liam Williams says this is likely to be the last series of Ladhood (BBC Three), “as I have simply run out of memories”. I will be sad to see the back of it, because he has turned those memories into consistently great TV. The Streets feature heavily on its soundtrack, and Ladhood feels like a fitting companion to their first two albums in particular – albeit one with a bit less nightlife and a bit more moaning about parents, pocket money and a father who is addicted to sudoku.
As ever, this semi-autobiographical comedy – although its humor pinballs around slapstick and despair – switches between the lives of adult Liam, now 34, in a rut and wondering how he ended up like this, and teenage Liam, 18, preparing for his A-levels and being encouraged to apply for Oxbridge by his school and his parents. One is at the start of something; the other is at the end. It meets in the middle with a peculiarly entertaining sort of bleakness, and it bows out without sacrificing any of its surly irony or mordant wit.
Each episode, Williams takes a theme and runs with it. In the opener, loosely about housing, teenage Liam is so fed up with being told what to do by “those malicious, unreasonable bastards” (his parents) that he considers moving into a shared flat with his mates, leaving him free to do whatever he wants, like watch Family Guy box sets and smoke weed. Cut to adult Liam, living in a tiny flat in east London, being told off by his landlord for daring to stick a picture to the wall. She puts up his rent by several hundred quid a month, and when he tries to look into getting a mortgage, the estate agent laughs at him. If Ladhood could have held off for a few more months, I would have loved to see what adult Liam would make of the current state of affairs.
There is a lot about work here, too. Adult Liam works for an advertising agency, although he never quite seems sure what he is there to do or why. He tries to resign and gets promoted. He tries to try, and finds himself falling down an ethical and moral wormhole about the kind of businesses he is supposed to be marketing. There are moments of Nathan Barley in the pure idiocy of the office, not least in his fantastically asinine boss, who is a walking hands-free headset. Young Liam, meanwhile, takes a job at a chain restaurant and gobbles up extra shifts at the cost of school, the under-18 minimum wage pay packet opening up the world for him, or at least opening up the possibility of not having to beg his mates to buy him a pint at the pub.
Is he going to sacrifice academic success for “physically demanding wage labour” at 16, like his friends, or is he going to take the opportunity offered to him by his abilities as a “word maggot” and go off to university, to a different life entirely? The conflict is at the heart of this series, and it’s about more than a Sliding Doors moment. It’s about class, and family, and home, and belonging. The split timeline means we know, roughly, how it turned out, but by the end of the series, adult Liam is considering a move back up north and ripping it all up and starting again. He reckons with his past and wonders who he might be in the future. Though a lot of this is about banter and teenage boys making fools of themselves, it is also thoughtful and moving.
It’s clever, too, which is no surprise, given young Liam’s smart-arse tendencies. Young Liam’s headteacher breaks the fourth wall to explain that he often appears to give important information at the top of a scene, and to check that the audience has got it. There is an episode about psychedelics with a boyband inspired musical interlude. For all of its ennui, there is an equal amount of absurdity.
As usual, adult Liam is Banquo’s ghost, perpetually haunting young Liam’s fun, embarrassed by his teenage mistakes, hovering to offer a fatherly implication that it doesn’t get much better than this. “This isn’t how life was meant to turn out,” he says, with weary resignation. The overall mood is glum, particularly in the present day, but it digs deep for its ending. Don’t expect a rousing end-of-series spectacle, but in its own messy way, it finds a satisfying resolution.