As I sit here, with a bleak post-Heartstoppers hole in my TV viewing life, the UK’s brilliant (and currently embattled) Channel 4 comes to the rescue with a very different queer love story, Big Boys. It also conveniently fills that gaping space left by Sex Education and Derry Girls.
Adapted from writer, narrator, and executive producer Jack Rooke’s autobiographical stage show, Big Boys introduces us to Jack (Derry Girls’ Dylan Llewellyn) as he starts Brent University two years after his father passed away. Instead of living in uni halls as planned, he and another freshman, Danny (Plebs’ Jon Pointing), are moved into abandoned classrooms while a gas leak is fixed. It’s the start of a platonic, coming-of-age love story celebrating allies and those tentative first steps into the big gay world.
Socially awkward gay Jack and the laddish straight Danny don’t seem like obvious friends, but through the travails of their first year at uni, Danny turns into an unexpectedly positive ally doing things like buying Jack lube and walking him to his first Grindr hookup. Jack slowly builds his new life with help from the studious Corinne (Izuka Hoyle) and more experienced fellow queer student Yemi (Olisa Odele), teaching him that essential and tricky skill of how to take a dick pic, what a dark room is, and what tribe he belongs to. All the while he’s supported by and supporting his straight best friend in a reverse of the usual sitcom narrative.
It’s great to see both Llewellyn and Pointing step out of their previous comedy side roles and tackling some serious drama, between the funny bits. Jack is still dealing with his father’s death, while Danny is on meds for depression. Their lows are dealt with as honestly as their highs in a show that takes you from silly misadventures in a London dark room to the pressures of caring for elderly relatives.
Big Boys is very British. If lines like: “We’d stuck together during dad’s illness like Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. But, really, we were sad like Eamonn and Ruth,” makes sense to you, then you’re in good stead. As in almost all good gay dramas, the really heartfelt moments are reserved for the boys and the older women in their lives. The mothers and grandmothers and aunties who keep boys, both straight and gay, together. Jack’s potty-mouthed mother Peggy, played to perfection by Camille Coduri, nails the caring mum role usually reserved for Olivia Coleman.
The specificity of Rooke’s misadventures, mixed with the familiar feels of life’s “firsts”, gives Big Boys a real emotional kick. It’s both hilariously funny and incredibly moving. It’ll make you cry, then cry laughing. Six episodes of pure joy. More please!
By Chad Armstrong
All six episodes of Big Boys are currently streaming on All4 in the UK.