big boys is a show that refuses to explain too much. It’s a show that expects its audience to remember the specific issues surrounding Visa in 2010 X factor Candidate Gamu Nhengu. That River Island shirts once served as code for the chronically uninspiring. And that a pet goldfish isn’t named after him This morning host Alison Hammond, but because Hammond is a revered gay icon and an inspirational beacon of positivity who once played Connect 4 with Beyoncé. It’s the secret language sneaked into this bouncy Channel 4 coming-of-age comedy, partly because of the show’s time and location – at a university on the outskirts of London in the autumn of 2013 – but mostly because it’s the vocabulary of being is queer and online in the 21st century.
That’s the genius of comedian and author Jack Rooke. His work, from his stand-up shows to his recent memoirs Cheer the F**k Up, has always crossed themes of grief and insecurity with niche-than-niche pop culture. It’s a bit like eating cotton candy in a therapy session. Mirroring much of Rooke’s earlier material, big boys is semi-autobiographical; The sitcom begins in 2013 with his arrival at the fictional Brent University. Here it is played Derry girls‘ Dylan Llewellyn, with Rooke himself adding a jaunty voiceover. “If you can’t portray yourself as better looking in your own life story, then what’s the point?” he jokes.
Jack is worried and withdrawn when he arrives on campus two years after his father’s death. “I hope you meet a nice girl here,” says his mother, pointing her thumb at the poster of Malala Yousafzi that he has pasted on the wall of his dorm. She is played by Doctor Who‘s Camille Coduri as Walking Square on the Love of Huns Instagram account.
Jack also meets his roommate, the blatantly straight Danny (Jon Pointing). He’s someone who stocks his shelves with bottles of Debenhams Counter aftershave and makes a beeline for the jar of condoms carried by overzealous fraternity representatives. Equally horny and equally fighting – although it’s a little better to suppress it in public – they form a friendship.
big boys borrows its plot tropes and supporting cast – the nerd, the posh girl, the wise gay elder – from a variety of classic collegiate sitcoms, The young and Fresh meat among them. But there’s always been rich comic potential in tales of freshman weeks and disparate young people thrown together and expected to get along. More specifically, being at that awkward point between adolescence and adulthood, where sex and alcohol are no longer vaguely illegal, but actual maturity is still unattainable. Rooke’s perspective adds more flavors to the mix: a gay suburban teenager who unknowingly empties poppers bottles like vodka shots and speaks in ITV Daytime metaphors (“Me and my mother stuck together like Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, but deep inside we were sad – like Eamonn and Ruth”).
big boys has also found a real star in Llewellyn, who continued to shine as the perennial insult magnet James Derry girls, but was rarely asked to do anything more than be English and upset on this show. Here he retains a fish-on-water sweetness but finds a softer register and darker melancholy in it. It takes some actors years to follow up their breakout hit with something just as good. It literally took Llewellyn a week.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/big-boys-review-channel-4-jack-rooke-b2086161.html Big Boys Review: Jack Rooke’s lively comedy will be your next coming-of-age obsession