The Young Ones and the Fifth Housemate

The Young Ones aired from 1982-1985 on the BBC. If you watched MTV in the US in 1986, when MTV showed music videos, The Young Ones was paired with the alternative music show "120 Minutes." Ironically, The Young Ones was the first non-video-related series on MTV. Maybe "video killed the video star" is the new version of The Buggles, "Video Killed the Radio Star," the first video aired on MTV. That's not the point of this post.

The point is that The Young Ones was a brilliant, surrealist situation comedy of Thatcher's conservative proto-fascist Britain, a working-class, leftist, punk analysis of empire's blowback, a necessary comedic re-injection in today's identity-debasing satirical cynicism. Engaging issues of racism and police brutality, the economic violence of Thatcher's austerity politics, unemployment, class stratification, and the absurdity of the monarchy, The Young Ones remains urgently relevant and irreverently direct. The absurd acerbic analysis of scripted alternative improv.

A punk medical student, Vyvyan Basterd; an anarchist sociologist nerd, Rick; a hippie studying peace, Neil Wheedon Watkins Pye; and a smooth operator, business-type Mike; four people who couldn't be more dissimilar, are housemates and students at Scumbag College, London. The episodes focus on their lives and that of the landlord family, the Balowski's.

As Evan Smith wrote in The Conversation on the occasion of Rik Mayall's (who played Rick) death, "The Young Ones…was a show made by those alienated by Thatcherism; a group of young and left-leaning comedians, led by Mayall, Adrian Edmondson [Vyvyan], Ben Elton, and Alexei Sayle [the Balowski family]. It threatened the middle class and suburban status quo that dominated British comedy in the 1970s, and so had enormous appeal to the British youth."

"The Young Ones offered the youth of 1980s Britain laughs in the face of severe changes in British society, brought on by the neo-liberalism of the Thatcher government. It struck a chord with many and the show has been a cult hit ever since. Mayall's portrayal of Rick, the left-wing "right on" student, has become an enduring symbol of youth in Thatcherite Britain. It is recognisable in contemporary British history as an icon of the post-punk culture that challenged the status quo in all sections of cultural world."

This BBC post insists that "it was the style and the characterization of The Young Ones, rather than its stories, which was entirely new. Never before had violence of such degree, squalor, physical foulness, blood, sex and death, all been used as such a regular part of a flagship comedy programme."

You can watch the first episode here. Each featured a live musical performance.

Check out David Pescovitz on "handmade action figures of The Young Ones."

Oh, the fifth roommate. According to an email from Geoff Posner, one of the three directors of The Young Ones, there were five roommates.

"Paul Jackson [director] and I thought it would be fun to have some ghostly figure in the background of some scenes that was never explained or talked about. Hair all over the face so you shouldn't be able to decipher gender, either. The fact that we forgot to do it consistently through the series shows what a bunch of amateurs we were in them days."