Some weeks ago we got the news that Rick Mayall had passed away at his house in London. Comedy was in mourning, we had just lost a main cast member of one the most influential sitcoms of all time whose echoes we can still hear in today’s TV shows. We had lost one of The Young Ones.
Aired on BBC2 for only two seasons (1982-84) of six episodes each, The Young Ones can be considered, even from our contemporary point of view, an extreme situational comedy, in both its situations and its comedy: houses exploding, flashbacks to the medieval ages, Shakesperean plays, Motörhead playing in the living room, talking hamsters… all of this surrounded by surrealist humor and pure slapstick, it’s what you may find in this rom-com starring four students who follow the stereotypes of different urban tribes: a hippie, a punk, a rocker, and a dandy.
In The Young Ones the walls between genres and television formats are tore down (quite literally in the case of Vyvyan, the punk) and what it starts as a gag about ants has a counter-shot of talking ants making a joke about humans. The sad clown, Neil, is not only mocked by his roommates but also by an unknown hand that paints a pair of glasses over his image and, later on, his own parents ask him why can’t he star in a decent comedy instead of The Young Ones. Madness plays in the front yard while Vyvyan runs through corridor and into a small closes where he meets three witches who promises him to be in charge of the house if he kills the rest of his roommates, from rock n’ roll to Macbeth, everything has a place in “our house in the middle of the street”.
Arrested Development or Community, both considered revolutionary comedies in American television, borrow many of their ‘cutting-edge’ features directly from The Young Ones (we can even see the exact same gag in the picture below): references, homages, metafiction… They were being used on British television 30 years before they even arrived to the other side of the Atlantic. Maybe we are just too blinded by the quality of American productions to acknowledge the fact that their innovations may not be as innovative after all.
The Young Ones is a milestone in comedy history, a must-see series for those who still think The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family are “decent comedies” worth watching because, against what the opening theme says, these guys will be the young ones, the good ones, very, very long.