Sunday 25 February 2018

Comment: Here's why The Young Offenders will be a TV smash

Homegrown: Chris Walley and Alex Murphy star in 'The Young Offenders'
Homegrown: Chris Walley and Alex Murphy star in 'The Young Offenders'

Pat Stacey

It used to be the case in the Seventies that every dodgy, second-rate British sitcom got a dodgy, third-rate movie spin-off. Believe me, you don’t know the meaning of torture until you’ve suffered through the big-screen versions of Are You Being Served? and George and Mildred.

In America, meanwhile, things were running in the opposite direction. The fashion there was to boil successful movies, and sometimes not so successful ones, down to fit the small screen using familiar television talent.

Now and again, it worked spectacularly well (M*A*S*H, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Most of the time, though, the results were immediately forgettable — and duly forgotten immediately. Anyone remember the TV spin-offs of Casablanca or Blue Thunder or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Working Girl or Dirty Dancing? Thought as much.

This, of course, was back in the days when television was considered cinema’s embarrassing, impoverished cousin and when movie actors wouldn’t be caught dead in a TV series — unless their movie career had predeceased them and they were in need of the money.

It’s a different game these days. The line of demarcation between film and TV has vanished. Top writing, directing and acting talent freely move back and forth between the two mediums with no loss of face or prestige.

If anything, the potential for long story arcs, more complex plotting and deeper character development makes television the more attractive option. Any number of excellent films get squashed at the box-office by whatever tiresome superhero blockbuster happens to be doing the rounds that particular week.

The big squeeze: Alex Murphy and Chris Walley as the ultimate chancers, Conor and Jock, in Irish hit movie 'The Young Offenders'
The big squeeze: Alex Murphy and Chris Walley as the ultimate chancers, Conor and Jock, in Irish hit movie 'The Young Offenders'

This is why the announcement that Irish director Peter Foott’s hilarious comedy film, The Young Offenders, is being turned into a series for BBC Three, with RTE also involved, is news well worth celebrating.

The Young Offenders, currently streaming on Netflix, features marvellous breakout performances by Chris Walley and Alex Murphy as Cork teenagers Jock and Conor, and a terrific turn by Hilary Rose (Foott’s wife) as Conor’s single mother, a fishmonger whose acid-tongued jousts with the two boys are hugely entertaining.

Inseparable pals who dress alike and sport identical little bum-fluff moustaches, Jock and Conor are a pair of fathomlessly gormless eejits, yet irresistibly likeable.

Hit Irish movie The Young Offenders picked up by BBC for TV series 

When a consignment of cocaine worth millions washes up on the Cork coast (the film is loosely inspired by a real event), our hopelessly naive heroes decide to cycle the 90 or so kilometres to the site, in the hope of miraculously finding some of the white stuff lying around and then live like kings, which in Conor’s case means in a mansion with an English butler and loads of women with enormous boobs. As masterplans go, it could do with a little polishing.

The Young Offenders is a joy: riotously funny and light as a feather, packed with hilariously profane dialogue, yet full of genuine heart, warmth and humanity. Jock’s secret torment, a widowed, alcoholic father who steals his money and beats him up, is deftly woven into the story.

The Young Offenders
The Young Offenders

With so much of Irish comedy relying on coarseness and nothing else, it’s marvellous to find one that can find space to celebrate love and friendship. There’s more than a touch of Laurel and Hardy’s vulnerability about Jock and Conor.

Do you have a Cork accent or can you do one? The Young Offenders series needs you 

The Young Offenders was a huge hit at the Irish box-office last year, while the reviews in the UK and US were excellent. Nonetheless, it’s still a small film, and small films tend to have a limited afterlife.

Transitioning into a television series — there’ll be six half-hour episodes, all written and directed by Foott and with all the principal actors returning — is the perfect way to prolong it and expand the audience.

Foott couldn’t ask for a better patron than BBC Three. When the youth-oriented channel was sacrificed to cost cuts and went online-only last year, there were fears it would whither away.

Instead, it blossomed and is producing quality series like the universally acclaimed Fleabag, which made the leap back to terrestrial TV on BBC2, where it won even more fans.

The Young Offenders is in good company, so. And it deserves to be.

The Young Offenders is on Netflix


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