Peter Foott’s masterpiece, The Young Offenders, was the fastest Irish film to reach the one-million-euro mark at the Irish box office in 2016. The movie was a smash-hit with Irish audiences, winning over the hearts of all its viewers with facetious banter and biting one-liners, coupled with its sporadic Cork colloquialisms. Conor McSweeney was our fifteen-year-old schoolboy protagonist hailing from Cork city. The original movie followed Conor and his best friend Jock on a heart-warming and hilarious adventure on bikes to the coast of Kerry. Their aim? To steal a shipwrecked bag of cocaine worth over seven million euro. It was the perfect compilation of a feel-good film; lots of crude humour to cackle at, an undeniably strong message of unconditional loyalty and friendship, and likeable characters that every single person watching can resonate with.
Fast forward to 2018, and Conor and Jock are back and better than ever, starring in their very own TV show on RTÉ. Let me tell you, this is quality binge TV, but perhaps not in the conventional sense. It lacks the psychological intrigue of “Black Mirror” or high-wire tension of “Riverdale”, but “The Young Offenders” offers something extremely unique that raises it above other high-octane TV shows; its beautiful simplicity. There’s no fancy effects, no all-star cast to distract viewers from the great acting and certainly no alienation. The story is something that, just like the film, will hit close to home for everyone watching in its relatability and familiarity.
Conor (Alex Murphy) and Jock (Chris Walley) are supposed to be studying hard for their Junior Cert, but skilled bike-thief Jock has a particular penchant for landing himself neck-deep in trouble and has an even worse habit of dragging Connor headfirst into it along with him. We see this quite literally in the first episode when the two lads launch themselves from a multi-storey building to escape the clutches of the Gardaí. Incessantly hot on their heels is the tenacious Garda Sergeant Healy (Dominic MacHale,) obsessed with catching Jock for his notorious criminal offences. Masquerading as “Fake Billy,” and sporting a plastic mask resembling the local psychopath Billy Murphy, Jock repeatedly escapes Healey’s clutches. Meanwhile, the show focuses on Conor’s relationship with his young, single mother Mairéad. The show truly kicks off when the young charismatic rogues fall for two girls – daughters of the local secondary school’s principal – and soon chaos ensues.
What is there not to love about this show? It retains every single element of the original movie that made it so special and memorable. Firstly, the typical Irish humour is top-notch. Conor and Jock’s typical schoolboy antics are entertaining and familiar, interjected with witty repartee and some silly slapstick comedy moments. Set in Cork city, you’re guaranteed to catch a few “beours” and “langers” here and there too. You’ll have stitches from laughing so hard at the simplistic, unforced humour that we all crave and adore. And there is an undeniable chemistry between Conor and Jock. Friendship is a pivotal theme of the series. Conor, the more naïve of the two, worships his scheming friend, and his unwavering loyalty towards Jock, even when being questioned by the Gardai, is nothing short of admirable.
Everything from the boys’ mannerisms to sense of style is deliberately and precisely mirrored, exemplifying just how impressionable teenage boys can be. Their innocence makes their comments and questions seem all the funnier and more enthralling. Sergeant Healey is the perfect foil to Jock, in his stiffness and rigidity in adhering to the law. But these boys have a charm, a certain spark of energy that animates them and pushes them to do things that will make any adult in the room nostalgic for their longgone schooldays. Conor and Jock are arguably the most loveable Irish duo to grace the small-screen since Zig and Zag.
But there are more serious elements to this comedy. Take for instance, Conor’s mother Mairéad (Hilary Rose). Mairéad embodies the trials and tests of single motherhood. She constantly reprimands and worries about her rascal of a son but is always there for him with love and support, regardless of his infuriating antics. And first love is also a motif throughout the series. We can all remember what it’s like to be fifteen and have our first crushes. While dealing with events in a light-hearted and fun way, there is an undeniably strong undercurrent of sincerity in Conor and Jock’s desperate attempts to impress Siobhán and Linda. They are two teenage boys trying to impress two teenage girls, and they genuinely have no clue what the hell they are doing. And there is something extremely reassuring in that fact – it’s a universal experience that everyone must endure, no matter how awkward or embarrassing.
Overall, The Young Offenders is a loveable, fun and playful series, full of simplistic moments that every Irish person can resonate with and laugh unapologetically at, while perusing the deeper, more serious undertones that add to its unique visceral power and memorability.
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