Skip to content

JAck’s mom, Peggy, is busy in her university accommodation, replicating her room at home as best she can. She got the idea for Paul O’Grady’s animal repatriation program from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. It’s Jack’s second attempt at student life and they hope he can stay the course this time.

Jack Rooke’s new six-part comedy Big Boys (Channel 4), based on his autobiographical shows, centers on – yes – a character called Jack (Derry Girls’ Dylan Llewellyn), who as a teenager deals with loss devastating. “It’s shit,” the narrator says, 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 early days of grief. The weird thoughts, the lasagna and platitudes offered by nice people who don’t quite know what to say, the comforting TV and the comforting meal. Jack and Peggy (Camille Coduri, whose tearful breath almost undid me at one point) see each other through. “We had stayed together during dad’s illness, like Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. But, really, we were sad. Like Eamonn and Ruth.

It is then time for Jack to go to university. This coincides with the first anniversary of his father’s death, and away from the props he had gathered around him, he becomes so depressed he has to go home.

It’s a setup that, in keeping with the show’s cautious and tender tone, takes its time to introduce shy and withdrawn Jack to viewers and fill his grieving but loving world. It’s warm and funny, but with a wistful undertow that fades as the episode – and the series – goes on, but never quite goes away.

Jack tries again at Brent University the following year. The meat of the show is about him – bullied, nervous and nerdy – settling down, hanging out and making friends, especially with Danny (Jon Pointing), a dairy boy who accepts Jack, but is keen to see him maximize the social and sexual opportunities afforded by freshman week and beyond, as Danny himself intends. Danny, 25, is a mature student, and it’s unclear if his delayed departure has anything to do with the antidepressants he’s secretly taking.

The growing friendship between the two young men, in a genre and a world where such things are rarely presented or integrated into the cultural narrative, is truly uplifting. “Beers?” Danny says, delighted, as his roommate arrives with cans. “No, ravioli,” Jack said. They advance. Danny assumes from Eric Cantona’s poster of Jack that he is a football fan. “I only really know him as an actor,” Jack says, adding in a voiceover for the audience that Eric “brings out his penis in You and the Night. It’s very artistic.” They move on.

Other friends and characters accumulate. Katy Wix gives a terrific turn as Jules, a fun-loving 30-something who likes to have fun. Among the students proper is hot babe Mad Debs (Rhiannon Clements), who burns bright but briefly. Corinne (Izuka Hoyle) is there to work, but may still realize that there is more to college than lectures, and some of them may involve Danny. Rounding out the gang — or maybe he’s more like a mother duck leading a brood of misfit ducklings to the water — is confident, world-wise Yemi (Olisa Odele), who’s too cool for the school, but not too cool to help restless freshmen.

Although it’s softer and less frantic, Big Boys’ combination of candor, heart and wit – and the seriousness with which it treats young people and the issues they face – evokes powerful Sex Education. At the same time, Rooke makes it a thing of its own — and one that can pierce your heart when you least expect it (“Always proud, Dad,” his dad signs at the end of a letter that so far has been played for laughs). It’s always a rare and valuable thing to be in the company of characters on a show (especially young male characters) who get along, who are funny without endless snark, and who are intent on building up rather than tearing up. More power at their elbows, although it will still be largely spent on masturbating. Some things don’t change.

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.