Despite the many furious protestations of former big-time DJ Charlie Ayo that he is “not a manny”, that’s exactly the role Idris Elba’s rapscallion character ends up in between sporadic gigs at Nigerian weddings and low-rent discos. His old school friend David, now a movie star, has relocated from Los Angeles to London with wife Sara (a much more successful DJ and producer) and 11-year-old daughter Gabby in tow.
Gabby is spoilt, precocious and horrible, and no nanny lasts more than a week. Can terminally skint Charlie, his effervescent Auntie Lydia (Jocelyn Jee Esien) and slovenly best friend Del (Guz Khan) beat some good manners and human decency into the little beast where everyone else has failed? Perhaps even literally — Auntie Lydia is dying to give her a taste of African-style discipline with a wooden spoon.
Elba’s previous series In the Long Run was a gently humorous evocation of his 1980s London childhood, and his new creation, Turn Up Charlie (Netflix from March 15), has a similarly warm spirit. It offers more than just a simplistic contrast between wealth and unhappy dysfunction versus poverty and joyful exuberance. For one thing, Gabby’s parents, played by JJ Feild and Piper Perabo, are sensitive, kind and well-meaning, if a little preoccupied with their careers.
David and Sara’s industrious creativity forms a stark contrast with Del’s inability to get off the couch and Charlie’s own stagnation. The African characters are delightful if stereotypical: the warm-hearted but hot-headed Auntie whose wild threats can be safely ignored; Charlie’s fearsomely critical mother back home, encountered via Skype. But the white characters too are treated with generosity and humour, for all their oblivious privilege.
Along with “manny”, another word Charlie quickly tires of is “bitch”, Gabby’s habitual form of address. Frankie Hervey is almost too convincingly awful as the tyke, yet hints of a lack of confidence beneath the obnoxiousness also peep out from time to time. Gabby’s true scale of values is clear when her father’s guilt-offering of yet another trinket is casually stowed in a drawer filled with jewellers’ boxes. The new manny gets off to a good start on with a first outing to Camden Market and classic clubbers’ clobber shop Cyberdog, a sign that Turn Up Charlie is set in the real London, inhabited by Londoners, not the clichés that usually form screen backdrops.
Idris, a keen DJ himself under the name Driis, milks much humour from Charlie’s “old man” persona in the digital playground of modern beats; his character thinks putting his music on a USB stick is cutting edge. His sets are presented in two ways: the vast, adoring crowds and banging light shows of his imagination contrasted with the frequently tawdry reality. Sara, meanwhile, is the real deal, and the industry scenes provide lively satire — Craig David even makes a brief appearance. It’s all totally “shweet”, as Charlie would say.
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