heard prominently laughing in at least five episodes, but possibly up to seven, as his laugh is sometimes (thankfully) buried in the mix.
      As for Oil, incredibly underrated on its first review here, then it's a work of some brilliance, with imagination and experimentation throughout. It may not be as "funny ha ha" as some more prominent episodes, but there's a real sense of great minds at work. Worth watching just for Buddy Holly and his "Coo Coo Daddy Longlegs" alone, this Mike-led episode also features macabre moments like the genie burnt alive, or a truly strange, two-minute-plus cutaway sequence that features two businessmen hallucinating that they're lost at sea while in the house basement. It's a wonderful attempt to try something new, rather than sticking to something more guaranteed to get laughs. In fact, the bizarre, non-sequitur nature of this sequence is so left-field and hypnotically strange that even Felix Bowness fails to muster much of a reaction.

3 Nasty (1984)

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It was Norman Lovett (Summer Holiday's "the man from the penny arcade", and, of course, Holly from Red Dwarf) who pointed out that The Young Ones won't age incredibly well as it doesn't have strong plots. It's a fair point, as, while the deliberately weak resolutions, the first series particularly, were there as a form of "anti comedy", as the years go by some of them just seem underdeveloped in terms of overall framework. Whether or not the series requires structure is open to question, but in terms of an actual developed plot, then Nasty - with its framing story and developed plotline - doesn't suffer from this complaint.
      Amusing and stylish, one thing Nasty does bring up is all the things not included on the DVD. There's a debate as to whether a scene of two teddy bears in Rick's room having sex was ever aired on the BBC, but it was removed from repeat broadcasts and put back in for the VHS release. However, it's absent here, and doesn't appear as an extra. Nasty, along with Cash, also has some raw footage available, where both filming sessions are shown to be a lot more tense than expected under the domineering rule of Paul Jackson. For Nasty, a scene was filmed where Vyvyan's Glaswegian hamster, Special Patrol Group, has a conversation with a rat doused in curry, before deciding to eat him. It was something that never ended up in the final programme, but would have made for a nice DVD extra, as would the likeable trailers that the cast recorded for the programme.
      Lastly, this is the first episode where the show begins to actively deconstruct itself. Right from the first episode the series had featured the cast looking into camera and speaking to the audience, yet despite the wilful lack of respect for the fourth wall, the basic artifice of the set up was maintained. Nasty sees a postman (Barry Stanton) receiving bouquets of flowers from the audience for a theatrical performance, before deriding Adrian Edmondson for his work in adverts. (Between series, Edmondson had appeared as a Vyvyan-like character for Natwest Bank) There's also Vyvyan pushing the entire house forward like a set, the main cast, pictured, as "themselves" or Hale and Pace (in the second of three appearances, when they were still fairly hip), noticing that they're being filmed by a cameera... events that would lead on to happenings like Neil's parents being aware he's starring in a sitcom (Sick), or Vyvyan pointing out that they're in a studio set (Summer Holiday). Whether the thin veil of "reality" was ever important is open to question, but the series began to unravel here as a fictional work.

2 Demolition (1982)

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Often dismissed by commentators as "not quite there yet", Demolition can also be looked at as the purest distillation of The Young Ones before it became watered down and mainstream. Here Rick isn't the kid friendly crowdpleaser he would later become, but more the anti-humour version of the character developed on Boom Boom Out Go The Lights. The opening of the episode is a two-hander between what producer Paul Jackson envisaged as the central core of the show: Rick and Neil. Rather than broad, mainstream laughs, it's almost Beckettian, as Rick vies for validation, while Neil attempts suicide just three minutes in.
      Many fans of the series criticise Mike as the "unfunny" character, and Christopher Ryan is one of his own biggest critics. However, watching the episodes again, it's clear that he's effectively the central point which binds the series together. While he has some nice lines, it's not that the character isn't overtly funny, it's that he's not meant to be. Even a series as wild as The Young Ones needs a "straight" character, and Mike is it.
      This said, the opening episode is not good for him, as it's not clear exactly what he's meant to be - how many students in 1982 were wearing golfing sweaters? - and the audience don't initially respond well. Ryan admits that, while the cast were welcoming, he had insecurities throughout the series, the first particularly, as he was new to the team, and came from an acting background, as opposed to stand up. While the character and Ryan's performance stand up far better than you may recall (and are leagues above the cruel parody version of the series in Harry Enfield's The Story of the 2s) his esoteric, laboured way of speaking in this first episode leaves the audience fairly cold, and creates a puzzling first impression that's hard to shake off.
      Some elements of the series do stand out as being retroactively contradicted, but that's the fault of later episodes, not this one. Rick talks about how he "practically lives in the launderette", despite 11 follow-up episodes which disprove this, and also accuses Neil of homophobia, something they all later possessed. But it's a strange, offbeat instalment, The Young Ones almost as experimental theatre. This was, after all, alternative comedy, and Demolition exists in a world where traditional punchlines don't have the need to exist.

1 Boring (1982)

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The beauty of The Young Ones is that, particularly in its first series, it's quite thematically dense. While sometimes unfairly derided as just swearing and violence, there's actually a lot of subtext to it, a series that began with rats talking about Greek writers from pre-400BC. Boring has the most to engage with, a day when the lead characters think that nothing is happening around them, despite being surrounded by visitations from Hell and a UFO. In a look at the nature of twisted karma, it also features the gain and loss of a car, as well as Neil being unaware that denizens of an underground lair want nothing more than to meet someone truly boring for a break from their interesting existence.
      The most tonally confusing episode of The Young Ones, Boring features nursery rhyme characters coming to life and a love affair between a chip and a carrot, on the surface one of the more family-friendly episodes. Yet in contrast to this, it contains some of the more adult material, such as a disturbing nose breaking scene in Hell, or a surprisingly risque allusion to bestiality in the brilliantly-named "ITV sitcom" Oh Crikey! Most of all, though, there's the series trying its hand at on-the-nose satire, with a racist policeman who was cut from some repeat broadcasts. Yet it's not just the policeman who delivers such material, as a depiction of the BBC as the right-wing establishment (one of many brilliant instances of the programme biting the hand that feeds it) sees their reporter "Dan Prick" console viewers with a "at least we got rid of the mad coon with the gun, eh?"
      The episode marks the first appearance of double act Frost and Arden, who appeared (mostly together) in six other episodes each. Given carte blanche to use their own material, their dialogue as policemen is familiar here to anyone who has seen their stand up act, though, unlike Sayle, they didn't receive an "additional material" credit. This is also the episode with Mike farting. Christopher Ryan makes a raspberry when on the sofa, which reputedly brought the house down during rehearsals, but gets almost unnoticed in the live performance. But look out too for when they sit down in the pub, where Ryan seems to genuinely pass wind.
      Not only is the episode rich with subtext, but it also has a tremendous approach towards its fictional world. While series two had some base, crowd-pleasing institutions like the "Fascist Pig Bank" or the even sillier "Scumbag College", Boring gives us an alternate world full of programmes like "Bastard Squad", cars like the Ford Tippex, and the local pub "The Kebab and Calculator."
      Finally, if you slow the episode down, you'll see that there's a freak flash frame, whereby two frames of a flying carpet - seemingly placed in the edit by mistake - appear between the carrot and chip skating, and Neil sitting on his window ledge. I've taken a screen capture of this for you to see here, though full credit for this discovery must be given to Simon Dunn, who was the person to discover it.

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