The first series of Big Boys (Channel 4) ended so perfectly that I feared series two would be an anticlimax. Luckily, that hasn’t turned out to be the case. It remains one of the most joyous, heartfelt shows out there.
Now, if you’re going to delve into it for the first time, I warn you that there’s lots of sex talk. Some of it is very rude. But there’s an underlying sweetness to this coming-of-age tale about a shy boy who heads off to university after coming out as gay. There is none of the dead-behind-the-eyes hedonism of a show such as Euphoria, which deals with the same age group and considers itself achingly cool. Big Boys is uncool in all the best ways.
It is based on the experiences of writer Jack Rooke, who also acts as the narrator. Jack (Dylan Llewellyn) is grieving the death of his father, but has the support of his lovely family – mother, grandmother and cousin Shannon – and the close friends he makes at Brent University (“138 out of 139 for student satisfaction”).
Jack is the endearing centre of Big Boys, but the performance that raises this show to dramatic heights is provided by Jon Pointing as Danny, Jack’s seemingly happy-go-lucky housemate who is battling depression beneath his laddish exterior. Pointing deserves all the awards going for the way he can switch in a second from comedy to pathos.
There are comic turns from supporting players that will make you laugh out loud. Derry Girls actress Louisa Harland makes a cameo as a manic midwife, and there’s a wickedly accurate send-up of life in a lads’ mag office, where two of the students go for work experience. But there are also serious moments that will reduce you to tears (well, they reduced me to tears anyway), in flashbacks to the death of Jack’s father and the illness of Danny’s grandmother.
One theme of Big Boys is that you can create your own family. On the surface, Jack and his friends have nothing in common – he is timid, anxious and oddly obsessed with Alison Hammond; the group includes a fiercely bright feminist and Brent University’s most flamboyant gay man. Yet they’re always there for one another.
The show also illustrates the importance of parenting. Danny’s dad shows up in this series, played by Marc Warren, and he’s an abject failure as a parent. But Jack’s mum (Camille Coduri) has so much love to give that she becomes a surrogate mother to Danny. Above all else, it’s a show filled with kindness.