TV review: Youngers - Teenage kicks of the tamer kind
A well-intentioned comedy just misses the mark – and a pre-watershed time slot doesn't help
Saturday 23 March 2013
The trouble with any drama about teenage life that's shown in a slot explicitly for teenagers is, ironically, that it's unlikely to end up resembling even the most banal experiences of its intended audience. For Youngers, E4's latest youth offering, the burden of pre-watershed tameness was made heavier by its emphatically "urban" south London setting, which, rightly or wrongly, suggests there might be enough grit to pull in slightly older viewers too.
Not that I was expecting a bleak portrait of gang culture – this was meant to be comedy – but you need only to have been on a bus at the end of a school day to know that authentic teen exchanges rarely pan out without a few expletives. In Youngers, so much reality had to be excised it was hard to imagine the average 16-year-old being convinced.
The opening scene summed up the tenor. Best friends Jay and Yemi are recording their latest rap lyrics over a pounding beat, when a door opens and reveals that the darkened "studio" is an adolescent's bedroom. "Do you know what time it is?" rails Yemi's mother. A variation on a simple, rug-pull comic device, it's not a terrible joke but it's mild stuff that could be transferred to any number of settings.
Likewise, for all the "bruvs" and "bluds", most of the action in Youngers feels like standard coming-of-age fare, rather than an insight into what it's like to be a young person in a specific place and time. As they hatch plans for musical superstardom, studious Yemi is heading off to a plummy private school with a scholarship, while Jay, less academically inclined, is resisting his father's insistence that he join the family's boiler repair business. Credit to Ade Oyefeso (Yemi) and Calvin Demba (Jay) here, who make the very best of their material. The scene in which they pick up their GCSE results is nicely played; shrugging off their importance, a sudden nervousness in their exchange subtly acknowledges the significance of those simple letters on a bit of paper as markers of diverging adult paths.
Perhaps it's no bad thing to set a fairly anodyne little story in the supposed badlands of an inner-city estate. Certainly, there's a commendable if yawnsome subtext about aspiration, hard work and friendship. And, whatever the setting, plenty of youth drama fails to do justice to the complexities of real life. But I'm fairly certain that the average teen copes with a little more light and shade on a day-to-day basis, and could handle it in their comedy, too.
Reality was certainly kicking in for a couple of teens in BBC3's Don't Just Stand There – I'm Having Your Baby (Monday ***), part of the channel's Baby Britain season, exploring life as a young parent today, where clueless (or plain useless) fathers-to-be were given a crash course in becoming a birthing partner. Callum, 19, confessed that the main part he'd played in girlfriend Laura's pregnancy was "getting her pregnant in the first place". Not that he seemed too worried – despite the increasingly terse efforts of several midwives, he continued to profess disgust at the idea of watching the birth almost until the end. You had to agree with grandfather-to-be Steve, when he declared his son "was going to have to grow up overnight".
Adam, 26, was a more enthusiastic, if no more knowledgeable, participant. "Umm, I have heard of it," he replied when asked if he knew what a cervix was, as if being grilled on some obscure novel. Overall, there was too little suspense here to make for a full hour of telly – you just knew they'd more or less rise to the challenge in the end, and they did – even if Callum looked as though he was watching Saw 2 rather than the birth of his first child.
In ITV documentary Home Delivery (ITV, Thursday ****)- after C4's One Born Every Minute birth is clearly now primetime stuff - independent midwife Virginia, who presides over 30 home births a year, observed that "birth is something that has been hidden away". Fifty years ago, 30 per cent of births took place in the home, compared to less than 3 per cent now, so perhaps it's no wonder that young men like Callum and Adam are so mystified.
A glamorous redhead and former kissogram, Virginia was a natural star of the show, combining the kind of cheery humour and rock-solid strength you'd want around during any stressful event. With almost 20 years in midwifery, she somehow demonstrated an undiminished amazement at the process of childbirth, while taking it utterly in her stride: "Once this placenta's out we can all have a nice cup of tea, eh?"
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