Punk. Poseur. Hippie. Player.
Take Monty Python, add punk rock, marinate in hallucinogenic love drugs, and half bake until done. Thus did The Young Ones come into existence—very bizarre, very warped, and very short-lived. Join the insanity of two seasons, twelve episodes, and a third disc of extra content from BBC America (via Warner), if you dare.
Facts of the Case
Meet the Young Ones! Rick (Rik Mayall), a hyperactive Marxist-spewing left-wing anarchist. Neil (Nigel Planer), a softly mellow no-worries hippie. Vyvyan (Adrian Edmondson), a red spiked hair punk bastard with four stars impaled in his forehead. Mike (Christopher Ryan), a slick talking, neat dressing capitalist schemer. Sound like great flatmates, right?
So that you might have some means of distinguishing amongst the cacophony, meet the Young Ones episode guide!
• "Summer Holiday"
If you have little experience with British comedy, The Young Ones is as close to shock therapy (or perhaps a lobotomy?) as you can get without being committed to a locked mental ward. The comedy is anything but straightforward. Short comic explosions with surreal, tangential detours is more like it, ending up like an alternative live-action comic book. Each episode has a theoretical title, which only modestly relates to the half-hour to follow, as the "plot" meanders over the landscape until it reaches an abrupt and bizarre ending.
Forget about comparisons with Monty Python's Flying Circus. Rather than a knit-together sketch comedy show, spanning the breadth of humor from slapstick to subtle intellectual jokes, The Young Ones is more stream of consciousness alternative comedy improvisation with a musical interlude jammed somewhere in the show. As whacked-out as The Young Ones is, there is a certain pleasure in seeing each episode unfold. Like watching a train wreck in slow motion, the sight is grotesquely compelling, with the added bonus of some priceless absurd comedy.
Another reason to watch The Young Ones is to catch a glimpse of the parade of British actors and actresses who have since gone on to greater British and often trans-Atlantic success. Have fun spotting Stephen Fry (Wilde, various "Blackadder" shows, Gosford Park), Emma Thompson (Henry V, The Remains Of The Day, Dead Again), Robbie Coltrane (Goldeneye, From Hell, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone), Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous), and Hugh Laurie (Stuart Little, 101 Dalmatians). Even a Python (Terry Jones) makes a brief appearance!
If you have even a passing interest in the British music scene of the 1980s, then no doubt you will want to get The Young Ones at least for the brief performances by a variety of groups. Ska, punk, reggae and metal, it's certainly eclectic. Look for Madness, Motörhead, The Damned, Nine Below Zero, Rip Rig and Panic (featuring a young Neneh Cherry), and Dexy's Midnight Runners.
Each of the first two discs includes brief promotional trailers for DVD releases featuring French & Saunders, "Wallace & Gromit," "Robbie the Reindeer," and Absolutely Fabulous. The real extra content is on the third disc. "Creating the Young Ones" (13 minutes) is a concise look at how the series was created and produced, featuring the Young Ones (shockingly grown up!) as well as co-writers Ben Elton and Lise Mayer and director/producer Paul Jackson. "The Young Ones and the '80s" is a short (six-minute) look at the television, comedy, and political context that spawned the show. "Rik Mayall: The Theater" (three minutes) is a not at all funny and pointless clip from the "Fundamental Frolics" concert at the Apollo Theater, Victoria on June 1, 1981.
Rounding out this disc are the pilot episodes for two other series from the cast and crew of The Young Ones, namely Filthy Rich & Catflap and Bottom. These pilots lack some of the hyperactive anarchy of The Young Ones, but they still have unique comic vibrancy. All in all, not overwhelming content by any means, but of reasonable quality and welcome all the same.
As you might expect, the full frame video from an early '80s British television show is not reference quality. Still, the picture is clear of significant dirt, flaws, and digital artifacts and only afflicted with some mild "noise." Audio is nondescript stereo confined to the front speakers, which is not exactly a surprise. Though the dialogue and effects are clearly delivered, don't expect a sonic treat from the musical guests. If you want to really enjoy the music, try one of their CDs.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Alexi Sayle (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), who might be referred to as the "fifth Young One," is about as funny as a Saturday Night Live skit in the last half-hour of that show. Sometimes he's tolerable, but more often I would have wished they had omitted his comedy-killer filler and shown us more of the other four principals. (Looking through the talent files, I see that he's described as "one of history's few Marxist stand-up comics." Ah. That explains it.)
I am not sure who is likely to find The Young Ones appealing, but if you are a college student with a taste for British and punk, or anyone with a few stiff drinks in their bloodstream, it should be right up your alley. The rest of us will gaze upon The Young Ones with a mixture of amusement, fascination, and confusion at the brazenly bizarre comedy. (Funny how a word like bizarre keeps popping up in this review…)
I can't think of a verdict for such a unique creation, so the defendants are free to go. That should give them plenty of time to get to their next psychotherapy session.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Creating The Young Ones
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