L to R: (P)Rick, Mikenote the cool person, Neil and Vyvyan.
"What's the difference? There'll be plenty of chicks for these tigers on the road to the promised land. This is it. It's really happening. Who needs qualifications? Who cares about Thatcher and unemployment? We can do just exactly whatever we want to do. And you know why? Because we're Young Ones. Bachelor boys. Crazy, mad, wild-eyed, big-bottomed anarchists."
A demented British comedy about four impoverished nutcases sharing a squalid student house. Episodes were rambling and unstructured, frequently wandering off to unrelated comedy skits or musical numbers. Surreal and/or incomprehensible jokes were aplenty, frequently making light of the acrimonious political climate of 1980s Britain, and violent slapstick abounded. The action would often and suddenly shift into animation, claymation or some form of puppetry. Bands often appeared on the show to perform, usually completely at random (as a financial device, as the inclusion of music performances got the show classified as variety instead of light entertainment, thereby earning a higher budget). Numerous episodes ended with everybody dying.So basically, it's La Bohème set in The Eighties. The show lasted two seasons, for a total of 12 episodes. The main characters were:
Vyvyan (Adrian Edmondson): The psychotic but strangely child-like punk who couldn't go an entire episode without destroying something — or, usually, several somethings;
Neil (Nigel Planer): The whining, put-upon and suicidal hippie who acted as the dogsbody for the entire house and is convinced (accurately) that no one likes him and everyone is out to get him;
Mike (Christopher Ryan): The Charmer of the flat; a smooth, flash and mysterious con-artist who tried it on with every girl he came across, still waiting for it to actually work;
The Balowski Family (Alexei Sayle): An entire family all played (on separate occasions) by one man; various Balowskis of varying degrees of sanity appeared, but the most common was the boys' Russian-emigre landlord Jerzei.
The running gag of Sayle playing a Balowski was dropped in the second season as it became harder and harder to write one into an episode. If a one-off character had a large enough number of lines, it was given to Sayle regardless of surname (although this was occasionally lampshaded, as Jerzei appeared twice that season and one of the boys would offhandedly remark "You look a bit like my landlord" to a Sayle character).
Worth a mention as a show which never relied on cliché to any extent; any tropes that popped up were usually subverted and double-subverted within minutes, if not seconds. The entire premise of the series, such as it was, was a particularly odd subversion of the Dysfunctional Family trope. Its spiritual descendant, Bottom — basically Mayall and Edmondson playing even more unpleasant Expies of their Young Ones characters — premiered in 1991.Now has its own Best Episode Crowner.
Absurdly Youthful Mother: Vyvyan has one, whom we also meet in "Boring". The actress, Pauline Melville, is only nine years older than Adrian Edmondson.
Actor Allusion: In the episode University Challenge the challengers from "Footlights College, Oxbridge" are played by Ben Elton, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Emma Thompson. Thompson, Fry and Laurie know each other from their time in the Footlights Club at Cambridge University, and the plotline was inspired by Fry's appearance on the real University Challenge in his student days. "Bambi", whose bias toward Footlights College drives this part of the plot, is played by Griff Rhys Jones, who was also in the Footlights Club. (The real life Bamber Gascoigne was a member in the 1950s too.)
Awesome McCoolname: Mike is in the habit of referring to himself as "Mike the Cool Person". It might actually be his name - Mike Thecoolperson.
Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Oddly enough, this happens between Vyvyan and SPG- despite the violence owner and pet display towards each other, Vyvyan is still devastated when SPG falls asleep on the radiator and dies in "Summer Holiday."
Happens very briefly in "Oil" between Vyvyan and Rick. They're quietly watching TV together, then Rick gets up to go to bed and they wish each other "nighty night" without any of their usual malice and sarcasm.
Ax-Crazy: Vyvyan in Oil and Jerzei in Flood, even contains the line: "Heeeeeere's Jerzei!"note which was a Shout-Out to The Shining, where the line was itself a Shout-Out to The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Vyvyan: It's a potion I've invented where, when the patient drinks it, he turns into a axe-wielding homicidal maniac. It's basically a cure... for not being an axe-wielding homicidal maniac. The potential market's enormous!
Vyvyan: No! No! NO! We're not watching the bloody Good Life! Bloody bloody bloody! I hate it! It's so bloody nice! Felicity "Treacle" Kendal and Richard "Sugar-Flavored-Snot" Briers! What do they do now? Chocolate bloody Button ads, that's what! They're just a couple of reactionary stereotypes, confirming the myth that everyone in Britain is a lovable, middle-class eccentric - and I - HATE - THEM! Mike: That was a highly articulate outburst, Vyvyan. I only hope they're not watching.
This in turn leads Rick to angrily and unexpectedly defend Felicity Kendal's honour.
BFG: Vyvyan finds a howitzer, which he uses to get Rik to admit to being a virgin.
Blackmail: One of Mike's many ongoing, off-camera scams.
Rick: Oh, by the way, Mike: your tutor said to tell you that if you don't turn up again next year, then he and the dean may have to seriously reconsider your grant. Mike: Well, you can tell my tutor I still have the photographs of him and the dean.
Brick Joke: Frequently. Most are called back within ten minutes, but some go almost the entire episode.
Done literally once, as Vyvyan tries to eat the house to prevent the council knocking it down because it's such a craphole. He leans out the window and bites a brick which disintegrates loudly.
Vyvyan: Some of these bricks explode! Brilliant!
British Brevity: A grand total of 12 episodes were made, spanning two seasons.
Mike: You saw the dummy run with the sack of potatoes? Neil: That wasn't a sack of potatoes, Mike, it was a packet of Smashnote A well-known (at the time) brand of instant mashed potato! Mike: Well everyone knows they're better than real potatoes!
Rick: Oh, Vyvyan, what repartee! Sticks and stones may break my bones! Vyvyan: That is the first sensible thing you have said all day. (picks up a loose floorboard and smashes Rick's skull with it)
Calvinball: Vyvyan rewrites some of the Community Chest cards in Monopoly due to his belief that the game is boring. Most of them involve committing acts of violence against Rick.
When Mike, Vyv and Rick play strip poker in "Broke", Mike and Vyv instigate a rule that any player with the letter r in their name is only allowed one card, ensuring Rick loses every hand and must sacrifice a piece of clothing to the fire to keep them warm.
Rick and Vyvyan love to call each other, and everyone else (especially Neil), "BASTARDS!"
Vyv is also partial to "Brilliant!"
Neil's favorite adjective is "heavy", and he often complains that he's "having a really bad time".
"Mike, the cool person..."
Character Celebrity Endorsement: For whatever reason, the DuPont carpet company chose Vyvyan as the spokesman for its mid-'80s carpet-selling competition in the UK. This is the audio promo that was distributed to DuPont salespeople. Lampshaded by the overacting delivery man in "Nasty": "Little squirt, he does one advert and he thinks he's Dustin Hoffman!"note One of Hoffman's first acting gigs having been a car commercial.
Coincidental Broadcast: While the gang is arguing over the young woman who's in their house, the radio warns about a dangerous murderess who has recently escaped. When no one but the woman in question notices, the radio announcer first repeats saying he really has important news, then screams in frustration that he's trying to tell them the girl with Mike is a psychopath, and finally yells that they're throwing the radio at the wrong target when they start using it as a weapon in their fight.
In an episode where the boys are having trouble with a vampire, Mike goes by the vampire lore that vampires only attack virgins. Rick points out that if anyone gets bitten - they've been outed as a virgin.
Two headless ghosts wandered through the lads' apartment having an argument. Both drop their heads, and their bodies grope around for anything spherical (a goldfish bowl, a grapefruit) that they can tuck under their arms. Later, the two reappear arguing about which head the body with the nicer bottom belongs to.
Vyvyan gets his head knocked off by looking out of a train window. His body is directed by his head to pick it up, but the body keeps kicking it along instead.
Crossdresser: Although he is never seen in women's clothes, Rick is obviously a crossdresser. At one point, Neil comes downstairs in a Gingham dress and says that because he couldn't get into his own room to get dressed, he went into Rick's room and found a dress. When Rick denies it, Vyvyan points out the nametag says 'Rick'. Also, Rick has several very feminine habits, such as braiding his hair and crossing his legs and reading Cosmopolitan. In addition, when Vyvyan asks Rick if he intends to "burn his bra" when he gets a bit political, he replies "Well, someone's got to."
Mr Liberal: Hang on, you pair of young scruffy tearaways! Don't you realise the way you act is influencing millions of children to talk Cockney and be insubordinate? Pupil: Well, come on Sir, don't be silly, we're the only kids in Britain who never say fu—(CUT)
Early-Installment Weirdness: The pilot takes place in a different student house (their move to the house they would occupy for the rest of the series was necessitated by an airplane falling on it in the episode’s final scene). The opening credits fade directly into the first scene, with a reverse Diegetic Switch employed — Rick is listening to the theme song on the radio. Rick and Vyvyan have shorter hair, and Vyv’s is more obviously dyed, which is probably why the fandom is divided over whether or not red is his natural color. And the musical act, Nine Below Zero, performs live instead of lip-synching.
Eat the Dog: Vyvyan, not wanting the bother of caring for the plants and goldfish, had Neil cook them on the lads' first day in the house.
The Eeyore: Neil. Although having to live with Rick and Vyvyan probably caused it.
Television License Inspector: Aha! The old trick, eh? Eat the telly before I have a chance to nick you! Vyvyan (electric cord hanging from mouth): It's a toaster!
Mike has at least one brief moment too. During the first episode, while trying to seduce the woman from the council, he eats the cube he was chalking a pool cue with. Either that, or he was using a marshmallow because he didn't have a real chalk-cube.
Jerzei Balowski: I'm not really foreign, you know. I just do it to appear more sophisticated! I mean, nobody'd buy Evian water if it was called "Blackburn Water", would they? Nobody'd wear Kicker boots if they were made in Scunthorpe! ABBA? ABBA, Swedish? I knew them when they were a Lancashire clog-dancing trio! Arthur, Betty, Boris and Angela! Solzhenitsyn, Solzhenitsyn — a former pipe-fitter welder from Harrogate!
Made funnier by the fact that the fake persona he assumed was one of a foreigner in denial about being foreign. Plus that the rest of the Balowskis have normal English accents.
Freeze-Frame Bonus: The random images cut into every episode of the second series, including a dripping tap, a jumping frog, the end screen from Carry On Cowboy, a clay pot on a potter's wheel, and various others.
Gargle Blaster: Vyvyan mixes his drinks with paintstripper and bleach, resulting in a very strong hangover (which is cured by him detonating a stick of dynamite on his head).
Giant Food: One of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse once dropped a gigantic sandwich on the lads' house, so they turned it into a sofa.
Giftedly Bad: The work of the "People's Poet" is howlingly wretched. Even more so when he recites it:
Rick:Pollution! All awound! Sometimes ... up! Sometimes ... down! But always ... awound! Pollution, are you coming to my town ... or am I coming to yours? HA! We're on different buses, pollution ... but we're both using petwol!(turns away from the bathroom mirror, looks into the camera) BOMBS!!
What do you think you're doing, PIG?...Do you really give a FIG, PIG?...And what's your favourite sort of GIG, PIG?...Barry Manilow? Or the Black And White Minstrel Show?...
Gone Horribly Right: Mike, after watching Neil break several plates in an attempt to nail them to the table, actually succeeds in doing so. And also drives the nails through his own legs and chair in the process.
Hideous Hangover Cure: Subverted by having Vivyan cure his extreme paint-stripper an bleach hangover by detonating a stick of dynamite attached to his head...
Hitler Ate Sugar: Parodied in "Bambi", where Rick accuses Vyvyan of being sexist for claiming a woman has big tits, and that "evwybody has them!". Vyvyan responds by saying he doesn't have breasts - "yes, and nor did Adolf Hitler!".
Hot-Blooded: Rick and Vyv, though Mike and the Balowski family sometimes qualify.
Hot Paint Job: Vyvyan's car, a yellow Ford Anglia, is (ironically) decorated with red flames.
How We Got Here: "Nasty" opens with the lads bearing a casket to the local cemetery, and then flashes back to show the events that led up to that point.
Humanity Ensues: Apparently, Bamber "Bambi" Gascoigne and Bambi are one and the same, having turned human since Mike last saw him.
Neil: If I had a penny for every time I had to answer the door, I'd have £5.63.
I Cannot Self-Terminate: Neil botches his every attempt at suicide (gallows rope too long, can't hammer in the last nail to crucify himself), so eventually resorts to putting his head in the path of a worker's sledgehammer, remarking "You'll be doing me a favor." The demolition-worker just lifts the hammer higher to strike the wall above Neil's head.
Large Ham: Alexei Sayle as various members of the Balowski family.
Loophole Abuse: A strange... version with regards to the treatment of their newly acquired VCR:
Mike: Maybe you shouldn't have poured all of that washing-up liquid into it. Vyvyan: It says here "ensure machine is clean and free from dust"! Mike: Yeah, but it don't say "ensure machine is full of washing-up liquid"! Vyvyan: Yeah, but it doesn't say "ensure machine isn't full of washing-up liquid"! Mike: Well, it wouldn't would it? I mean, it doesn't say "ensure you don't chop up your video machine with an axe, put all the bits in a plastic bag and bung them down the lavatory!" Vyvyan: Doesn't it? Well maybe that's where we're going wrong!
A Man Is Not a Virgin: Subverted for the sake of lampshading when Sayle's South African vampire/driving instructor wants to kill them in "Nasty" (and vampires generally only go after female virgins, so that's another lampshade hung) — and quickly forgotten about afterward. It turns out they are ALL virgins.
Parodied with "Mike Thecoolperson". While Mike speaks of himself as "Mike the cool person", there is no indication in the series that that is his last name. There is however is a book of the series, Bachelor Boys in which they feature official paperwork about the characters. In the book at least Mike's surname is Thecoolperson. The book's canonicity has been debated.
In the end it turns out that Vyvyan was never actually pregnant — he was just suffering from a particularly bad case of trapped wind, which comes out in the form of the world's longest, loudest fart. Said fart is then ignited by Mike's cigar, and the resulting blast all but destroys the house.
There's also Vyvyan's friends from the party who are wondering how one of them isn't pregnant after kissing a girl. And like Vyv himself, these friends are med students.
Rick: Oh no! The whole house has been surrounded by angry medieval peasants! Mike: They think we're witches and they're gonna burn us! Vyvyan: We're completely trapped! The outlook is bleak! Neil: Oh, what are we gonna do, what are we gonna do? Vyvyan:...Oh, who cares. (Episode ends.)
(the front door explodes noisily) Rick:(groans) Oh, no, the front door's exploded! Vyvyan! Mike: Vyvyan! Vyvyan: "Vyvyan, Vyvyan, Vyvyan!" Honestly! Whenever anything explodes in this house, it's always "Blame Vyvyan"!! Mike: Well, who do you suggest we blame? Rick: Thatcher! Vyvyan: No! Blame whoever rang the front doorbell, 'cuz they obviously triggered off the bomb I set up!
No Ending: Inevitably for a comedy where most episodes feature the absurdity piling higher and higher, rather than trying for an anticlimactic resolution, they sometimes simply end with no attempt at a resolution. For example, "Time" ends with the lads sitting down to a game of cards as their house is invaded by a horde of mediaeval peasants, while "Sick" ends with the house set moving aside to reveal the set of a glitzy variety show hosted by Neil's parents and Brian, the Bolowski of the Week.
No Fourth Wall: Characters will often point out they're on a set or address the audience directly. In the first episode, Alexei Sayle (Jerzei Balowski) breaks character as soon as the the others leave the scene to deliver a rant similar in style to Sayle's standup routines, then goes "oo, back to the acting" when the others return to the scene.
No Indoor Voice: Rik and Vyvyan are pretty much always shouting at the top of their voices. Usually at each other.
Noodle Implements: What Vyvyan needs to dispatch the Bomb are the drill, the hedge trimmers, and some ordinary household bleach.
One-Note Cook: Neil does the cooking for the household; unfortunately, he only seems to be able to cook lentils.
Only Sane Man: Mike, but barely. However, all the characters have their moments, usually when breaking the fourth wall.
Overly Long Name: Alexei Yuri Gagarin Siege of Stalingrad Glorious Five-Year Plan Sputnik Pravda Moscow Dynamo Back Four Balowski.
Alexei: Me Dad was a bit of a Communist, know what I mean?
Which is of course more or less Truth in Television for why a self-proclaimed fat bastard from Liverpool has a name like Alexei in the first place.
Parachute in a Tree: After moving into a new house, Mike discovers Buddy Holly, still alive and guitar in hand, hanging from a parachute in one of the rooms. He has apparently been there since 1959 (23 years at that point). Mike tries to capitalise on the songs Buddy has thought up since then only for the parachute to give way and Holly fall screaming through the floor.
The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: The protagonists are university students. Good luck trying to catch them going to classes — although Rick studies occasionally, and all the cast sit their exams with Neil coming top.
Lampshaded in "Boring", when Neil's suggestion that the guys should try alleviating their boredom by actually going in to university is greeted with aghast shock from the others.
Mike: Now, Neil. Now, listen. Things may be bad, but there's no need to panic.
One on occasion, Rick actually does plan to attend a lecture, only to be informed that it's Saturday.
On other occasions, it is implied that Mike doesn't study because he's either bribing or blackmailing his tutor (or possibly both).
An actual pirate appears in a side-skit, who failed so badly at piracy that he's resorted to operate a radio program from his ship.
Prison Rape: A television liscensing inspector arrives at the house, Rick panics and immediately starts shrieking "I can't go to pwison! I'm too pwetty! I'll get waped!"
Psycho Serum: Vyvyan's potion designed to turn a person into an axe wielding maniac.
Vyvyan: It's basically a cure... for not being an axe wielding homocidal maniac!
Real Men Wear Pink: Suave ladies man Mike is seen wearing a pair of pink pyjamas early in the episode "Bomb".
Rearrange the Song: Most of the time the opening credits used Rik Mayall singing Cliff Richard's 'The Young Ones', but rearranged this on two occasions. 'Nasty' began with a typical horror sting, concluding with a gentle xylophone version of the theme, while 'Time' featured the song rearranged in the style of Dallas's opening theme.
Reduced to Ratburgers: Vyvyan eats a dead rat he finds in the lentil pot. Buddy Holly apparently survived for decades on bugs after getting his parachute tangled in the lads' roof.
Soft Glass: Generally played straight and for laughs, though notably defied in one instance — Vyvyan tries to throw their television out the living room window when a TV licence man visits, only for the glass to remain intact and the television to bounce off harmlessly.
Split Screen: Parodied during the University Challenge sequence in "Bambi". It turns out it's not a split screen, their team is really sitting directly above the opposing team. When losing, Vyvyan kicks through the floor and throws a grenade at the opposing team.note The real University Challenge actually did use split-screen for most of its run.
Standardized Leader: This might be the reason why Mike isn't as popular (or funny) as the other three - he is the "leader" of the house, and is relatively grounded and subtle in his mannerisms. He helps to balance out the craziness of everyone else, and has his own gems occasionally though, as well as driving key "plot" moments and setting up some jokes for the rest of the cast. One could say he gives a little more direction when it's needed, and comes up with all the plans.
Starving Student: Taken to ridiculous extremes. The lads can't actually afford the rent on their shithole of a house, serve one corn flake to each guest at their party and their staple diet appears to be lentils. "Broke" shows them burning everything in the house so as not to freeze to death.
Strawman Political: Rick — although the character is more making fun of university students who become political without really studying up on the subject. Or alternately, a parody of how conservatives see liberals.
Neil: Vyvyan. Can you, like, actually kill yourself with laxative pills? Vyvyan: I don't know, Neil. But I'm sure going to stay and find out!
Doubles as Toilet Humour given the effects of laxatives and the outrageous churning noises that subsequently come from Rick's guts.
Subliminal Seduction: Parodied: at the time there was a great fuss over — and paranoia of — subliminal messages in shows or adverts. Thus, throughout the second season, the show inserted at least one "subliminal message" in each episode: a non-sequitur image flashed up on the screen for five frames.
Swapped Roles: "Bambi" features a brief, surreal segment where the boys rush down the stairs in the morning to reveal the characters/actors have inexplicably swapped roles; Nigel Planer is now Rick, Rik Mayall is Vyvyan, Christopher Ryan is Neil and Adrian Edmondson is Mike. Aside from a lampshade from 'Neil' about how he "doesn't feel himself today", this is never commented on, and they're back to their usual roles the very next scene. Combined with a bit of Stylistic Suck, as the actors aren't much good at playing each others' characters. Edmondson's quip about laundry being Self-Deprecation rather than Mike's usual boastfulness suggests this is deliberate, not just poor acting.
Averted with the chronically depressed Neil, though in many instances, he comes across as more unpleasantly passive-aggressive than simply depressed, and rarely misses a chance to attempt to guilt-trip his housemates.
Unwinnable by Mistake: The tie-in video game (promo here, complete with hilarious voiceover fail) included some bugs the developers missed that made it impossible to finish. Once the game's buyers figured this out and complained, its manufacturer pulled it from the market with only about 10,000 copies sold.
Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Neil becomes one in the episode "Sick" when he manages to trigger a riot in the neighborhood just by sneezing out the window.
Vague Age: Mike can somehow blend in fine with other university students, despite looking like he's been there for ten years at least (Christopher Ryan was 32 when the series premiered). Rick and Vyvyan still suffer from acne, which would logically indicate late teens, and Neil looks slightly older than them. Still, it's all really anyone's guess. Given that Mike is only registered as a student to blackmail a stipend out of the Dean, he probably has been there for ten years or more.
Variety Show: The only reason that musical performances were added in was because the show would qualify for a bigger budget, with the addition that these performances would make the show seem more surreal. In "Flood", a lion tamer appears in place of a band, probably to absolutely satisfy the criteria for a variety show. This turns into a Brick Joke.
Madness were the only band to appear twice. This is because BBC 2 was apparently planning to commission a comedy series starring the band, though it wound up never being produced.
In the pilot, Mike is flipping through the TV Timesnote A British TV listings magazine while a pile of assorted items (including plastic dice, fruit, vegetables, and a dead fish) fall from the magazine onto his lap.
Mike:(looks at the camera and recites the magazine's current advertising slogan) I never knew there was so much in it!
In the last episode, they look out the front their stolen bus, shout "AAGH! CLIFF!" and crash through a billboard poster of Cliff Richard...and over the edge of a cliff.
Weirdness Censor: Parodied in "Boring", in which the lads see, overhear, and/or smell hints that one remarkable thing after another is happening all around them, but are too wrapped up in their boredom and bickering to notice.