Big Boys on Channel 4 review: The laughs and lows of a closeted teen’s coming of age

·2-min read
 (Channel 4)
(Channel 4)

There is much to enjoy in this heart-warming portrayal of the laughs and lows of a closeted teen coming of age.

The plot, based on comedian Jack Rooke’s live shows Good Grief, Happy Hour and Love Letters, is nothing too far out of the ordinary, but a few added layers make sure there are surprises to keep it compelling.

Protagonist Jack, played by Dylan Llewellyn, the wee English fella in Derry Girls, is an introvert struggling to come to terms with being gay, and is coping with the recent death of his father. Things kick off when he becomes the first in his family to go to university – which he does 30 minutes down the road from his home in Watford, at Brent University – where he meets the laddy but very lovely Danny (Jon Pointing from Plebs).

Get over the stale uni gags (getting caught masturbating, and the like) and there are honest, amusing moments true to life in higher education today. Scenes that have been played out to the death, like first nights in the Student Union and heading to the freshers’ fair, are improved with the odd queer joke (blow job problems here, LGBTQIA+ society stand gags there) and the unlikely friendship between the two leads, who are straightforward representations of the opposite ends of masculinity, means even bad jokes like “LGBTYMCA” can still prompt a giggle.

 (Channel 4/Christopher Harris)
(Channel 4/Christopher Harris)

Rooke himself narrates, which hams up the series’ semi-autobiographical nature, and helps you get invested. He comes out with believable 19-year old-lines – “who cares if my shirt’s River Island, they do some quite nice stuff” – but his narration is most effective when used to tackle grief, which is done excellently with Rooke’s own brand of wry humour.

Doctor Who’s Camille Coduri makes for a slightly too caricatured mother-in-mourning to Jack, and is partial to cringe-worthy sexual innuendos, while Izuka Hoyle makes a believable, feminism-first student who finds herself in an unlikely fling.

Running under cheaper gags is a very real through line which looks at the mental health struggles of young men growing up today. Though manifesting differently for the lad’s lads or for the wallflowers who would rather bury their homosexuality, Big Boys makes no mistake: the problems persist for both.

Jack and Danny’s common bond on this front leaves you wanting more. So too does the wonder of how far that relationship can grow. Then there are the all-out, feel good scenes, like watching their first visit to a gay club in London. As you could guess, if you still remember yours, these rarely go to plan, and always end in a great story to re-tell.

Big Boys is on Channel 4 on Thursdays and is streaming on All4

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