Big Boys review: Is Derry Girl star's new comedy worth your time?
Comedian Jack Rooke turns tragedy into a thing of beauty.
Note: only 2 episodes were made available for review.
The story is adapted from his stand-up material and focuses on the latter half of his teenage years, which dealt him a cruel hand in the form of his dad Laurie's unexpected death at the age of 56.
It's doubly devastating because he's "the only one who knew the Sky movies pin".
Dylan Llewellyn (James in Derry Girls) stars as teenage Jack and, while there are traces of "the wee English fella" in his performance, he does well to differentiate the two, with the heightened, often manic energy of Lisa McGee's comedy replaced by something much more understated here.
For Big Boys to work, the audience has to be in Jack's corner, mourning his mega fails – a snog in the toilets goes horribly, horribly wrong – and celebrating his wins, and baby-faced Llewellyn has you punching the air on the rare occasions he does get it right.
After deferring his spot at university – Jack was physically incapable of dragging himself out of bed following his dad's death – he packs up his belongings and heads off into the wilds of higher education.
It's there that he meets the other titular big boy, 25-year-old Danny, who he winds up rooming with in a former rundown classroom on campus following a gas leak in halls.
On the face of it, Danny is a LAD (all caps). He's confident, only ever wears polo shirts and one of those black Harrington jackets with the tartan lining, listens to Kasabian, drinks Red Stripe, and treats every occasion as an opportunity to pull.
"Jack and Danny, that's Cockney rhyming slang for fanny," he says during his first exchange with Jack.
But Danny is also compassionate and well-intentioned and a really good listener, subverting the impression that he initially gives off.
The pair aren't each other's type on paper but they're exactly what the other needs and quickly establish a solid friendship that's for life, not just for freshers – they remain best friends to this day.
In quieter moments, we also see Danny's mask drop and his bravado fall away. He's on medication for depression – endearingly, he has an alarm set on his phone to remind him to take his pills.
His vulnerability clashes with the image that he has cultivated for himself, a persona typically held aloft as the masculine ideal by society. But like Jack, when he chooses to open up, everything feels that little bit lighter.
Gorgeous, gorgeous boys are in touch with their emotions.
It's during his first year at university that Jack starts exploring his sexuality after years of keeping his true identity concealed. He's never been in any doubt about who he is but after catching his mum wince when Todd Grimshaw kissed Nick Tilsley in Coronation Street, he postponed that chat indefinitely.
Spurred on by Danny, Jack joins the LGBTQIA society, which leads him to his first gay club night and gives him something he's never really had: his very own "crowd".
Watching Jack openly embrace his queerness while surrounded by people who don't question it or force him to suppress his authentic self is both life-affirming and cements the beauty of queer love and expression.
Alongside Jack and Danny, there's student union head Jules, with Stath Lets Flats' Katy Wix doing some of her very finest cringe comedy, Olisa Odele (Chewing Gum) as fashion student Yemi, who becomes Jack's unofficial – and often reluctant – LGBTQ+ mentor, and Izuka Hoyle (The Outpost) as the academically driven Corinne, who engages in flirty but furious repartee with Danny.
There's also Camille Coduri (Doctor Who) as Jack's sweet as pie mum Peggy, who has discovered a newfound passion for DIY following the death of her husband, but can't use a hammer to save her life and would be more at home on The Goes Wrong Show.
Following on from Derry Girls is no small feat, but Big Boys holds its own. It's warm, chock-full of personality and very funny – the gag deployment is relentless and the tone and humour distinctly British, or "love of huns", as Rooke described it to RadioTimes.com.
It's an ode to friendship and to new beginnings. It's a steaming hot plate of beans on toast after the day from hell.
But it's also about choosing life in the face of grief, with Rooke taking a tragic, destabilising event and turning it into something beautiful and heartfelt.
The past two years have been a deeply challenging time for so many of us, but Big Boys is here to show you that tomorrow's a new day.
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