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"The Young Ones" is a British comedy TV series which first aired in 1982 on BBC Two. It was written by Ben Elton, Rik Mayall and Lise Mayer. Elton has also worked on such shows as "Blackadder", "The Man From Auntie" and "Filthy Rich and Catflap", Mayall has written "Bottom" and starred in "The New Statesman" and "The Comic Strip Presents...", while Mayer has also written for shows like "Casualty" and "The Fast Show".
Warning: Spoilers will likely be given during this review.
The series starred Adrian Edmondson ("Bottom", "Holby City", "Happy Families") as Vyvian, Rik Mayall ("Guest House Paradiso", "Bottom", "Drop Dead Fred") as Rick, Nigel Planer ("The Comic Strip Presents...", "The Grimleys", "Shine on Harvey Moon") as Neil, Christopher Ryan ("Bottom", "Absolutely Fabulous", "Doctor Who", "The Green Green Grass") as Mike, and Alexei Sayle ("Selling Hitler", "The Gravy Train", "Paris") as various members of the Balowski family. There are many famous faces that guest-appeared in this series, including Robbie Coltrane, Keith Allen and David Rappaport to name a few.
The plot for the series reads as follows: The crazy and sometimes surreal comedic adventures of four very different students in Thatcher's Britain.
The series takes place in a student house which is being rented by Rick, Mike, Neil and Vyvian from Jerzei Balowski, and rarely does it venture outside of that house, except for a few very short scenes. This is one of my all-time favourite comedy series and I have seen each episode many times. The writing is excellent, if not off the wall at times, but that's what you get when you put Ben Elton together with Lise Mayer and Rik Mayall. Every episode featured a guest band playing in the lads' living room which added a neat touch, I thought, and what makes it better is it was all filmed in front of a live audience. Is it any good? Let's find out!
Episode One: "Demolition" (guest band - Nine Below Zero, performing "Eleven Plus Eleven")
Plot summary: Mike, Neil, Vyvyan and Rik learn that the council are going to demolish the house. Vyvyan decides to demolish the house from the inside and Neil wants to commit suicide.
This is where it all began with the very first episode. There are many funny scenes in this episode, including one where Neil apparently offends Rick in reference to Cliff Richard. Rick demands that Neil apoligises and then says that he wouldn't discuss the colour of orange juice with him. He then pulls out a piece of paper on which he's written a poem about his hero:
Sometimes it must be difficult not to feel as if
You really are a cliff
When fascists keep trying to push you over it
Are they lemmings, or are you Cliff?
Or are you Cliff?"
There are always little cut scenes that don't really have anything to do with the episode but they're put in for comedy value. In one, there are two rats telling jokes together when Rick smashes one of them with a guitar. It then cuts to a discussion between Neil and Rick, then back to the two rats. One of them is now happily munching on his recently deceased friend and says "It's what he would have wanted." There's another great scene when Vyvian appears for the first time holding a leg and he says he's been down the morgue for his college course and he says "I'm supposed to write an essay on it, but I think I'm just gonna stick it on the bonnet of my car!"
While it's not my favourite episode of the six in this series, I still find it highly amusing and very entertaining. You have to start somewhere with comedy, and this is top drawer stuff even if it a little rough around the edges. As for the band, I'm not one for Nine Below Zero's style of rhythm and blues and I tend to skip over their song and performance.
Episode Two: "Oil" (guest band - Radical Posture featuring Alexei Sayle, performing "Dr. Martens Boots")
Plot summary: Mike, Neil, Vyvian and Rick moves into their new house. Vyvian discovers oil in the basement and Mike becomes the President and dictates Neil and Rick into slave labor to dig up the oil.
This episode was voted last of the complete 12 episodes in a popularity poll online, though it must be stated that it doesn't mean it's a bad episode. It begins with the lads moving into a new house after their previous was demolished in the last episode and shows one of very few scenes shot outside the house, when the four are walking up to the house. There's a brilliant scene with Vyvian and Rick where Vyv has a cricket bat and smashes Rick in the crotch with it, where upon Rick says "Ha, missed both my legs!" There is also a scene where Mike enters his new bedroom for the first time and sees what is supposed to be Buddy Holly hanging upside down with a parachute on. The numbers start to go around in Mike's head when he asks if he has any new material and 'Buddy' begins singing and playing his guitar. It is short-lived, however, when his harness loosens and his head goes crashing through the floorboards. Mike, breaking the fourth wall, turns to the camera and says "Well, I'll probably get a few quid on the guitar." Another scene between Vyv and Rick is where they're fighting over who gets one particular bedroom and Vyv throws a lit match on the bed. After arguing some more, they both run out the room and shout "Neil, your bedroom's on fire!"
I'm never one to be swayed by polls and I actually like this episode more than a few of them. I think the action between Rick and Vyvian is brilliant, but I also suppose that's because they had previously worked together and knew one another. The music is provided by Radical Posture with the vocals coming courtesy of Alexei Sayle. I'm not sure what the band is supposed to be doing, but Alexei is hilarious as he pays homage to Dr. Marten's boots.
Episode Three: "Boring" (guest band - Madness, performing "House of Fun")
Plot summary: Mike, Neil, Vyvian and Rick are having a very boring day and they decided to go down to the pub.
Here we have some dark and strangely wonderful comedy which is cleverly written. The lads are bored, yet all around them are interesting things going on. A carrot is skating with some butter in the sink, Goldilocks and the Three Bears visit the house, Vyvian wins a car and Madness are playing in the Kebab and Calculator pub. This is one of my favourite episodes, largely because of the idea that there's nothing going on but there's everything going on. I love the scene where they're in the pub and Vyvian introduces the other three to his mother, who works behind the bar. He says to her "This is a friend of mine called Mike, this is a friend of mine called Neil, and that's a complete bastard I know called Rick." Rick laughs and says "He's just joshing, Mrs. Vyvian. We're actually terrific friends." With great comedy timing, Vyv's mother says "Ooh er, he is a bastard, isn't he!" Another great scene is where Ftumch is summoned by Neil from hell and tries to kill the hippie. He first attempts to electrocute him to no effect and then throws a skewer which lodges in his head. Neil walks outside the house and says "That's funny, I don't remember ramming a skewer into my head."
It's moments like that which make you realise you're watching comedy gold and comedy that will stand the test of time, as it has. Even with my musical tastes being rock, metal and punk, I've always had something for Madness and enjoyed the sound of the 'Nutty Boys'. "House of Fun" is one of the band's most famous songs and it's about a kid who turns 16 and goes into a chemist to buy condoms. The band performs it in the pub, but it's pretty obvious it's just a set and it's not really live.
Episode Four: "Bomb" (guest band - Dexys Midnight Runners, performing "Jackie Wilson Said")
Plot summary: Mike, Neil, Vyvian and Rick find a Atom bomb in the kitchen. Rick finds it is the perfect opportunity to blackmail Thatcher, Vyvian tries to set off the bomb and Mike, Neil, Vyvian and Rick are paid a visit by the TV detector man.
"Bombs", Rick says, smiling to the camera. The whole episode is fixated on a giant red bomb that is sitting by the fridge in the kitchen. This was an episode which changed the rules for watershed TV. It used the word 'bastard' a number of times, and shows things which you'd never expect. There are some great visual one liners on show, including one where Vyvian puts a cup in the kettle and says "Mike, there's a cup of tea in the pot." It's comedy like that which puts some of today's shows to shame. Another scene where the TV detector man is at the door and, amid commotion, Mike turns and says "Vyv, eat the telly!" Vyvian picks up the TV and says "That's a completely brilliant idea, Mike. I've been wanting to do this for a long time!" and begins to munch it. There is another scene just before that where Mr. Bastard, the TV detector man, asks Mike where his TV licence is. Mike replies "As the eunuch said to Mussolini, 'I haven't got one, and if I did, I wouldn't show it to you!'"
Dexys Midnight Runners play the song, but it's nothing I go for so I tend to skip it or make tea whenever I watch the repeats on DVD. In fact, it's that unmemorable that I've even forgot what the song goes like so I'll play it this one time and come back with an opinion! Right, I'm back. Yeah, I was right - it's something I wouldn't listen to - but if you're into New Wave, this is a track for you.
Episode Five: "Interesting" (guest band - Rip Rig & Panic, performing "You're My Kind of Climate")
Plot summary: Mike, Neil, Vyvian and Rick puts on a party at their house for their friends. Among the guests are Father Christmas, Cinderella and a Religious woman.
What could possibly go wrong during a party in a house rented by students? If you've got the Young Ones involved, anything and everything! With this episode you get plenty of gags and some which may well have been taken another way if someone had wanted to look at it wrong, ranging from the taking of drugs to simulated sex and beyond. There are many great scenes and quick-witted sketches, including one where Rick's friends have arrived early (one of which is played by Jennifer Saunders). The man argues with Rick saying it's only five minutes, and Rick replies "Only five minutes? Tell that to Roger Bannister, making reference to the four-minute mile, upon which Saunders' character says "Roger, it's only five minutes" and we cut to a shot of the stair rail behind which is mouthing "Oh really? How interesting!" Scenes like that show the quality of what comedy was, unlike some shows I could mention of today's day and age. One of my absolute favourite parts in the whole series comes when Alexei Sayle tries gate crashing the party as Tommy Balowski. He's clearly drunk and when Mike answers the door he's quickly found out and says "I'm lost, that's why I'm here. There's no chance I can use your toilet, is there?" Mike tells him no, and he replies "Thought not, that's why I pissed in your garden."
The music comes courtesy of Rip Rig & Panic which featured a young Neneh Cherry. It's supposed to be post-punk, but I thought it was more Reggae-Ska than anything and it wasn't my cup of tea. Again if you like that genre, you'd love their performance.
Episode Six: "Flood" (there was no guest band on this episode)
Plot summary: London is flooded with water and Vyvian, Rick, Neil and Mike finds themselves trapped in the house, where they want to eat Neil and Mr. Bolowski has turned into a homicidal maniac.
There's a lot going on in this episode and it's hard to take it all in, but once you watch the episode a few times you will begin to understand it. There are also a lot of guest appearances from Hale & Pace, Arden & Frost and Ben Elton to name a few. This is an episode which I don't rate too highly, but at the same time I enjoy it as well. That's pretty difficult to achieve, but bear with me. There are a few good scenes, especially with Vyvian in Narnia. One which I love is where the White Witch is trying to get Vyvian to eat the forbidden chocolate. She says to him "Would you like some Turkish Delight, my child?" and Vyv replies "Not particularly. Got any kebabs?" Another scene which grabbed my attention was Alexei Sayle breaking the fourth wall. He had drank Vyvian's potion which turned him into an axe-wielding homicidal maniac and was attempting to get into Neil's bedroom where the lads were. He sits down and provides a 'half time report' in his own voice by saying "I think the show has been going particularly well. I particularly like how the young lad, Rick, has been going off the joke into the dead laugh area." He then says a little more before is cued back to the action and gets into character again and says "Let me in boys! Jerzei wants to finger your entrails!"
There is no band on this episode, and I'm not sure why. There is, however, a scene where a lion tamer is performing tricks with Tight Fit's "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" playing in the background. It doesn't work, and that's why it's an episode I'm unsure of.
Episode One: "Bambi" (guest band - Motörhead, performing "Ace of Spades")
Plot summary: After going down to the laundrette, Vyvian, Rick, Neil and Mike find they have been chosen to take part in "University Challenge".
The first episode of series two is my favourite episode of them all. Not just because it's got Motörhead on it, but it's also got many guest stars on-hand like Mel Smith, Griff Rhys-Jones, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and Ben Elton, as well as the regular cast and a pig named Bacon Sandwich. There are a lot of really good scenes here, including one where Neil is running back from the shops. He trips up over a dustbin and sees a dead pigeon, so decides to put it in his satchel, presumably to eat later. Speaking of food, there is none in the house and Neil tips the contents of the bin onto the kitchen table so they can eat leftovers. Vyvian picks through it and sees something he likes: "Hey, there's a dead rat there. Great!" He then appears to stab it with a fork before proceeding to eat it. The greatest part is where the foursome travel on a train to appear on "University Challenge" representing Scumbag College. Vyvian goes to "stuff loads and loads of paper down the toilet" and sees a sign, upon which he says "Do not lean out of the window. I wonder why?" and leans out just as the train goes through a tunnel and is decapitated. He then pulls the emergency stop chord and a short while later you see him hunting for his head on the side of the tracks while the head is directing him.
I don't understand why this doesn't rank highly with some viewers, because I think it has all the ingredients you need to be successful in a sitcom. There are many highly amusing scenes and in Motörhead you have a well-established heavy metal band performing one of their most famous songs, and they played it live - something that none of the other guest artists did. The scene shows the band playing in the living room of the house, while the gang runs to the station and there is one part where Vyv runs up to a counter in the station and crams a pork pie into his mouth before shoving two fingers up at the counter staff and running away. In the same scene, Rick steals a magazine from a kiosk but breaks the fourth wall by running into the camera and realising he should probably pay for it.
Episode Two: "Cash" (guest band - Ken Bishop's Nice Twelve, performing "Subterranean Homesick Blues")
Plot summary: Vyvian, Rick, Mike and Neil are broke and Neil gets a job as a policeman, so they can raise the money and to aid Vyvian who is pregnant.
The lads are skint, and what transpires is comedy genius in numerous scenes. Firstly, Rick slips on the stairway and hits the bannister pegs one by one until he takes one in the happy sack on the main post. Vyvian is burning everything he can to keep warm and as Rick walks in with the pegs Mike asks "Where did you find all that firewood?" to which Rick replied "Between my legs". Neil attempts to write a letter to his bank manager asking for an overdraft extension and ends up with "Darling Fascist Bullyboy. Give me some more money, you bastard. May the seed of your loin be fruitful in the belly of your woman, Neil." In the meantime, it's time for someone to get a job with the army. Mike can't because of flat feet, Rick because of a perforated ear drum and Vyv announces that he's pregnant and, predictably, nobody believes him, until his 'contractions' start. Being a pacifist, Neil doesn't get into the army but does manage to become a policeman. There's a great scene where he has to go to a house and arrest everybody. Casually knocking on the door he says: "Open up, it's the pigs". A quirk in the shooting of the scene is where the audience doesn't hear him the first time and he says it again, this time to much laughter.
This really is a good episode with music coming via way of Ken Bishop's Nice Twelve, helped out by Jools Holland. As it turns out, Vyv's pregnancy is merely a very large fart, to which you wouldn't want to light a match. Series two is becoming a lot better than series one, but I think that's down to experience. The writers and actors seem to take it a little more seriously this time around, whereas in the first set of six they didn't think it was going to be a success.
Episode Three: "Nasty" (guest band - The Damned, performing "Nasty")
Plot summary: Mike and Vyvian try to get their video player working as they are plan to watch video nasties, Neil has a bath and Vyvian, Rick, Mike and Neil are terrorized by a vampire.
One of my all-time favourite lines from the show is uttered in this episode when the lads are at a cemetery and a woman passing by asks Neil, who looks like an undertaker, "Do you dig graves?" and Neil replies "Yeah, yeah they're alright, yeah." Timeless comedy which you can never reproduce in a different way, and that's what I like about this series. With this episode you get a few cameo appearances from the likes of Hale and Pace, Dawn French and Monty Python's Terry Jones to name a few. There are more good scenes, though, including Mike and Vyv trying to set up the VCR so they can watch a video nasty entitled "The Headless Corpse and the Virgin Astronaut" and getting it horribly wrong while in the meantime, Neil, having had a bath in what looks like thick mud but is supposed to be water, enters the room wearing a blue dress which happens to have Rick's name sewn inside it. Vyv also rigs the front door with a bomb so that they would hear whoever pressed the bell, and there's some hamming it up with veteran actor Barry Stanton playing his part then talking, loudly, from the asides out of character, about his performance.
This is an episode I always put lower down the pecking order, but I'm not sure why. I think it could be the way it flows or its mood, but whatever it is I always want to skip it even though it's got some very funny parts. The Damned do a fine job of performing their song and they're in character for what the episode's main theme is all about - vampires and the dead - but even that doesn't seem to win it over for me. Don't get me wrong, I still like the episode, but I'm not overly fond of it like I am with most of the others.
Episode Four: "Time" (guest band - Amazulu, performing "Moonlight Romance")
Plot summary: After having a dream that himself, Rick, Vyvian, Mike and Mr. Bolowski are in the American television program "Dallas", Neil awakes and finds Rick has been sleeping with an Axe murderess.
This episode begins with a spoof of 1980s soap, "Dallas", with Rik Mayall as Bobby Malvenes, Adrian Edmondson as Randy the Cowpoke, Christopher Ryan as the Late Grant Fairfax and Nigel Planer as E.T. One scene during this segment which is now dated is where Bobby bursts into an office and says "Listen, it's urgent. I've got to see E.T." to which the secretary replies: "It's been out two years now, Mr. Malvenes. Haven't you seen it yet?" As it turns out, this is just a dream of Neil's and he's rudely awakened by Vyvian shouting at the church bells "Shut up, you bastards!" and "Shut up, you bastards, it's only eleven o'clock! Shut the bloody bells off!" Vyv, it seems, has a hangover, as does everyone else from a party they had the night before. Making guest appearances in this episode is Ade Edmondson's wife, Jennifer Saunders, Robbie Coltrane and a young Paul Merton. There is a decent scene with Coltrane as a pirate Cyclops captain with a patch over his only eye and he thinks his first mate is making fun of his affliction and calls out to have him flogged. The first mate pretends to flog himself and says "I flogged him, sir" to which the captain replies "How much did you get?"
Never been a fan of Amazulu and I can't really tell if the song is any good or not because it's not to my musical preferences, but the episode on the whole is one I sit on the fence with because it has plenty of sharp one-liners and a lot of sketches crammed in to the half hour. However, it does tend to lose its way towards the end as a medieval sketch is played out and I don't think the writers thought it through as well as they should, to give the episode some closure because it ends strangely and abruptly. Still, it has Hale & Pace, French & Saunders and Mayall & Edmondson in it, so comedy is what it has in abundance.
Episode Five: "Sick" (guest band - Madness, performing "Our House")
Plot summary: Vyvian, Rick, Mike and Neil are ill and they have colds. The Boys get taken hostage by violent criminal Brian Damage Balowski and Mr. and Mrs. Pye, Neil's parents are coming to the flat to have tea.
All four of the lads are in their own respective beds full of colds when the episode starts, and even SPG (Vyv's hamster) is full of green stuff. There's a great scene where Neil can't stop sneezing so the other three put a pillowcase over his head which doesn't hold for long. They eventually tape a laundry bag around him and all sorts of chaos is brought about. One of the best scenes in the episode happens when they re-enact a scene from "The Good Life" and plant vegetables. Vyvian, not grasping the concept of growing food, puts down a plank of wood with some cabbages nailed to it, and then when Mike mentions a row of collies, he comes back looking very proud of himself with a plank that has small dogs nailed on it. He says "Well, you might've laughed, Michael. It took me ages to raid the pet shop and nail 'em all to a plank." It's genius like that which makes the series what it is and with comedy like that, it's no wonder the show was a big success. During the same sketch, Neil goes on a rant about planting the seed, growing the seed and eating the seed, whereupon Rick hits him over the head with a spade, killing him. But all is not lost, as he's buried in the garden, only to grow in the soil, producing three of him.
Madness was the only band to perform on the show twice, this time with "Our House". They're introduced when Vyv is fighting with Rick and Neil says "I hope Mike comes back with the cure", to which Vyv pauses from his violence and says "No, Neil, it's Madness this week." The bad performs the song quite well but it's clear they're miming, and smash up their instruments at the end of it as fights carry on throughout the street. I've always been fond of this episode because of the above-mentioned scenes and Madness' performance.
Episode Six: "Summer Holiday" (guest band - John Otway, performing "Body Talk")
Plot summary: It's the end of the term at College, and Vyvian, Rick, Mike and Neil are having a lazy summer holiday. But they end up getting evicted by Mr. Bolowski and decide to rob a bank, before making a getaway on a bus.
The very last episode of the show begins with a scene in the garden of the house the lads rent. It's the end of term and Mike & Vyv are catching some sun and the summer holiday has officially begun. Predictably, they're bored and Rick attempts to get the gang to play a game: "What about Botticelli, where you have to guess the identity of the famous person?" to which Vyv replies "What about jelly botty, where you have to eat 18 curries?" They then play a game of cricket where Rick is the stumps and Mike's in bat. Vyvian bowls and Mike swings but whacks Neil in the head who's just walked in with a cake shouting "Surprise!" Mike says "What's a hippie worth, six?" and Vyv replies "No, it would be six if you killed him, Michael. Let's call it two." It turns out it's Neil's birthday but nobody bothers to turn up for his party and everyone ends up arguing. It gets worse as Jerzy Balowski turns up and evicts them from the house, leaving them homeless. It's decided they'll rob a bank but that goes horribly wrong and as Rick steals a bus, the end is nigh.
This episode had some good guest appearances, most notably from Lenny Henry, Norman Lovett and Alan Freeman, but it doesn't quite grab my attention as much as some of the others do. I think that's down to it being the final episode, though, and not a dislike of it. John Otway's "Body Talk" is one of the worst songs to appear on the show in my opinion and I guess it's fitting that the show ended with something like that because that's the kind of nonsensical thing that would happen on "The Young Ones".
The characters are a varied bunch. The four students all attend Scumbag College, with Mike being the self-styled leader of the group. He's often seen to hit on the ladies whenever they're near and makes many references to sexual encounters, but it's pretty obvious his bedstead has no notches on it, and he owns a sex doll. Mike is my least favourite character but he has some good lines and Christopher Ryan plays him well. Vyvian, a medical student, is the headcase of the group, often seen to be destroying things, but he has a softer side to him and can be seen as an animal lover, due to the fact that he owns a Scottish hamster called Special Patrol Group (SPG). Rick is an anarchist and a poet. He's a sociology student and has a hatred for Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister at the time. He's a leftist and a vegetarian who can often be seen fighting and arguing with Vyvian. Neil is a hippie with suicidal tendencies. He's disliked by everyone and he's the general dosgbody of the group, often cleaning and cooking for everyone. It's hard not to like the character of Neil, but you often hope that more things happen to him because of that.
"The Young Ones" is one of Britain's finest comedies, and in the BBC's best sitcom poll of 2004, it came in at No.31, though in my opinion it should have been much higher. It's better than "The Good Life", "The Vicar of Dibley" and "To the Manor Born" by far, but it only had two series runs, and I think that's what hurt it. The show made household names of Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson, and also got more work for Christopher Ryan, Nigel Planer and Alexei Sayle. And Ben Elton? He would go on to write in partnership with Richard Curtis for the 2nd best British sitcom, "Blackadder". With "The Young Ones", some of the gags are quirky but this is a series which I just know you're going to like if you haven't seen it before.
My rating: 9/10