Binge or Purge? – The Young Ones

Mike, Nigel, Vyvyan, and Rik watch TV on The Young Ones.
The Young Ones (Screen: BBC)

In remembrance of the late Rik Mayall, we revisited The Young Ones to see if it’s as funny now as it was then.

Show

The Young Ones, currently streaming on Hulu Plus

Premise

In sketch-like fashion, this early 1980s sitcom follows the misadventures of four lazy student housemates in London, including violent punk rocker Vyvyan (Ade Edmondson), priggish anarchist Rick (Rik Mayall), self-satisfied, Tory-voting Mike (Christopher Ryan) and pacifist hippie martyr Neil (Nigel Planer). The four young men receive frequent visits from various members of landlord Mr. Balowski’s family (all portrayed by Alexei Sayle).

Legacy

The show was a hit on the BBC, and gave all five actors their start in British film and television. MTV aired reruns stateside beginning in 1985, grooming American Gen-X viewers who would later obsess over Absolutely Fabulous reruns on Comedy Central.

What’s to Love Now

Despite some of the dated, quintessentially British humor (much of which is lost on this Yankee thirty-something), the show is still very funny. Episodes are structured like Marx Brothers movies – character-driven sketches linked together by a vague, almost unnecessary plot line. There’s plenty of good, punny, slapstick humor that will appeal to any generation of viewer. Here’s a typical exchange, which happens after the guys run into Vyvyan’s estranged mom at the neighborhood pub.

Rick: You never told us your mother was a bartender.
Vyvyan: She was a shoplifter when I knew her.
Neil: She doesn’t look strong enough

Classic. Add to that a steady stream of absurdist asides (leftover vegetables dancing on a dinner plate, Buddy Holly hanging from the ceiling, a singing Elephant head interrupting a scene), plenty of gross-out humor befitting a young male group living situation (Vyvyan bashes his head frequently and therefore vomits lots), plus awesome musical appearances from the likes of Madness and Motorhead, and you have a sitcom that still feels fresh and clever thirty years later.

What Makes Us Groan

For those of us who grew up to be fans of shows like Arrested Development and 30 Rock – which can average up to five laughs per minute – this one’s gonna drag at some points. But in all fairness, at thirty five minutes per episode, maintaining a rapid fire pace would be difficult. On the ickier side, there are some uncomfortable moments regarding race. It feels really weird hearing a bit-part actor blithely drop an n-bomb, even if he’s supposed to be an idiot (his sunglasses caused him to mistake one of the guys for a you-know-what). And while keffiyah-sporting terrorists are sadly not a TV trope of the past alone, that stereotype is nevertheless unpleasant to watch in any context.

Verdict

Definitely binge-worthy. Episodes may not hold your attention throughout, but you can float in and out and still enjoy lots of laughs. It’s a great show to watch while you’re folding laundry or goofing on Twitter. At just twelve episodes, you can always rewatch and catch some of the missed gags later.

Navigational Tips

I watched seven episodes. Every one had its full range of moments, from excellent to dull. My favorite was Season 1, Episode 3 “Boring”, which includes the aforementioned pub scene with Vyvyan’s mom and a rousing performance of “House of Fun” by Madness.

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Tara Rose
About Tara Rose 106 Articles
Since 2009, Tara has been writing snarky essays about pop culture, motherhood and her various neuroses at Rare Oats. She spends most of her other time selling cheese, raising a small human and goofing off with her husband Dan. E-mail: tara@whatelseison.tv
Contact: Twitter
  • My favorite episode would have to be Bambi (S2E1). It’s completely random, has an incredible list of guest stars (Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson), and has game show elements. After Mayall died, one of my friends posted Rik’s rant from when he swallows the pills in his misguided suicide attempt (it’s funny, I promise).

  • Tara Rose

    I very much enjoyed “Bambi”, especially for that cast of guest stars. But I def need to revisit that rant.

  • Tara Rose

    You know, I also had trouble understanding dialogue when I watched on my TV. Watching on my tablet with headphones helped that a lot. I also suspect this show improves with repeat viewings. The character dynamics get funnier as you get to know them better.

    • Totally. Similar to the IT Crowd, this show takes a few episodes for a new viewer to get comfortable in the show’s universe, but it’s so worth it when you re-watch the show.