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British Student Sitcoms, Teen Television and Neoliberal Pedagogy.

by Ethan Tussey

by Joe Barton for IN MEDIA RES

British situation comedies like The Young Ones (BBC 1982-1984), which depict university students during the era of the government-funded maintenance grant (1962-1998), source much of their humour from the notion of Higher Education as either self-enriching, or as part of an emancipatory project. The “undeserving student” stereotype attracts laughter precisely because they are deemed to be receiving an education at the expense of these values, while anti-student characters are mocked in the name of rescuing this defence from reactionary appropriations.

Off the Hook (BBC 2009) is the first student sitcom produced after the introduction of tuition fees in the UK, as well as a much broader series of neoliberal reforms which have seen an education system increasingly ‘geared to, and governed by, the imperatives of economic efficiency and social and political effectiveness’ (Kirby 2009: 234). As part of the BBC’s youth brand, BBC Switch (2007-2010), the series was specifically marketed at teenagers, rather than university students per se, shaping the expectations of Higher Education for its key demographic of prospective undergraduates. With official promotion for the series promising teens an ‘aspirational comedy’ comprising of ‘bad dates, worse parties’, and ‘social mishaps’, however, Off the Hook is notably devoid of the comic ruminations on the value and role of education that are frequently found in the British student sitcom. Indeed, its depiction of student life seems to echo the vision of one its characters, Shane (Danny Morgan), where the university degree is figured as golden ticket to 'three whole years' of gross-out movie style antics. Whereas The Young Ones employs farce to defend an ennobling or emancipatory notion of Higher Education in demotic terms, then, Off the Hook uses the same conventions to offer a vision of ‘the university experience’ defined by the [imagined] demands of the student-customer.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in this featured clip, in which Off the Hook's protagonist Danny (Jonathan Bailey) runs for student president, with unsurprisingly cringe-worthy results. As his improvised speech falls on deaf ears, soixante-huitard cliches function as glib comic foil for customer-friendly common sense, as a beret wearing Shane interjects 'who wants cheaper beer?!'. A comparison of Off the Hook with Channel Four’s more recent Fresh Meat (2011-) a programme which [albeit tentatively] engages with issues of  knowledge, meritocracy, and the 2010 student protests, would certainly be welcomed.

Clip from Off the Hook

Clip from Off the Hook

from Off the Hook (2010)
Creator: Dean Craig
Distributor: BBC
Posted by Ethan Tussey