The Young Ones
"What's the difference? There'll be plenty of chicks for these tigers on the road to the promised land. This is it. It's really happening. Who needs qualifications? Who cares about Thatcher and unemployment? We can do just exactly whatever we want to do. And you know why? Because we're Young Ones. Bachelor boys. Crazy, mad, wild-eyed, big-bottomed anarchists."—Rick, moments before the gang's double-decker bus plunges through a billboard and then off a cliff. And then explodes.
A demented British comedy about four impoverished nutcases sharing a squalid college house. Episodes were rambling and unstructured, frequently wandering off to unrelated comedy skits or musical numbers. Surreal and/or incomprehensible jokes were aplenty, frequently making light of the acrimonious political climate of 1980s Britain, and violent slapstick abounded. The action would often and suddenly shift into animation, claymation or some form of puppetry. Bands often appeared on the show to perform, usually completely at random (as a financial device, as the inclusion of music performances got the show classified as variety instead of light entertainment, thereby earning a higher budget). Numerous episodes ended with everybody dying.
The main characters were:
- Rick (Rik Mayall): The hypocritical, Cliff Richard-loving lefty activist who was convinced that he was a Marxist rebel, a poetic genius, the voice of an entire generation and the most well-liked and attractive member of the household; he was spectacularly wrong on all counts;
- Vyvyan (Adrian Edmondson): The psychotic but strangely child-like punk who couldn't go an entire episode without destroying something - or, usually, several somethings;
- Neil (Nigel Planer): The whining, put-upon and suicidal hippy who acted as the dogsbody for the entire house and is convinced (accurately) that no one likes him and everyone is out to get him;
- Mike (Christopher Ryan): The Charmer of the flat; a smooth, flash and mysterious con-artist who tried it on with every girl he came across, still waiting for it to actually work;
- The Balowski Family (Alexei Sayle): An entire family all played by one man; various Balowskis of varying degrees of sanity appeared, but the most common was the boys' Russian-emigre landlord Jerzei.
- The running gag of Sayle playing a Balowski was dropped in the second season as it became harder and harder to write one into an episode. If a one-off character had a large enough number of lines, it was given to Sayle regardless of surname (although this was occasionally lampshaded, as Jerzei appeared twice that season and one of the boys would offhandedly remark "You look a bit like my landlord" to a Sayle character).
Worth a mention as a show which never relied on cliché to any extent; any tropes that popped up were usually subverted and double-subverted within minutes, if not seconds. The entire premise of the series, such as it was, was a particularly odd subversion of the Dysfunctional Family trope. Its spiritual descendant, Bottom -- basically Mayall and Edmondson playing even more unpleasant Expies of their Young Ones characters -- premiered in 1991.
- Abbey Road Crossing: During the "House Of Fun" sequence in the episode "Boring".
- Absurdly Youthful Mother: Vyvyan has one, whom we also meet in "Boring". The actress, Pauline Melville, is only nine years older than Adrian Edmondson.
- All Just a Dream: The end of the episode "Interesting", subverted when it's revealed that the All Just a Dream scene was the dream.
- The opening scene of "Time" was Neil's dream. For him, it was a pretty good dream, so when he wakes up he just says "oh no" in a miserable tone.
- Almost-Dead Guy: Lampshaded -- the two men who are the recipient of the message aren't terribly concerned with it.
- Amusing Injuries: All the time. It's like Looney Tunes.
- Animated Actors
- Author Tract: Vyvyan's tirade against The Good Life (see Berserk Button below) mirrors series writer Ben Elton's own disdain for the programme and all others like it.
- Awesome McCoolname: Mike is in the habit of referring to himself as "Mike the Cool Person". It might actually be his name - Mike Thecoolperson.
- Ax Crazy: Vyvyan in "Oil" and Jerzei in '"Flood", even contains the line: "Heeeeeere's Jerzei!".
Vyvyan: It's a potion I've invented where, when the patient drinks it, he turns into a axe-wielding homicidal maniac. It's basically a cure... for not being an axe-wielding homicidal maniac. The potential market's enormous!
- (It turns into a completely lampshaded Chekhov's Gun.)
- Batter Up
- Behind the Black: Vyvyan gives this as a justification for pointing everything out in one episode.
Vyvyan: Look, here comes the postman.
Mike: Vyvyan, why do you keep telling us what's just about to happen next?
Vyvyan: Because it's a studio set, Michael, and they can't afford any long shots.
Vyvyan: No! No! NO! We're not watching the bloody Good Life! Bloody bloody bloody! I hate it! It's so bloody nice! Felicity "Treacle" Kendal and Richard "Sugar-Flavored-Snot" Briers! What do they do now? Chocolate bloody Button ads, that's what! They're just a couple of reactionary stereotypes, confirming the myth that everyone in Britain is a lovable, middle-class eccentric - and I - HATE - THEM!
Mike: That was a highly articulate outburst, Vyvyan. I only hope they're not watching.
- Picking on Neil's flares isn't the best idea either, at least if Vyvyan's there to egg him on.
- Brick Joke: Frequently. Most are called back within ten minutes, but some go almost the entire episode.
- Done literally once, as Vyvyan tries to eat the house to prevent the council knocking it down because it's such a craphole. He leans out the window and bites a brick which disintegrates loudly.
Vyvyan: Some of these bricks explode! Brilliant!
- British Brevity: A grand total of 12 episodes were made, spanning two seasons.
- Buddy Holly: Appears in one gag.
- Butt Monkey: Neil and Rick:
Mike: You saw the dummy run with the sack of potatoes?
Neil: That wasn't a sack of potatoes, Mike, it was a packet of smash!
Mike: Well everyone knows they're better than real potatoes!
Rick: Oh, Vyvyan, what repartee! Sticks and stones may break my bones!
Vyvyan: That is the first sensible thing you have said all day.
(picks up a loose floorboard and smashes Rick's skull with it)
- Can't Hold His Liquor: According to Neil, Rick has passed out after half a glass of cider
- Casanova Wannabe: Mike! MIKE! MIKE!
- Rick also believes all the ladies love him. Of course, he is very wrong.
- Catch Phrase: Rick and Vyvyan love to call each other, and everyone else, "BASTARDS!"
- Vyv is also partial to "Brilliant!"
- Neil’s favorite adjective is "heavy", and he often complains that he's "having a really bad time."
- "Mike, the cool person..."
- Cosmic Plaything: Rick.
- Crossdresser: Although he is never seen in women's clothes, Rick is obviously a cross dresser. At one point, Neil comes downstairs in a Gingham dress and says that because he couldn't get into his own room to get dressed, he went into Rick's room and found a dress. When Rick denies it, Vyvyan points out the nametag says 'Rick'. Also, Rick has several very feminine habits, such as braiding his hair and crossing his legs and reading Cosmopolitan.
- Crystal Clear Picture: Taken to extremes -- it's taped to the screen.
- Curse Cut Short: In "Sick", during the Grange Hill parody, one of the kids says:
Mr Liberal: Hang on, you pair of young scruffy tearaways! Don't you realise the way you act is influencing millions of children to talk Cockney and be insubordinate?
Pupil: Well, come on Sir, don't be silly, we're the only kids in Britain who never say fu--(CUT)
- Dead Baby Comedy
- Double Entendre
- Dynamic Entry: Vyvyan's Establishing Character Moment.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The pilot takes place in a different student house (their move to the house they would occupy for the rest of the series was necessitated by an airplane falling on it in the episode’s final scene). The opening credits fade directly into the first scene, with a reverse Diegetic Switch employed -- Rick is listening to the theme song on the radio. Rick and Vyvyan have shorter hair, and Vyv’s is more obviously dyed, which is probably why the fandom is divided over whether or not red is his natural color. And the musical act, Nine Below Zero, performs live instead of lip-synching.
- The Eeyore: Neil.
- The Eighties
- Eldritch Location: The student house. Although the layout and architecture are static and generally make sense, it’s full of Animate Inanimate Objects, portals to other worlds, and wormholes through which various weirdos, strange creatures, and musical acts can enter.
- Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: Wick. He doesn't seem to have difficulty pronouncing "L", though.
- Escalating Brawl: In "Sick", a misunderstanding between two men outside the Young Ones' house escalates into a full-blown street riot that even manages to draw in the episode's guest band Madness.
- Everything Explodes Ending: The end of the pilot and the end of the series finale.
- Extreme Omnivore: Vyvyan has eaten teabags, exploding bricks and Neil's lentil and seaweed casserole, and at one point in the series eats the television to hide it from the television license inspector.
Television License Inspector: Aha! The old "eat the telly" trick!
Vyvyan (electric cord hanging from mouth): It's a toaster!
Jerzei Balowski: I'm not really foreign, you know. I just do it to appear more sophisticated! I mean, nobody'd buy Evian water if it was called "Blackburn Water", would they? Nobody'd wear Kicker boots if they were made in Scunthorpe! ABBA? ABBA, Swedish? I knew then when they were a Lancashire clog-dancing trio! Arthur, Betty, Boris and Angela! Solzhenitsyn, Solzhenitsyn -- a former pipe-fitter welder from Harrogate!
- Made funnier by the fact that the fake persona he assumed was one of a foreigner in denial about being foreign. Plus that the rest of the Balowskis have normal English accents.
- Fiery Redhead: Redheads don't get much more fiery than Vyvyan.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Rick is sanguine, Vyvyan is choleric, Neil is melancholic, and Mike is phlegmatic.
- Gargle Blaster: Vyvyan mixes his drinks with paintstripper and bleach, resulting in a very strong hangover.
- Gender Blender Name: "Vyvyan". It doesn’t seem to bother him much, at least until you explicitly remind him that it’s a girl’s name.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The "subliminal" images, which somehow weren't cut from the U.S. release.
- Giant Food: One of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse once dropped a gigantic sandwich on the lads' house, so they turned it into a sofa.
- Giftedly Bad: The work of the "People’s Poet" is howlingly wretched. Even more so when he recites it:
Rick: Pollution! All awound! Sometimes ... up! Sometimes ... down! But always ... awound! Pollution, are you coming to my town ... or am I coming to yours? HA! We're on different buses, pollution ... but we're both using petwol! (turns away from the bathroom mirror, looks into the camera) BOMBS!!
- Good Thing You Can Heal, Vyv. Good thing indeed.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck: Parodied.
- Groin Attack: "Ha, ha, joke's on you, missed both my legs."
- Honest John's Dealership
- Hope Spot
- Hot-Blooded: Rick and Vyv, though Mike and the Balowski family sometimes qualify.
- How We Got Here: “Nasty” opens with the lads bearing a casket to the local cemetery, and then flashes back to show the events that led up to that point.
- Hypocritical Humor: Most of the scenes involving Rick.
- I Cannot Self-Terminate: Neil botches his every attempt at suicide (gallows rope too long, can't hammer in the last nail to crucify himself), so eventually resorts to putting his head in the path of a worker's sledgehammer, remarking "You'll be doing me a favor." The demolition-worker just lifts the hammer higher to strike the wall above Neil's head.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: A single-word adjective (or occasionally noun). The only exception is the last episode "Summer Holiday".
- If I Had a Nickel: From "Bomb":
Neil: If I had a penny for every time I had to answer the door, I'd have £5.63.
- I Lied: It was a complete lie about the oil.
- I'm a Humanitarian: Discussed when the characters are trapped in their house with no food.
Neil: Hey, wouldn't it be terrible if we ended up having to eat each other. Like those sailors did in that movie, um, "We Ended Up Having To Eat Each Other".
- Incredibly Lame Pun: Just before their bus drives through a billboard and runs off the cliff, Rick shouts, "Look out! Cliff!" It's a Cliff Richard billboard.
- Indulgent Fantasy Segue: One so powerful, it damaged Neil's clothes.
- Kid with the Leash: Mike in relation to Vyvyan. Why they have the most amicable relationship among the lads is never explained.
- Kill'Em All
- Lack of Empathy: Everyone. Mike is notably bad, especially towards Neil; Rick is even worse.
Rick: My parents are dead... THE SELFISH BASTARDS!
- Large Ham: Parodied
- Loophole Abuse: A strange... version with regards to the treatment of their newly acquired VCR:
Mike: Maybe you shouldn't have poured all of that washing-up liquid into it.
Vyvyan: It says here "ensure machine is clean and free from dust."
Mike: Yeah, but it don't say "ensure machine is full of washing-up liquid."
Vyvyan: Yeah, but it doesn't say "ensure machine isn't full of washing-up liquid."
Mike: Well, it wouldn't would it? I mean, it doesn't say "ensure you don't chop up your video machine with an axe, put all the bits in a plastic bag and bung them down the lavatory!"
Vyvyan: Doesn't it? Well maybe that's where we're going wrong!
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: Subverted for the sake of lampshading when Sayle's South African vampire/driving instructor wants to kill them in "Nasty" (and vampires generally only go after female virgins, so that's another lampshade hung) -- and quickly forgotten about afterward. It turns out they are ALL virgins.
- Meaningful Name: Parodied with "Mike Thecoolperson". While Mike speaks of himself as "Mike the cool person", there is no indication in the series that that is his last name. There is however is a book of the series, Bachelor Boys in which they feature official paperwork about the characters. In the book at least Mike's surname is Thecoolperson. The book's canonicity has been debated.
- Mister Seahorse: Averted/subverted with Vyvyan.
- Some Hilarity Ensues:
Rick: How did this happen?!
Mike: How old are you, Rick?
- Even funnier:
- In the end, it turns out that Vyvyan was never actually pregnant -- he was just suffering from a particularly bad case of trapped wind, which comes out in the form of the world's longest, loudest fart. Said fart is then ignited by Mike's cigar, and the resulting blast all but destroys the house.
- Muppet: SPG, the Violent Glaswegian hamster, and many, many others.
- Mysterious Past: Mike is the only lad for whom no definite Backstory is given.
- Narrating the Obvious: Lampshaded.
- Negative Continuity: As noted, everybody dies multiple times.
- Lampshaded in "Time";
Rick: Oh no! The whole house has been surrounded by angry medieval peasants!
Mike: They think we're witches and they're gonna burn us!
Vyvyan: We're completely trapped! The outlook is bleak!
Neil: Oh, what are we gonna do, what are we gonna do?
Vyvyan: ...Oh, who cares. (Episode ends.)
Rick: Oh, no, the front door's exploded! Vyvyan!
Vyvyan: Vyvyan, Vyvyan, Vyvyan! Honestly! Whenever anything explodes in this house, it's always "Blame Vyvyan"!!
Mike: Well, who do you suggest we blame?
Vyvyan: No! Blame whoever rang the front doorbell, 'cuz they obviously triggered off the bomb I set up!
- No Ending: Inevitably for a comedy where most episodes feature the absurdity piling higher and higher, rather than trying for an anticlimactic resolution, they sometimes simply end with no attempt at a resolution. For example, "Time" ends with the lads sitting down to a game of cards as their house is invaded by a horde of mediaeval peasants, while "Sick" ends with the house set moving aside to reveal the set of a glitzy variety show hosted by Neil's parents and Brian, the Bolowski of the Week.
- No Fourth Wall
- No Indoor Voice: Rik and Vyvyan are pretty much always shouting at the top of their voices.
- Noodle Implements: What Vyvyan needs to dispatch the Bomb are the drill, the hedge trimmers, and some ordinary household bleach.
- No Periods, Period: Averted. "Oh look, it's a telescope! With a MOUSE in it!"
- The second series featured the lads watching a video with an advert featuring Dawn French and Helen Atkinson Wood:
Helen: That strange washed out feeling that you just can't explain
Dawn: She's talking about periods.
- Oh Crap: All the lads (except Vyvyan, who is positively smiling) as they watch a plane fall out of the sky directly over their house.
- Ominous Latin Chanting: The intro to "Flood"; "dominus ad nauseum" (repeated to the point of inducing nausea) is pure Lampshade Hanging.
- One-Note Cook: Neil does the cooking for the household; unfortunately, he only seems to be able to cook lentils.
- Only Sane Man: Mike, but barely. However, all the characters have their moments, usually when breaking the fourth wall.
- Overly Long Name: Alexei Yuri Gagarin Siege of Stalingrad Glorious Five-Year Plan Sputnik Pravda Moscow Dynamo Back Four Balowski.
Alexei: Me Dad was a bit of a Communist, know what I mean?
- Parachute in a Tree: After moving into a new house, Mike discovers Buddy Holly, still alive and guitar in hand, hanging from a parachute in one of the rooms. He has apparently been there since 1959 (23 years at that point). Mike tries to capitalise on the songs Buddy has thought up since then only for the parachute to give way and Holly fall screaming through the floor.
- Perpetual Poverty
- The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: The protagonists are university students. Good luck trying to catch them going to classes -- although Rick studies occasionally, and all the cast sit their exams with Neil coming top.
- Lampshaded in "Boring", when Neil's suggestion that the guys should try alleviating their boredom by actually going into college is greeted with aghast shock from the others.
Mike: Now, Neil. Now, listen. Things may be bad, but there's no need to panic.
- Planet Eris
- Prison Rape: Any time there is any chance of them getting into legal trouble, Rick panics and immediately starts shrieking "I can't go to pwison! I'm too pwetty! I'll get waped!"
- Psycho Serum: Vyvyan's potion designed to turn a person into an axe wielding maniac.
Vyvyan: It's basically a cure... for not being an axe wielding maniac!
- Quirky Household Subverted.
- Rearrange the Song: Most of the time the opening credits used Rik Mayall singing Cliff Richard's 'The Young Ones', but rearranged this on two occasions. "Nasty" began with a typical horror sting, concluding with a gentle xylophone version of the theme, while "Time" featured the song rearranged in the style of Dallas's opening theme.
- Rule of Funny: The entire series, but Vyvyan getting decapitated and his body getting yelled at by his head is a major example.
- Running Gag: Whenever Neil sneezes, something explodes.
- Sadist Show
- Schmuck Bait: "'Do Not Lean Out Of The Window'. Wonder why?" Cue decapitation.
- Shirtless Scene: Neil has one in "Summer Holiday". It's... not altogether unpleasant.
- Sick Episode: The (appropriately titled) episode "Sick" -- not the typical sickness plot, just an excuse for everyone to act even more horrible to each other.
Vyvyan: You know, it's funny, but being ill makes me lose my usual tolerant, and easy going approach to communal living. (throws Molotov cocktail)
- Soft Glass: Generally played straight and for laughs, though notably defied in one instance -- Vyvyan tries to throw their television out the living room window when a TV licence man visits, only for the glass to remain intact and the television to bounce off harmlessly.
- Somebody Else's Problem
- Something That Begins With Boring: Rik's botched game of "Botticelli" with Mike.
- Sophisticated As Hell: Neil's letter to the bank.
Darling fascist bully boy, gimme some more money you bastard. May the seed of your loin be fruitful in the belly of your woman. Neil
- Squee: Rick in the music video for "Living Doll". "It’s Cliff Richard!!"
- Standardized Leader: This might be the reason why Mike isn't as popular (or funny) as the other three - he is the "leader" of the house, and is relatively grounded and subtle in his mannerisms. He helps to balance out the craziness of everyone else, and has his own gems occasionally though, as well as driving key "plot" moments and setting up some jokes for the rest of the cast. One could say he gives a little more direction when it's needed, and comes up with all the plans.
- Starving Student: Taken to ridiculous extremes.
- Strawman Political: Rick -- although the character is more making fun of university students who become political without really studying up on the subject.
- Or alternately, a parody of how conservatives see liberals.
- Stupid Statement Dance Mix: Rick is still a virgin!
- Subliminal Seduction: Parodied: at the time there was a great fuss over -- and paranoia of -- subliminal messages in shows or adverts. Thus, the show inserted at least one "subliminal message" in each episode: a non-sequitur image flashed up on the screen for five frames.
- Suicide as Comedy
Neil: Vyvyan. Is it actually possible to kill yourself with laxatives?
Vyvyan: I dunno, Neil. But I'm going to stay and find out.
- Doubles as Toilet Humour given the effects of laxatives.
- Swapped Roles: "Bambi" features a brief, surreal segment where the boys rush down the stairs in the morning to reveal the characters/actors have inexplicably swapped roles; Nigel Planet is now Rick, Rik Mayall is Vyvyan, Christopher Ryan is Neil and Adrian Edmondson is Mike. Aside from a lampshade from 'Neil' about how he "doesn't feel himself today", this is never commented on, and they're back to their usual roles the very next scene.
- Titled After the Song
- Toilet Humour
- Too Dumb to Live: Everyone. And they pay for their stupidity with their lives several times over.
- Trash the Set
- The Un-Reveal: Vyvyan's sex (Vyvyan was never pregnant).
- The Unintelligible: All four lads have instances of this. If you’re not British, watching with subtitles isn’t a bad idea.
- Unintentional Period Piece
- University Challenge: Famously.
- Unspoken Plan: Subverted.
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist
- Unwinnable By Mistake: The tie-in video game (promo here, complete with hilarious voiceover fail) included some bugs the developers missed that made it impossible to finish. Once the game’s buyers figured this out and complained, its manufacturer pulled it from the market with only about 10,000 copies sold.
- Vague Age: Mike can somehow blend in fine with other university students, despite looking like he’s been there for ten years at least (Christopher Ryan was 32 when the series premiered). Rick and Vyvyan still suffer from acne, which would logically indicate late teens, and Neil looks slightly older than them. Still, it's all really anyone's guess.
- Variety Show: As mentioned above, the only reason that musical performances were added in was because the show would qualify for a bigger budget, with the addition that these performances would make the show seem more surreal. In episode 6, a lion tamer appears in place of a band, probably to absolutely satisfy the criteria for a variety show.
- Madness were the only band to appear twice. This is because BBC 2 was apparently planning to commission a comedy series starring the band, though it wound up never being produced.
- Weirdness Censor: Parodied in "Boring", in which the lads see, overhear, and/or smell hints that one remarkable thing after another is happening all around them, but are too wrapped up in their boredom and bickering to notice. But it's probably justified because they are a collective...
- Weirdness Magnet
- With Friends Like These...