Did we like it?
Don’t be so modest, E4. When your announcer said this new sitcom contained “puerile adolescent humour” they failed to mention it was also insightful, clever, wonderfully witty and sharp as a pair of compasses jabbed into one’s rear during double maths.
What was good about it?
• It’s like junior Peep Show. Or a mundane Malcolm in the Middle. We get inside the mind of nerdy Will, who has been transported from private education into a wild comprehensive school, with shouts of “wanker” and “briefcase mong” echoing after him down the corridors. The school tries to help him – and three other newcomer freaks – to integrate by supplying a big badge to wear. “Hi, my name is Will. Stop me and say hello,” it shouts.
• We thought we’d hate Will. He looks like the school swot and we never liked those types. But he’s witty, world weary, articulate and possesses the oft-popped pomposity of a middle-aged man. He tries to fit in by being funny – but they’re laughing at you, Will, not with you. For now.
• Will’s motto: “Everyone can be your friend. You just need to hang around them long enough.”
• The naivety about sex. “Do you put the balls in?” was a question we once asked. (You don’t, by the way. Well, we don’t). Of course there’s one boy who has done it first (although the evidence is not collaborated). “I’ve been poking lots of vag,” Jay bragged.
• “Simon’s got a boner.” Yes, we remember those days.
• The worries about not getting served in the pub rang bells, too. “Oi bruv, three pints of lager,” didn’t work for us, either. Will was at his naive best/worst when asked if he had proof of age. “You have my word,” he declared. We loved his misplaced confidence.
• Will does have one thing in his favour – a hot mum who drives a flash car. But that also has its drawbacks.
Jay – “I’d fuck her”. Will – “Thanks very much.” Jay – “I would. Wouldn’t you?” Will – “As she’s my mum, no.” Jay – “If she wasn’t your mum?”
And later on: “She’s so sexy she could be a prostitute.”
And later on: Jay – “Been fingering your mum?” Will – “No, I wasn’t”.
• The parents were perfectly ordinary – well, apart from the gay dad – and didn’t steal the scenes like they do in Skins. It also differs from Skins in that the kids aren’t all grown up, morbid and introspective; they’re silly, immature and fun. If there’s one similarity with Skins, it’s that Will is a bit like outsider Sid.
• The quiz machine scenes in which help becomes a hindrance. Both scenes saw the boys insisting “It’s definitely Lee Sharpe”. It wasn’t. It was Giggsy first time round, then Roy Keane.
• The climax when Will was refused service in the pub and then pointed out that every other customer was underage – “His mum even still buys his trousers,” “Look at that bum fluff – 16”, “Look at that bra – it’s padded” – and, at one stroke, alienated the whole school. Which was good. He’s got to stay a loser for the series to continue to be so good.
What was bad about it?
• Yes, of course the actors looked too old to be 16. Indeed, the Stephen Manganish Simon Bird as Will could pass for a man in his late 20s. Joe Thomas as Simon did look about 18; James Buckley as Jay looks 23; and Blake Harrison as Will looks 19. But they didn’t act their age so it wasn’t a huge problem.
• It sometimes strayed a little too close to Kevin and Perry territory, as in the montage when the boys were being horrible to their parents until they made their requests to “borrow” £20.
• The we’-re-in-the-wrong-pub cockup was a little obvious.
• The school psycho was a bit of a disappointment. Grange Hill legendary bullyboy Gripper Stebson would ‘ave ‘im, no problem.
• Mr Gilbert (Greg Davies), the head of the sixth form, is never as fearsome as Grange Hill’s legendary bastard Mr Bronson.