“Interesting” (season 1, episode 5; originally aired 12/7/1982)
In which things are no longer boring…
In “Boring,” the third episode of The Young Ones, one of the reprehensible denizens of The House—namely self-styled lothario Mike—comes the closest as any of the housemates have to connecting with a real, live woman. Okay, so that woman is Vyvyan’s mom. But still. Up to that point in the series, barring a couple of minor exceptions, the show seems to be strictly about the lads. One of The Young Ones’ writers, though, is a woman: Lise Mayer, who forms a third of the creative triumvirate alongside Ben Elton and Rik “Rick the People’s Poet” Mayall. The Young Ones never purported to any kind of examination of gender theory—or any theory, or even of the possibility that words like “theory” even exist. And certainly there was no such thing as the Bechdel test in 1982. But The Young Ones staggers along a fine line between lampooning loutish behavior and celebrating it, a gray area that’s cleared up, and then some, in “Interesting.”
As if in answer to “Boring”’s co-ed near-miss, “Interesting”—the show’s fifth episode—throws the boys into a pressure cooker with women. Then stirs. With a tampon. The episode’s most indelible scene is also one of the series’ best. The boys, you see, are throwing a party. Unaccustomed to such social niceties—not to mention the fact that you probably shouldn’t be so nervous in your own home—Rick dances to The Human League so horribly, he could give lessons to Elaine Benes. His anxiety mounts in a squirm-inducing crescendo.
The problem, you see, isn’t strangers in his house; there have been strangers there before, and it never curbs his noxious narcissism. No, what’s dented Rick’s shabby armor are the women who have come to the party. When he sits down, picks up one of their purses, and fishes out a tampon, “Interesting” has already suddenly more interesting than it has to date. Sex has not factored into the show whatsoever until now, aside from Mike tossing a few pairs of panties on his bed in an attempt to look experienced.
It doesn’t end there. Excruciatingly, Rick begins to play with the tampon. He unwraps it. He calls it a telescope. Then he calls it a mouse—any kind of rodent is going to be bad here—and dunks it into the cup of the woman sitting next to him. By its “tail.” Mayall’s mastery of timing, physical comedy, and schadenfreude-fueled tension has already been established in the show, but here it’s taken to a new dimension. The prepubescent tittering of these clearly fully-grown men has awoken and become self-aware—even if that awareness eludes these man-boys themselves. The deeper Rick sinks into witless humiliation, the more he feels strangely sympathetic.
Gender and sexuality permeate “Interesting,” and not in a positive way. The Christian missionary who comes to the door is a woman; Mike tries to coax her upstairs to his room. Vyvyan does push-ups (sorry, press-ups, must stick with vernacular) in the midst of the party, and when Rick asks Vyvyan what he’s doing, Vyvyan snarls, “Shut up, you girl.” Vyvyan’s press-ups even incited the BBC to threaten a ban on the episode; censors felt his horizontal exercise routine looked too much like a missionary act of a different kind.
The female partygoers in the episode, to their credit, don’t buy any of it. “It smells like a gent’s,” says one as she walks into The House. “A gent’s what?” says her friend. As with the show’s best episode to date, “Boring,” the gang’s oddly hermetic existence is being pushed and pulled in different ways, and when they come into contact with the real world—and the real people in it—there’s friction. That friction is the potential energy for great comedy, and here The Young Ones is bursting with it. Misogynist slobs though they may be, Rick and crew are poised perfectly between being portrayed a utter douches and caricatures of utter douches. That’s a hard chemistry to nail, but here, it’s dead on.
As Mayer says in her interview in the 1999 documentary A History Of Alternative Comedy, “The characters in The Young Ones were based on real people we’d known as students. It was quite schoolboy humor in a lot of ways.” She didn’t write the entirety of “Interesting,” of course, and dismissing the crudeness of “Interesting” as “schoolboy humor” isn’t an excuse. Luckily, the episode doesn’t need or ask for one. Five episodes in, every hallmark of The Young Ones are firing on all cylinders—absurdity, anarchy, satire, jarring tangents, and that ineluctable spark of gutter-level magic realism—and that swagger has given the show enough space to maneuver, even around trickier topics. Up to and including the proper use of, um, telescopes.
Musical Guest Report: The Young Ones’ first musical guest featuring a woman-fronted band—is there a pattern developing here?—is Rip Rig + Panic. The funky, brass-splashed post-punk group brings a different vibe to the show than previous guests like Madness, a gang of guys who couldn’t be more, well, guy-like. Singer Andrea Oliver bops smoothly over the band’s limber, rubbery Afropop-accented post-punk (two of its members previously served in the legendary post-punk band The Pop Group), although there’s a conspicuous absence: co-lead singer Neneh Cherry, who shared vocal duties with Oliver before going solo, a move that resulted in her Cherry’s 1988 mega-hit, “Buffalo Stance.” The title of Rip Rig + Panic’s song is “You’re My Kind Of Climate”—the group is known for its long, ludicrous song titles. Case in point: On its 1982 album I Am Cold, there’s a track called “Another Tampon Up The Arse Of Humanity.” (Sorry, Rick, you poor bastard. Couldn’t resist.)
- “Okay, pop music, let’s go!” Meet Rick, born-again poptimist.
- “I thought the vacuum cleaner looked a bit on the tentative side […] You can’t get any cleaner than that!” Meet Vyvyan, born-again hygienist.
- “It’s a hippie, isn’t it? Tell it to get out.”
- Mike is dressed as Adam Ant. Then he cracks an ant joke. Maybe I like Mike more than I thought I did.
- The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse bit feels so much like a punk-understudy version of Monty Python, it hurts. In the best way possible.
- “I’ve got The Brothers Karamazov tattooed down me spine.”
- Alexei Sayle pops up for his Balowski cameo—this time Tommy—and graciously gives the boys a hearty piss in their garden (thankfully off screen.) Which reminds me: Who wants to start a band called The Balowskis? Ramones songs played by four Balowski lookalikes, done in the style of Radical Posture. We’ll make millions.
- The House Speaks: After using the replica of The Thinker as its mouthpiece back in “Oil,” my favorite unnamed, unrecognized, theoretically sentient Young Ones character—The House—gets vocal again: first as a light socket, then as a bannister, and finally as a chimney brush. And what does The House, through the chimney brush, say? “You can’t treat me like this! I’m a well respected fictional character!” I rest my case. (’Til next week, anyway.)