Friday, 20 June 2014

The Young Ones: Nasty

I will definitely be returning to Danger Man at some point, if not necessarily in the near future. I am rather less sure that I shall actually finish the episode-by-episode blog I started on the Doctor Who. I got distracted from both of these by the early death of Rik Mayall, which it seems trite to call 'tragic'. I mean, Nigel Planer's tribute to him was, 'He's left me on my own, the bastard.' I was thinking I couldn't really post here on The Young Ones, but when I look at the TV starring Mayall that I have in the house (in addition, Bottom, & Filthy, Rich, & Catflap), TV doesn't come much more cult than this. I was too young to watch The Young Ones, but I remember it as the one of the formative experiences of my childhood, so I must have managed to watch it somehow. Perhaps I wasn't really too young, but perhaps Mother disapproved - a ridiculous act in itself, guaranteed to ensure that any nearly-teenager will want to view the material disapproved of. Literally all of the great comedy stars/acts/venues of the eighties appear in Mayall's BBC obituary (http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-27765539).
The Young Ones bears all the hallmarks of quality TV. No, seriously. Don't be taken in by the surface. It can be watched over & over again without tedium, & each time you notice things you hadn't seen before. Sometimes it is so subtle you're not sure how to understand it, it can be understood on so many different levels:
'The setup of The Young Ones seems childish, and the stories themselves extremely fragmented. In many episodes the actions of the main characters seem to do nothing except hate and victimize each other - with everyone bullying hippy Neil, ignoring the claims by self-styled anarchist Rick that he's the 'most popular member of the house', punk psycho Vyvyan hitting everything and saving his love only for his hamster.
'Only cool dude Mike seemed above the fray in adventures that included Vyvyan discovering oil in the basement, an atomic bomb falling on the house, and everyone going through a time warp.
'Underneath the post-punk, rock culture insanity however, classic sitcom rules worked; Neil was a put-upon housewife in all but name, Rick and Vyvyan wayward teenagers with a penchant for (on one hand) fatuous semi-Marxism and (on the other) hitting people, with Mike the father figure whose plans for making money resemble an even-less-competent Del Trotter.
'They faced enemies such as the constantly tricksy Balowski 'family' - played in their entirety by Alexei Sayle - and the foul Footlights College team in an episode in which our heroes end up on University Challenge.
'It was the style and the characterization of The Young Ones, rather than its stories, which was entirely new. Never before had violence of such degree, squalor, physical foulness, blood, sex and death, all been used as such a regular part of a flagship comedy programme.' (http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/theyoungones/)
To me, even this crit on the BBC website misses the deeper stuff about values, identity, rules, the old guard, & lentils. I also remember The Young Ones as revolutionary television for the 1980s - remember the BBC was the bastion of tradition in theory:
'Stories were set in a squalid house where the students lived during their time at Scumbag College. It can be classified as a comedy of manners.
'When it was first broadcast, the show gained attention for its violent slapstick. Though new to mainstream audiences, Mayall and Edmondson had been using it in 20th Century Coyote for some time. The show also featured surreal elements, such as puppets playing talking animals or objects. Confusion was added with lengthy cutaways with no relation to the main plot.
'Throughout the series, the fourth wall was frequently broken for comedic effect by all characters at various parts of the show. The wall was usually broken as either a punchline to a joke, or to make a plot point more obvious. On several occasions Alexei Sayle broke both the fourth wall and character to address the audience in his real-life Liverpudlian accent.
[...]
'Episodes in the second series sometimes included "flash frames" (three frames, equivalent to one eighth of a second), but these were edited out of some repeats. These were included as a mockery of the British and American public's fear of subliminal messages in television and music. Unlike original flash frames, which lasted only one frame, these were long enough to be noticeable without being identifiable. The images included the end caption of Carry On Cowboy, a rusty dripping tap, a leaping frog, a dove in flight, a skier and a hand making pottery.' (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Young_Ones_(TV_series))
Nasty is a second-series Young Ones episode & so is even more surreal than episodes of the first series. It opens with the characters burying a body, a clever contrast with the recurring theme of 'Have we got a video?' Throughout the episode. It has all of the Young Ones's classic irrelevant plot turns & commentary on the world of the eighties. You would think that younger people may not find it funny - I'm delighted that a friend still in her twenties finds The Young Ones absolutely hilarious - again a sign of quality television & quality comedy.
High points for me include: the luvvy playing the postman. I love that Vyvyan has wired a bomb to the doorbell in case they don't hear it, but then blames the people who've rung the bell for setting it off. I love the scene with the South African vampire who pretends to be a driving instructor. This is carried on for the exact right length of time. Vyvyan wants to bite the vampire to death, but he retorts that they can't (in the era of apartheid) bite him because he's South African. I love the scene set in a Victorian still-life poster in the kitchen which comes to life, & even that is anachronistic. I love the scenes where Alexei Sayle breaks the fourth wall. I love the running period joke about having a video. I love Neil in a dress which he finds in Rick's (the P is silent) bedroom.
Don't waste your time looking for anything to criticise in this show. If you take to The Young Ones, there isn't anything. If you don't, you won't be able to watch it at all.
My favourite line - chosen with difficulty from a tremendously quotable show:
Neil: 'He's going to turn us all into vampires, & we'll all be dead yet still alive, like Leonard Cohen!'
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