This is the first in a hopefully regular series, where I watch old television shows to see how well they’ve aged.
The first programme that I will be looking at is The Young Ones, the early 80’s effort from stand up comics Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson and Nigel Planer. And Christopher Ryan, whom eagle-eyed viewers (known here as ‘IMDB’) will have noticed played the role of two different Sontarans in the recent series of New Who. Ryan was the only one of the group who wasn’t a stand-up comedian, which shows as his character isn’t really involved with the slapstick comedy of the other three, acting more as a straight man and making occasional witty puns and comments to camera. Tellingly, he was the only member of the main group not to be involved in their later follow-up ‘Filthy, Rich and Catflap’. The characters were named Rick, Vyvyan, Neil and Mike.
The essential concept of the show is three friends (and Neil) living together in a flat as students. Of course, they’re largely students in name only, as they are rarely seen studying and never seen attending university. It is also mental. They frequently diverged from the action to include little bits from puppets of various household objects (including a Glaswegian hamster).
If you were introducing someone to this series, the best episode to do it with would be the second series premiere, ‘Bambi’. It gets the characters and the concept across to viewers easily and it has some of their best work on the train journey and during the challenge. It also features appearances from the very young Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. This episode establishes, among other things, that they can teleport and that Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades is good music if you need to go somewhere fast. (To get a bigger budget, they got the show classed as ‘Variety’ by hiring bands to give performances in show, which is an example of how it’s aged badly if you don’t like 80’s music.)
Some parts of the series have aged worse than others, such as the near-constant references to Thatcher and the appearances of Alexei Sayle as their landlord, who regularly turns to the studio audience and starts basically doing stand-up. These bits have dated because they are often about communism and how Thatcher is bad, etc. Topical references do not help if you want to make a show timeless, since it is in the nature of all things to change. I doubt they set out to create a timeless classic though. The non-political humour is very surreal, and this stuff tends to have aged better, as violence and strange stuff seems to never stop being funny. For one example of their random humour, watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mn1Y7nhB16U
I think that tells you all you need to know about this show, and it has possibly stood the test of time more than some other shows (I caught an episode of Fawlty Towers recently and thought it had aged terribly).