Over the years Channel 4 and their youth branch E4 have built a reputation on strong young adult comedy, from the likes of Fresh Meat and The Inbetweeners to Misfits and Drifters – and for the most part, new series Gap Year shows that they haven’t lost their touch.
As you’d guess from the title, Gap Year follows a group of students (and one or two weird adults) as they travel around Asia, getting into the usual sort of scrapes – trouble with locals, language barriers, food poisoning, fights with their travelling companions – familiar to anyone who’s spent time backpacking with friends.
Anders Hayward plays Dylan, the hopeless romantic intent on tracking down his horrible ex (Rachel Redford), Ade Oyefuso is his class clown friend-from-home looking for a good time, while Brittney Wilson and Alice Lee play a pair of US students (one free-spirited, one uptight) along for the faintly nightmarish ride.
So far, so familiar. But there are a few things that elevate this series slightly above the cliché. First off there’s the cast, which includes veteran comedians like Tim Key (playing a man who tags along with the younger travellers) and Aisling Bea (who dips in and out as a woman on a terrible honeymoon) alongside the newer faces mentioned above.
Key and Bea perform as well as you’d expect (they’re very funny), but the inclusion of lesser-known stars adds an air of authenticity to proceedings, with most of the young cast roughly the same age as the characters they’re portraying. E4 has always had a knack for plucking great young actors out of obscurity – just look at this year’s Oscar nominations featuring Skins’ Dev Patel and Misfits’ Ruth Negga – and Gap Year continues the tradition nicely.
Authenticity also comes to the series by other means – namely, the fact that the show actually filmed in Asia for four months, with the opening episode featuring some gorgeous scenes shot on the Great Wall of China itself and future episodes travelling to Thailand and Malaysia. Filming in China was reportedly tricky and production was almost shut down by local authorities once or twice, but those difficulties end up paying dividends onscreen as our heroes walk through the jungles of Malaysia and the smog-choked streets of Beijing.
In the end, though, all the good casting and location work in the Eastern hemisphere wouldn’t matter if there wasn’t a good script to work with, so credit to Tom Basden (previously a writer of Plebs, Fresh Meat and Peep Show among other series, as well as an actor in W1A and the David Brent movie) for creating a fitfully funny and honest tale apparently drawn from the real-life experiences of his own and others (Key is among some of the other writers involved).
Appropriately given Basden’s writing background, fans of Fresh Meat will find a lot to love here, as it’s a similar mix of sentiment, excess and relatable humour, albeit in quite a different setting and with even more outlandish action week to week.
Of course, it’s not a perfect creation – one or two jokes fall flat, for a first episode it’s disappointedly light on belly laughs and the younger leads can sometimes come off as earnest to the point of irritation – but overall it’s a fun watch that I’m keen to see more of as the series goes on.