Last week, one of the most hotly anticipated ‘trending topics’ concerned the first episode of this season’s must-see E4 youth comedy-drama, Youngers. The show set in South-East London follows a group of friends navigating their way through the complexities of teenage existence.
Heard it all before?
Well… this time the emphasis and perhaps the programme’s winning formula is the weight it puts on aspirations and career choices. We as an audience will be privy for the next eight weeks as the lead characters grind day and night to launch careers in the music industry.
So what were our first impressions? Did Youngers pass your viewing test by providing an entertainingly fresh angle on the hopes and dreams of inner-city youth? Did it exceed your expectations of television traditionally aimed at the ‘urban youth’ demographic? Did it fail by predictably resorting to hackneyed black/‘urban’ stereotypes, post-Kidulthood?
I feel the answers to the above cannot be fully concretized after simply one episode although there was unfortunately much evidence of the latter. Youngers is in eight parts, directed by documentary maker Anthony Philipson and written by Levi David Addai (My Murder), Georgia Lester (Skins) and Mark Cately (Casualty).
It would be easy to immediately attack everything we don’t like in episode one and lament at another ‘wasted opportunity’. However, surely it is fair to allow at least 3 or 4 episodes (max) to air to get a solid grasp of the strength of the show and more specifically, the writing and the execution by its performers.
In episode 1, Youngers follows central characters Yemi (Ade Oyefeso), a brainy school achiever and self-styled production genius – and Jay (Calvin Demba) the less academically inclined and more flamboyant MC. The boldness of the latter means it is he who enters the pair into a local music competition after spectacularly failing his GCSEs.
The opening title sequence, though catchy, as the duo work on a track in what seems like a darkened production studio, ends with Yemi’s stereotypically strict Nigerian mother shutting down a late night bedroom beat operation.
Putting aside the script’s heavy reliance on street slang, the performances of Oyefeso and Demba are certainly promising. The unlikely friendship between the two cannot be better illustrated in the scene where they open one another’s GCSE envelopes. Yemi’s straight A’s confirm the duo are friends by virtue of postcode and age – not because of shared commonalities regarding their upbringing and outlook on education and life. This social element of growing up in deprived London neighbourhoods is very real and it is here where the writers should receive full credit.
Some will instantly recognise actors/comedians Jovian Wade, Dee Kartier & Percelle Ascott from 2011’s popular online sketch series ‘Mandem On The Wall’. I imagine they will appear each week in a cameo role as the local “YOLO BAABY!!” shouting weed heads, void of focus and ambition.
The ‘Mandem’ scene is undoubtedly one of the comedic highlights of episode one. Displaying the local ‘wastemen’ is often tricky for writers as they often manage to appear ‘cooler’ to an impressionable young audience than the boringly focused student. Their inclusion, however, is necessary for authenticity as well as serving as a warning device to potentially misguided youths. They certainly appear to be the strongest ‘side-characters’ so far.
Post-Inbetweeners, E4’s green-lighting of Youngers enhances its reputation as a breeding ground for up and coming UK talent. The programme’s uncharacteristically positive spin on teenage life is a solid basis to return each week. This is not Kidulthood: The TV series.
The next episode of Youngers is on E4 Wednesday 27th March @ 7:pm