When MTV started showing The Young Ones in the US during the late 1980s I didn’t know what to think. Compared to other “Brit-Coms” that had made the leap across the pond — Monty Python, Are You Being Served? Fawlty Towers — it seemed like absolute chaos. Ugly, unlikable characters, constant screaming and fighting (“Shut up, you bastard, or I’ll kill you!”), fart jokes, booger jokes, sex jokes, zit jokes and more. This is what passes for comedy these days? I wondered.
But for some reason, I kept watching.
Now, of course, I know the reason: The Young Ones is a very funny show.
The show originally aired during two seasons (or “series” as they call them, which I guess makes more sense), one during 1982, the other two years later. It focuses on a house of four college students: Neil, the depressed hippie (Nigel Planer); Mike, the self-appointed “cool guy” and de-facto leader (Christopher Ryan); Vyvyan, the punk medical student with the metal studs in his forehead (Adrian Edmondson) and Rick, the new wave sociology major desperately trying to be hip (Rik Mayall). We never see them go to class but otherwise we see a more or less complete picture of college life: sitting around, going to parties, doing laundry, trying to get laid, holding up banks, appearing on game shows, finding nuclear bombs in their kitchen, seeing their house blown up when Mike accidentally lights Vyvyan’s fart ablaze. And so on.
One of the big appeals of the show is that, as you might guess from the list above, almost anything can happen on the show and, as they say, usually does. Aside from the antics above, we also see the boy’s house transported back into medieval times, they’re chased by a South African vampire, Neil dies and comes back to life, they discover oil in their basement, wind up in Narnia and on and on. Rather then trying to convince you that these are real characters, the show is constantly reminding you you’re watching a TV show—at one point Neil’s hair is pulled off (revealing Nigel Planer’s real hair underneath) and he’s horrified “Uggh! I never knew I wore a wig!” In one episode, "Bambi," the actors actually switch roles for a brief scene. This is one of my favorite gags because a) it’s done with no fanfare, b) the actors are so good it actually takes you a second to realize what’s happened and c) it shows how strongly defined these characters are. They’re live action cartoons (they wear the same clothes almost all the time, like all great cartoon characters), each with a few distinct characteristics and a role to play, perfectly balanced by the others.
The episode "Bomb" best illustrates this: the boys awaken one morning to find that an unexploded nuclear bomb has landed in their home. Each one of them has a different reaction: Neil wants to hide, Mike wants to sell it, Rick wants to blackmail Thatcher into helping “the kids” and Vyvyan, of course, wants to blow it up. Hilarity ensues.
(One thing I’ve always admired about British comedies—at least the ones that have been shown over here-- is that they don’t seem to rely on the lead characters being likable people. The Young Ones are all obnoxious characters that you enjoy watching on television but you’d never want to know them, but what’s the most popular sit-com in America? Friends!)
Some aspects of the show have dated, and the more distinctly British references (Bogey? Biro? Giro? TV license? Roger Bannister?) may leave American viewers scratching their gullivers (and even those gags you can usually get from the context) but overall the show still seems remarkably fresh and funny, probably because no sit-com has dared to follow in its Doc Marten wearing footsteps.
Spread across three discs, The Young Ones: Every Stoopid Episode is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame. These shows were originally shot on videotape so there’s not much they could’ve done to improve them. Taking that into consideration they look fine and besides, it’s more in the anarchic, filthy spirit of the show to have it look cheap.
The set has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track but you would never really know it. The tinny sound, the audience laughing, and, above all, the constant screaming of the actors are a lot for the ear to take at times . But again, given that it was a television show, and a raucous one at that, what did you expect?
A bit of disappointment comes with the extras package. The two short featurettes about the show are actually excerpts from longer documentaries about British comedy. They do a good job of looking at the show in the context of other British television shows but don’t offer enough behind the scenes looks. We do get to see Rik Mayall (nearly unrecognizable with long hair and beard) and Nigel Planer but none of the other Young Ones appear.
Also included are two complete episodes of Filthy Rich & Catflap and Bottom, two sit-coms starring Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson (Filthy also featured Nigel Planer). The shows aren’t as funny as The Young Ones but it is interesting to see the actors playing (slightly) different characters, especially for American viewers.
There’s also a listing of the bands and stars that appeared on the show.
The Show: A. The first series starts off a bit slow, with the characters not being as sharply defined, but once things get cooking it’s a very funny show. My personal favorite: "Bambi," which not only contains the actors-switching bit I mentioned above but it also features such classic moments as Rick betting the others that they like him (“Hands up who likes me!”), Vyvyan’s decapitated head being kicked around by his headless body, Motorhead and cameos by Ben Elton, Emma Thompson and Robbie Coltrane.
The Look: B. Considering the format of the show, the somewhat cheap nature of the presentation can be viewed as a sort of enhancer.
The Sound: C+. See “The Look” above.
The Extras: C. A bit more would have been desirable.
Overall: A It’s great to have every stoopid episode of this very funny sit-com in one place, you bastard!
Click here to buy The Young Ones!
Note From The Editor: Hi everyone, Brian Jacks from Slushfactory.com here. This seems as good a time as any to let you know that Alex's regular column, "Blah Blah Blah," has ceased as a regular feature. But don't worry, Alexfans, Mr. Robinson's work will still be popping up on the site, in the form of reviews like this or whatever Alex wishes to write about. It just won't have a regular schedule to it. We thank Alex for his hilarity over the column's run, and look forward to both his upcoming book and whatever he runs on Slush in the future.
Don't think Alex would leave a gap in the column section, though. Through Alex, we've found our next regular columnist, cartoonist Mike Dawson, creator of the hit comic Gabagool! We don't have a precise date on when the column will start, but stay tuned to the site for details. Both Alex and Mike can be found on Alex's Official Crazy Message Board, so be sure to drop by and say hi.
Now go buy The Young Ones DVD!
New York-based writer Alex Robinson is the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Box Office Poison, released in 2001 by Top Shelf Productions. He is currently hard at work on his next graphic novel.
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