The first series of The Young Ones premiered on British television in 1982, and in Australia shortly after. Many first time viewers did not know what to make of the show initially, and indeed some still don't. The second series in 1984 was even more offbeat, but by that time many viewers were more familiar with the characters and their apparent anarchy. Of course, as any writer of comedy will tell you, an awful amount of time and thought goes into creating apparent anarchy, and The Young Ones was no exception.
The series was the creation of Rik Mayall, Lise Mayer, and Ben Elton (co-writer of most of that other fantastic '80s comedy, Blackadder). It concerns the day-to-day lives of four students from Scumbag College; Rick (Rik Mayall), Vyvyan (Adrian Edmondson), Neil (Nigel Planer), and Mike (Christopher Ryan). The four would appear to have little in common. Rick is the People's Poet, studying sociology and not quite as popular as he would like to believe, Vyvyan is a violent leftover from the punk era and is studying medicine, Neil is a vegetarian hippie, and Mike, the Cool Person, seems most intent on scoring with chicks.
Mayall and Edmondson formed their comedy partnership (that still exists to this day) while still students at Manchester University where they met Elton, and the rest is history. Mayall's girlfriend at the time, Lise Mayer, completed the trio of writers that scripted all 12 episodes of The Young Ones. They were a product of The Comic Strip, which was responsible for other successful comedians and comedy teams such as Robbie Coltrane and also French and Saunders.
There is no plot as such and each episode is self-contained, but each is characterised by numerous tangents, a host of cameos (Robbie Coltrane, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Hale and Pace), musical guests (Madness, Dexy's Midnight Runners), talking furniture, singing fruit, moving statues, puppets, and many side-gags. The last Young One is comedian Alexei Sayle, who plays the various members of the Balovski family who pop in from time to time.
If you haven't had the pleasure of seeing The Young Ones, now is the time. You may need several viewings before you are hooked, but your patience will be rewarded. Even those who have seen it enough times to quote entire scenes, will see or hear something that has passed them by previously. Such is the beauty of The Young Ones, that repeated viewing is always rewarding.
Demolition: The boys have received their marching orders, as the house they have been renting is to be demolished. Not to worry, Vyvyan will take care of it - from within. Neil just wants to kill himself, Rik, the people's poet, is frantic, and Mike the Cool Person tries to seduce the council rep.
Oil: Having moved to the new house, Vyvyan finds oil in the basement. Mike finds Buddy Holly dangling from his new bedroom ceiling, Rik is busy organising a massive rock'n'roll benefit gig in the living room, and Neil finds a genie living in the kettle.
Boring: Life is boring when you're a student. While the boys are down the local pub (via Abbey Road) where Madness are playing, the house is visited by Goldilocks and the three bears, Footoomch the dwarf from hell, and Vyvyan wins a car.
Bomb: Waking to find an atomic bomb in the kitchen, Rik sets about blackmailing Thatcher. Neil paints himself white to deflect the blast and builds a fallout shelter under the kitchen table. Vyvyan just wants the bomb to go off, but Mike has plans to sell the bomb to the highest bidder.
Interesting: Party time in the house. Neil gets so high he takes off, Vyvyan sets about smashing up the place, Mike cracks onto Cinderella, and Rik hopes to get laid. The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, a giant sandwich, and a singing tomato combine to make this one crazy episode.
Flood: Stuck inside due to excessive rain, Rik suggests a game of hide-and-seek. Vyvyan stumbles into Narnia, Mike's room is occupied by lions, and the three decide there is nothing left in the house to eat, except Neil. To top it all off, Mr Balovski has swallowed Vyvyan's science experiment; a potion to turn someone into an axe-wielding homicidal maniac. "Basically, it's a cure. For NOT being an axe-wielding homicidal maniac.
There are simply too many hilarious and inspired moments to even begin to recount or explain. The cast is magnificent and their comedic timing is first rate. The script is intricate, crazy and completely unpredictable. The gags are both subtle and bludgeoning. The editing is spot on, and the pace of the show never drops. I could gush for hours, and hopefully after seeing this, you will too.
As with most television shows, especially those as old as this (1982), The Young Ones is presented in a full frame aspect ratio, and therefore is not 16x9 enhanced. It was filmed on a mix of video (studio) and film (outdoors), and there is a noticeable difference between them. The filmed sequences exhibit grain and film artefacts, but things improve greatly with the studio footage. Overall the image is reasonably sharp, but less so in the filmed outdoor scenes. The special effects are about as convincing as those in your average episode of Doctor Who, but somehow this adds to the show's appeal. On DVD, things such as CSO (Colour Separation Overlay) are glaringly obvious.
The colours are showing their age, and there is some noticeable variation. At times they appear to be pale and washed out, but there is almost no evidence of chroma noise or colour bleeding which was a problem with the VHS copies. There is a real problem with scenes involving fire, and colours, definition, and clarity fly out the window. There is also some major cometing and unwanted glare from even the smallest flame.
Black levels are pretty average, and shadow detail is fine, though there are very few occasions where shadow exists, and they are mostly in the outdoor scenes. Film to video artefacts are also quite prevalent, and aliasing and shimmer are evident. Even the credits exhibit problems, such as dot crawl.
The English subtitles are rather poor and do the script no favours. The accuracy of the Dutch subtitles is anyone's guess. Thankfully, there is no layer change evident.
While it's a joy to have The Young Ones on DVD purely for the convenience and durability, there is little else to recommend it in terms of the transfer, as if you compare this to most releases it fails to measure up. However, this is the best the show has ever looked, and probably ever will.