The Young Offenders is one of Ireland’s great comedy triumphs, even if you have to watch it on the BBC - TV Review

The Young Offenders, BBC 1 and iPlayer

Mairead McSweeney (Hilary Rose) and Conor (Alex Murphy)
Mairead McSweeney (Hilary Rose) and Conor (Alex Murphy) in The Young Offenders

The tradition of Ireland’s best comedies being produced by British television continues as the outstanding The Young Offenders returns.

The partnership at the heart of the show has been broken temporarily after an escapade in Columbia for Jock and Conor.

Our heroes thought they were getting a “free holiday” after meeting a guy on the internet, but they were duped into being drug mules and their explanation that the white stuff dropping out of the lining of their coats was washing powder didn’t wash.

Jock’s locked up for six years in Bogota while Conor managed to get as far as Irish customs so did his three years at home and he gets out at the start of season four.

It’s another reason to be a pound Corkonian, says Conor: “One of the great things about Cork is we’ve got our own prison, so you don’t have to walk far when you get out.”

Things have changed while he’s been away.

Gavin Madigan (Daniel Power) and Linda (Demi Issac Oviawe)
Gavin Madigan and Linda in The Young Offenders

Sergeant Healy is now his stepdad, principal Barry has been kicked out by wife Orla, and his beloved Linda is engaged to the enemy Gavin, who has metamorphosed from tearaway schoolboy to a teacher back at their old school.

Fair play to Gavin, that’s some progress in three years.

Thoughts of being with Linda again got Conor through his prison time and he’s devastated when she admits she’s engaged to someone else.

In his own terms, Conor describes to her what “proper love” is: “The kind of love that keeps you going for three years in prison... the kind of love your dad clearly understands when he’s talking about your mam. The kind of love your mam understands when she has a nice big class of sauvignon blanc. The kind of love that nuns understand when they’re thinking about Jesus.”

Conor also has a new love in the temporary absence of Jock (Chris Walley, it seems, was away on another project and unavailable for filming the earlier episodes).

His new sidekick is one-time bus hijacker, Billy Murphy. Billy’s got your back but occasionally he’ll sucker punch you in the stomach for no reason.

Mairead, Barry (PJ Gallagher), Conor
Mairead, Barry and Conor in The Young Offenders

The other unexpected new friendship is with former principal Barry who decides to help after Gavin bets Conor €1,000 that he can’t pass his Leaving Cert.

This includes trying to learn Irish and getting Conor to stare into a mirror and declare “I’m not a thick f***.”

Barry explains to Conor that he can’t be stupid: “Let me tell you something about thick f****s because I’ve taught a lot of them in my time. Thick f***s think they’re smart. It’s the people who think they’re thick that are actually smart because they’re clever enough to know the difference.”

By the end of the episode, the absolutely-not-stupid Conor and Barry are banging at the windows of the same house trying to get Orla and her daughter Linda to come out and talk.

It’s great stuff, and a tribute to impressive writing and production that the temporary loss of one of the two central characters hasn’t diminished the viewer’s enjoyment.

Even the great Cork music continues with the series opening to the sound of The Sultans of Ping as Conor explains his idiotic manifesto for life.

“Jobs are for d***heads. Life’s for living, not for doing some sh*t you don’t want to do... don’t become one of those plebs that pays taxes and does what the government tells them to do. You go along with all that bull***t you’re not free.”

Young Offenders, which won’t be available on RTE for another year, has taken the same path as Father Ted and Derry Girls in crossing the Irish Sea to find an audience but we should be thankful that it got made.