Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Young Ones & Filthy Rich & Catflap

This would ideally go on to cover Bottom too, which is the Rik & Ade incarnation I grew up with and still consider the best. But I don't have to dissect the mirth from everything I love.

The Young Ones 1x01 Demolition ****

Does this once-groundbreaking student house-share sitcom still stand up over three decades later? I wouldn't know about that, since I missed that first decade and a bit myself, only catching up post-Bottom as a teenager in the late 90s. Well then, more importantly, does it still stand up now that I'm not a child any more?

I can confidently reveal that it's just as good as it ever was. Meaning, the bits with the characters interacting are still reliably entertaining and the bits that were a bit shit on VHS haven't magically improved with a sharper transfer.

This first episode has always stood out as a weird one (or should that be less weird?), for mostly taking place on a single set and having some of the characters (mainly Neil/Nigel) address the audience much more than usual. As a first episode, it can't be faulted - the characters are introduced one by one to give us time to get used to them before Vyvyan steals the whole thing by smashing in through the wall. I expected Rick to be my undisputed favourite these days, but I actually can't choose between them. Apart from it not being Mike, obviously.
"I'm not paying you money to eat black men!" - Rick

The Young Ones 1x02 Oil ****

In some shocking attention to continuity, the guys move into a new house after the episode-length demolition of their previous one, and this new abode is a tad more surreal with its magic lamp, missing rock stars hanging from the rafters, holidaymakers in the cellar and sentient cleaning tools.

Those weird asides are presumably where most of that extra budget excused by the musical interludes ended up, and so far it's just about worth it - though it's clear in hindsight that the best parts tend to be those they spent the least money on, namely the guys yelling at each other.

While Mike is still the weak link of the main four, we get a welcome peek under the "cool" veneer and see a pathetic side to him here - before he becomes a dictator at least - as he scatters bras around his lonely room and plays an unconvincing sex soundtrack. According to Rick, "he's getting worse."
"This world is like a burnt steak. Small, tough and the chips are always stacked against it" - Mike

The Young Ones 1x03 Boring ***

I picked up the idea somewhere that this first series is considered the more experimental and far-out, and the second a bit more down-to-earth. It's been a long time since I watched these, but I can't imagine there's anything coming up to rival the madness (pun etc.) of this one, and that's not really a good thing.

The bizarre, pointless asides have stood the test of time less well than the straighter parts with the characters we love, and this is full of odd scenes that don't really work, at least for me. You can tell they put a lot of time into arranging the sets and costumes for things like the subterranean kingdom, Billy Balowski's stomach and the various fictional characters that sneak around after dark, but I do admire their experimental streak. And some of the experiments work - the weird stuff with the demons is saved by the excellent "bloody hell" gag, and Oh Crikey! is a step up in their TV viewing from the annoying Nozin' Aroun' a couple of episodes earlier.

There are still plenty of great character scenes too, and the eternally abused Neil is emerging as the favourite this time around. I forgot just how often he considers killing himself, even if it's only out of boredom.
"It's alright, I'm just digging a grave. I don't think I'm going to kill myself today actually, but it's just in case, you know?" - Neil

The Young Ones 1x04 Bomb *****

Absolute classic of an episode. There's plenty of time for domestic strife in the first half before anyone notices that there's a bloody great bomb in front of the fridge, as the guys instead deal with everyday issues like the bathroom rota, a suicidal teapot, accessing precarious lentils and hiding the TV inside Vyvyan before the TV detector man gets a look at it.

When the gravity of their situation does becomes clear, all four characters react to cartoonish extremes - especially Vyv who admits even he doesn't know why he's so eager to ignite nuclear holocaust, but he's not going to stop trying. It's also nice to see that Neil's regained his will to live, as he diligently follows handy survival tips that unfortunately don't mention moving more than a metre away from the bomb itself.

They even cut down on ridiculous asides this time, the one notable exception being the confusing Dicky & Dino that I'd presumably get if I was watching this 33 years ago when I was supposed to.
"If I had a penny for every time I had to answer the door, I'd have £5.63" - Neil

The Young Ones 1x05 Interesting ***

The wacky is back in a big way, with aliens, talking fruit and bannisters, Cinderella, Father Christmas and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse adding to an already bulging guest cast as the guys throw a house party.

On the plus side, this is a fairly rare example of an episode that actually deals with them being students, from Rik's sociology chums and creepy tutor to Vyvyan's interest in dissections and... magic potions? They also explore some areas of humour that they don't usually tackle with gags about drugs, religion and tampons.

On the downside, the escalating hostile atmosphere and thugs ganging up on Neil leave it feeling unpleasantly heavy.
"Last Wednesday we stayed up 'til one o'clock in the morning!" - Rick

The Young Ones 1x06 Flood ***

My judgement might be swayed by arbitrary ordering, but there is a sense of the writers running out of ideas and relying on gimmicks in this final episode of the year. On the bright side, there are also signs of the characters settling in and being better understood, with the first real fight between Rick and Vyvyan and Alexei Sayle actually getting involved in the plot rather than just inserting a minute of his stand-up.

Speaking of irrelevant asides, this is also notable as the only episode to abandon the music number in place of another performing art, in this case a few seconds of lion taming (that doesn't make any less sense than the scripted stuff). I'm not a big fan of the music interludes generally, but I'm glad they didn't pursue this variety style.
"It's basically a cure for not being an axe-wielding homicidal maniac" - Vyvyan

The Young Ones 2x01 Bambi *****

This is up there with Red Dwarf, early Simpsons and Count Duckula as a piece of TV I never have to watch again because it's already permanently burned onto my memory. But it was still a highly enjoyable "waste" of another 35 minutes.

While it's the University Challenge parts that are best remembered generally, there's also plenty of fantastic character stuff to re-introduce the players after a couple of years away: Mike is the boring dad one, Neil the eternally hassled mum, Rick is the attention seeking child and Vyvyan doesn't like Rick, but is quite partial to dead rats. It's also notable for having an abundance of comedy cameos as Ben Elton brings in the establishment - that might actually have seemed a bit weird in context if I wasn't so used to the episode already.

The writing is undeniably tighter than it used to be, but that doesn't mean the odd and pointless elements have been abandoned, as there's still plenty of surreal business going on - from antagonistic socks and laundry machines to body swapping, teleporting, dismemberment and the larger issue of the Young Ones' entire world apparently being contained on a petri dish.
"This calls for a very special blend of psychology and extreme violence" - Vyvyan

The Young Ones 2x02 Cash ***

Things are a bit depressing again, as money problems mean Rick's stuff needs to be burned for firewood and Neil has to compromise his alternative lifestyle to join the police.

The cutaways don't lift the mood too much either, as we're back to shaky series one ground with Mark Arden and Stephen Frost's headless ghosts and puppet dogs. Better are the special branch (it is quite special) and the man you won't catch with his trousers, just because that might be one of the strangest things that's ever been broadcast.
"Darling fascist bully boy, give me some more money you bastard. May the seed of your loin be fruitful in the belly of your woman.
- Neil"

The Young Ones 2x03 Nasty ****

This off-season Halloween episode actually has structure, which I suppose signifies the beginning of the end for fans of the show's anarchic leanings. But while it may be more of a straight sitcom, it's always been one of my favourites for spending plenty of quality time with the boys and upping the gross factor with Neil's bath.

Plus we get the most satisfying set demolition since the first episode, and "do you dig graves?" is up there with the best jokes in the world.
"Oh no, the front door's exploded" - Rick

The Young Ones 2x04 Time **

After the tightest episode comes one of the slackest, and easily my least favourite. The domestic scenes are still mostly enjoyable, even if the Rick-Vyvyan violence has reached Loony Tunes proportions now, and I finally understand the love for the first series, back when these oddballs were at least on the borderline of believable.

The freeform script starts out with a Dallas parody that's dated more than anything else in the series, though the audience absolutely loves it. (Is E.T. a pun on J.R.? Because they're both initials and E.T. was popular in the early 80s? Is that really what that is?) The promise of an entertaining story about a black widow killer picking off the guys one by one is abandoned in favour of time travel for no reason, and the famously lazy ending is more annoying than funny.

The Young Ones 2x05 Sick ****

With scenes of a repulsive nature from the onset, this could be the show self-consciously living up to its own reputation, before getting even more deconstructive as it goes along and changing its concept entirely to resemble something more wholesome.

The title conjures unpleasant memories of green-tinged sets and Neil spurting endless mucus through a straw, but there's a hell of a lot more besides as the guys are taken hostage by the insane Brian Damage Belowski then receive the even more terrifying news that Neil's parents are paying a visit, and they're not impressed by this whole alternative comedy thing.

Despite being raised on the likes of The Young Ones and Bottom, the snotty aspect does put me off an otherwise excellent episode that gets more impressive as it goes along. At least up to the by-now-customary don't-give-a-shit ending.
"You can't clean the toilet, Neil. It'll lose all its character" - Vyvyan

The Young Ones 2x06 Summer Holiday ***

It's not the greatest episode, but it's a satisfying ending for the world's worst students as their worlds collapse around them and they turn to a life of crime and debauchery before dying (for at least the third time if you're keeping count). If you were a young rebel in 1984 or just not massively confident about your exam results, I imagine it was all pretty exciting.

The departure from the house makes this a weird one visually - especially with the "garden" and "street" being such blatant studio sets that Vyvyan even has to draw attention to that - but with fewer zany asides we get to spend the maximum time with the characters before they go. Or before moving on to Filthy Rich and Catflap and Bottom anyway. Rick and Vyvyan are already more or less Richie and Eddie, and now that Mike's life of luxury has collapsed, he isn't too many drinks away from Dave Hedgehog.
"Strange that such a ruthless and sadistic maniac as Vyvyan should care for a begonia" - Rick

Filthy Rich & Catflap 1 ****

There was always something odd and off-putting about this middle child between The Young Ones and Bottom that kept me from checking it out until now, despite having loved those shows in my youth and not-so-youth. It might have been something I read, the sole Ben Elton writing credit, or just the strange name. It was a stupid oversight on my part - I haven't laughed this heartily in ages.

Rik and Ade's characters are still based on their tried and tested Dangerous Brothers act, and there's plenty of gratuitous cartoon violence between the pair and an inability to ignore the most ludicrous and non-existent double entendres that will see them through three series of Bottom later. There are some major differences in these incarnations of Richie and Eddie though, especially Richie who's a deservedly struggling actor and constantly paranoid about threats to his life, despite being much more likely to accidentally murder bystanders himself.

In this first episode, the characters are succinctly introduced - Nigel Planer's Ralph Filthy (or Filthy Ralph, even he gets confused) being the lesser used third wheel who only shows up when the boys are through with their morning duels - and there's still time to fit in two plots about Richie facing an expensive paternity suit and having to hide the mounting pile of milkman corpses he can't stop creating. There are nice 80s cameos all over the place and relentless references to Thatcher politics that date it in a satisfying way and aren't annoying me yet.
"Honestly, just because I run a chain of discount brothels, everyone seems to think I'm a dirty old man" - Ralph Filthy

Filthy Rich & Catflap 2 ***

If you're not especially proud of your plots or over-reliance on double entendre character names like P'farty and N'bend, just have your characters frequently comment on these failings and try to disguise your inadequacies with plenty of gratuitous guest stars.

It works well enough, especially as for serious comedy fans (who else is watching this today?) it's not the presence of 'real' celebrities like (some of) the Nolan sisters that will impress, but the huge number of familiar comedy faces - from already established presences like Fry and Laurie, Gareth Hale and Harry Enfield to a pre-Red Dwarf Chris Barrie putting in an energetic performance as a furious director and even an unknown, possibly student David Baddiel as a gullible art bidder.

The usual swipes at the worlds of light entertainment and celebrity are joined this time by similarly unsubtle stabs at the art world. And once again, Nigel Planer's character takes a backseat while Adrian Edmondson doesn't realise that sharing half the screen time with Rik Mayall doesn't mean he's half the talent. All the big laughs come from Richie's pathological egotism.
"The Nolan sisters! My all-time favourite four-tissue fantasy!" - Richie Rich

Filthy Rich & Catflap 3 **

We've reached the dregs of plot already as Richie and Eddie rob a supermarket, go to prison, then somehow escape. The slapstick is sadly absent, as are the comedy cameos (unless you count Jools Holland), with more of a focus on Richie's delusions of fame and showbiz chums and Adrian Edmondson explaining in detail why he doesn't like the old guard of pre-alternative comedy. There are also lots of jokes about whiffy farts. Nigel Planer's in it briefly.
"Well at least I've got a face, not a sort of collage of bogeys and sick" - Richie Rich

Filthy Rich & Catflap 4 **

Another uninspiring installment that's mainly notable for turning into an episode of Bottom towards the end, once the showbiz pretense is temporarily abandoned and Richie and Eddie hang around in a gay bar trying to recruit a hitman to take out Richie's father.

The customary swipes at the industry are out in full force, as the BBC and advertisers steal Richie's (awful) ideas for formats. There are a few more establishment cameos as Mel Smith and Norman Pace play a couple of sleazy execs, but I have a bad feeling I've already seen the best this series had to offer in the first couple of episodes.
"I hate everything!" - Richie Rich

Filthy Rich & Catflap 5 ***

Richie and Eddie are bored, and surprisingly that isn't much fun to watch. Things look up when they start attacking each other's crotches, but then there's an overlong scene at the expense of Trivial Pursuit which is one of the less charming examples of dated humour in the series.

Fortunately a flimsy plot does eventually find us, as Filthy somehow bags Richie a slot on morning television. The 'morning' bit poses a bit of a problem, as does the unspoken rule about not showing up completely off your face after an all-night lager frenzy, but against the odds Richie does end up slumped on the couch opposite Anne Diamond, only to engage in a scandal that's so obscene, it demands a cliffhanger ending.
"Richie, if you don't shut up, I'm gonna cut your head off, stuff it in the microwave, wait until it goes ping, then take it out, mash it up with a bit of milk and butter and ram it up your backside" - Eddie Catflap

Filthy Rich & Catflap 6 ****

They weren't kidding - they really did finish things on a two-part 'epic,' as well as a finale that's actually fitting and wraps up the story very nicely. I certainly didn't see that coming.

It doesn't take long for Richie and Eddie to extricate themselves from their depraved behaviour and death sentence and to pass it on to Filthy instead, which they don't have any qualms about. Now he's been barred from the showbiz world, Richie puts his despicable talents to use by becoming a journalist, shifting the usual digs at celebrities to the sleazy world of tabloids where it's more deserved.

The series ends with the trio hatching an uncharacteristically brilliant plan and putting in even more atypical hard work to catapult Richie to the top of the light entertainment game by bringing down literally everyone else in a monumental smear campaign. It's not enough to leave me yearning for a second series that never was, but it is admittedly satisfying to see these awful characters go out on top, a few years before they sank to their Bottom.
"It just goes to show, if you want a job doing properly, it's best not to drink sixteen pints of lager beforehand" - Eddie Catflap

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