This Is England ’86 episode 2 review

Shaun gets a job, Woody fixes up a flat — is the rebel yell of This Is England finally being domesticated?

Episode 2 of ’86 is unashamedly the ‘daddy-issues’ episodes. The theme is quite apt for a show that both benefits from its parent series’ success and yet is still to escape from its shadow, and of course such subject matter is always ripe for soap-opera.

Lol’s father makes an unwelcome reappearance – dredging up the past and forcing Lol to reveal home truths that her mother denies and her sister has never heard. Shaun gets a job renting out VHS tapes and finds a father figure in the trusting shop-owner, and Gadge’s tryst with an older woman reveals her son may have been fathered by another member of the gang.

’86 is shaping up to be a bleakly funny kitchen-sink dramedy that courts contradictions in more than just its genre definition. Evidently the subject of the day is growing-up, yet the largely youthful cast of lost boys and girls seem to address this fact by acting as immaturely as possible at every opportunity.

Shaun and Woody may be working – and the latter has organised the gang to decorate a flat for Lol and generally disguise the fact that a drug addict died in there – but you’d be hard pushed to call even the older members of the gang (who quite frankly should no better) an emotionally-developed adult member of society.

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’86 is not mature, ‘worthy’ drama but then neither is it the disposable pulp-fiction of aspirational teen-drama, and the series continues to explore and attempt to find its tone as much as its heroes look for their place in 80’s Britain. The performances are still largely solid (with the possible exception of Thomas Turgoose who may have already shown all he has to offer), and while some characters are clearly being pigeon-holed as clowns and others as victims, nobody seems miscast and all are more than capable in the roles they have been given.

‘86 can be silly and it can be tragic, and it’s not immune to hitting the odd bum-note (the love-triangle hinted at in the first episode seems unnaturally accelerated to fit the limits of a four-episode run), but the will to forgive much greater sins is easy to find since the series’ heart is so undeniably in the right place.

At the half-way point already, it’s unclear whether any great arc chartering the gamut of teen life in Thatcherite Britain will be achieved, but that is obviously an unfair expection given that most of the time ’86 seems in no great rush to get any particular story told, any message delivered.

Like its cast, it’s fair to say that ’86 is enjoying the time it has while it lasts. And while that is undeniably self-indulgent, it’s difficult not to feel more than a little indulged vicariously for having watched it.

Somehow, by transporting what is ostensibly the cast of Skins to live in their parent’s decade and handing them a few issues to deal with that don’t involve iPhones, This Is England ’86 makes a drama about immaturity feel oddly mature. Or is that the other way round?  More of the same please.

Read our review of episode one here.

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