jAck’s mother, Peggy, is busy in her college housing, replicating her bedroom at home as best she can. She had the idea The Paul O’Grady Show about rehoming animals from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. This is Jack’s second attempt at student life and they hope that this time he will manage to stay the course.
jack rookeThe new six-part comedy from Big Boys (Channel 4)based on his autobiography stage showscenters on, yes, a character named Jack (Derry Girls’ Dylan Llewellyn), who in his teens faces a devastating loss. “It sucks,” says the narrator, voiced by Rooke, “when he’s 57 and he’s your dad and he’s the only one.” The opening minutes of the first episode are a collage of those surreal first days of mourning. The strange thoughts, the lasagnas and clichés offered by friendly people who don’t really know what to say, comforting TV and comforting eating. Jack and Peggy (Camille Coduri, whose tearful breath at one point almost undoes me) see each other through. “We stuck together during Dad’s illness as Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. But actually we were sad. Like Eamonn and Ruth.
Then it’s time for Jack to go to college. It coincides with the first anniversary of his father’s death and, away from the accessories he had gathered around him, he becomes so depressed that he has to return home.
It’s a montage that, in keeping with the show’s caring and tender tone, takes its time to introduce viewers to the shy, closeted Jack and fill his grieving but loving world. It’s warm and fun, but with a brooding hangover that fades as the episode and series progress, but never quite goes away.
Jack tries again at Brent University the following year. The meat of the series is about him, cowering, nervous and nerdy, establishing himself, coming out of the closet and making friends, particularly with Danny (jon pointing), a lairy lads boy who accepts Jack, but is eager to see him maximize the social and sexual opportunities offered by freshman week and beyond, as Danny himself intends to do. Danny, 25, is a mature student, and it’s unclear if his late start has anything to do with the antidepressants he covertly takes.
The growing friendship between the two young men, in a genre and a world where these things are rarely put on display or become part of the cultural narrative, is genuinely uplifting. “Beers?” Danny says, pleased, as his roommate walks in with cans. “No, ravioli,” says Jack. They keep going. Danny assumes from Jack’s Eric Cantona poster that he is a football fanatic. “I really only know him as an actor,” says Jack, adding in a voiceover for the audience that Eric “gets nervous in You and the Night. He is very artistic.” They keep going.
Other friends and characters accumulate. Katy Wix does a tremendous turn as the fun-loving, hard-working Jules, a thirty-something student union representative for whom college was, is and will be, as long as she can hang on to it, the time of her life. . Among the students proper is hot girl Mad Debs (Rhiannon Clements), who burns out brilliantly but briefly. Corinne (Izuka Hoyle) is there to work, but she may yet come to realize that there’s more to college than lectures, and some of that may involve Danny. Rounding out the gang, or maybe she’s more like a mama duck leading a litter of misfit ducklings into the water, is confident, world-savvy Yemi (Olisa Odele) who’s too cool for school, but not too cool to help the restless. rookies
Although softer and less frenetic, the Big Boys’ combination of openness, heart and wit, and the seriousness with which it treats young people and the problems they face, evokes the powerful Sex education. At the same time, Rooke makes him completely hers, and one that can pierce your heart when you least expect it (“Proud always, dad,” his father signs at the end of a letter that has so far been played to laughs). It still feels rare and precious to be in the company of characters on a show (especially young male characters) who get along, are funny without endless sarcasm, and are meant to build each other up rather than destroy each other. More power to your elbows, even if much of it will still be spent masturbating. Some things do not change.