This Life: When We Were Young

Do you remember what you were doing when you first saw This Life? Did you discover it when they did the reboot in 2007? Find the DVD box set in a charity shop? An 8mm film in your Nan’s attic?

Or like me, were you drunk on life (and copious amounts of cider) in 1996, distractedly tapping your fingers on the night bus bell as it might somehow speed up your journey to your room in your parents’ house where the latest episode would be waiting for you on VHS, probably with the beginning or end missing?

Or both.

If you’re there or thereabouts, you won’t be surprised to learn that a 2018 rewatch of this fondly remembered late nineties show is a journey full of jarring potholes. What you might be surprised by is how deep some of those potholes are.

The first one is obvious. You will feel old. Of course you will. You are old. You haven’t seen these people in twenty years and you’ve packed a lot in. The youthful exuberance that once propelled you to ever greater feats of stupidity is now so depleted you struggle to flop out of bed in the morning.

What I forgot is that while I’ve been watching the once plump creases on my face flatten into Ordnance Survey map routes, Egg, Milly, Anna, Miles & Warren haven’t grown-up at all. They’re exactly as you remember them. Egg with his United top. Anna and her vodka. Warren and his yogurt. Miles and his excessive twattery. Milly and her O’Donnell.

In 1996, it all seemed so cool. They were grown ups. They lived in London in a big house and although they had problems and fucked up a lot, they often had a house meal and a joint and it was bound to turn out alright in the end.

Only now, in 2018, do I realise they were grown ups in the sense that eight year olds seem grown up when you start pre-school.

Their crap decision making and childish behaviour isn’t the complex rough and tumble of adult life being lived, as I interpreted it, but the actions of partially sighted moles feeling their way through an extended adolescence you don’t know exists until you hit your mid-thirties and emerge onto a sunlit lawn. If you’re lucky.

Watching Milly’s inexorable slide towards O’Donnell used to be thrilling. Will she? Won’t she? Why would she? Why wouldn’t she? Will Egg find out? What’s Rachel up to? Holy shit!! All watercooler moments in the purest sense of the term – moments to ruminate over, sympathise with, cheer – but no longer savour together because of spoilers and Netflix. Ironic really, given how effective this is in 6 episode marathons.

Twenty years on it’s a car crash. In their desperation to grasp something solid they end up punching and kicking each other and it’s a wonder they’re still capable of standing in the same cemetary when +10 rolls around.

The beauty of This Life, and why it functions so effectively even now, is that the writers understood that the friends we have in our twenties are unique. The intensity of love and hate is overwhelming. Everything is significant; these people understand you in a way that no one ever has before and there’s no way you won’t be together forever.

Only later, when life gets in the way and we leave them behind (as we inevitably do) do we realise how temporary and ephemeral it all was. We were just practising. A dress rehearsal for real life, if you will. The moment you realise you can’t ever have that back is the moment you grow up and if life hasn’t led you to a place where you can look back on it fondly, it’s probably crushing.

If it has though, you’re in for a treat. Anna remains one of the finest female characters British television has dared to proffer and I still want to be her. As do many of my friends, according to an unscientific poll I ran on Twitter. Egg singing Reef’s ‘Place Your Hands’ while cooking dinner defines the 90s in a way I’ve yet to see bettered. Miles’ episodic terror that Ferdy might catch a glimpse of his penis is Generation X Fear of The Gay at its finest.

And that’s before we even mention The Punch. The culmination of thirty-three episodes of tension, resentment, fear, loathing and confusion packed into one fist and discharged into the face of someone who properly deserved it to the soundtrack of John Paul Young’s ‘Love Is In The Air’.

If you experienced that moment as I did, sat on the floor, bit pissed, eyes on stalks, you’ll know there’s a way to sum it all up too. Every single moment of this glorious, life affirming, painful drama.

Warren mate? It’s over to you…

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