The Young Offenders: As hilarious as it is touching. A perfect finale

After this masterpiece, the contagious double act are sure to be repeat offenders

The Young Offenders: Connor MacSweeney (Alex Murphy) and Jock O’Keeffe (Chris Walley).  Photograph: Miki Barlok

The Young Offenders: Connor MacSweeney (Alex Murphy) and Jock O’Keeffe (Chris Walley). Photograph: Miki Barlok

 

It was unclear whether the first series of The Young Offenders (RTE Two, Thursday, 9pm) would go quietly or be dragged out kicking and screaming for its finale. Really, either option would have been fine.

The series had opened with its two adorably naïve teenage delinquents leaping from a high building to escape the police, landing safely in a pile of rubbish, but the most rewarding plotlines tended to be sweetly low on octane, like a sweetly terrible double date in Cork city, or, quite magnificently, a mini odyssey to buy a second-hand fridge.

Like his characters, writer and director Peter Foott is spilling over with ideas. Unlike them, he knows how to achieve them.

Take this staple of teen drama, as Jennifer Barry’s Siobhan consults a positive pregnancy test and worries about breaking the news to her boyfriend, Jock.

That would be a fairly conventional dilemma, but for the fact that they are currently on a hijacked double-decker, at the mercy of a knife-wielding maniac, Billy Murphy, who has softened enough to order everyone pizzas while the boys distribute multi-coloured stolen alcopops to the hostages.

One of the most frequent sensations of The Young Offenders, as hilarious as it is touching, is a happy kind of bewilderment, like the afterglow you get from a conjuring trick: How on earth did you do that?

Like some of the best double acts, from Laurel and Hardy to Fay and Poehler, Chris Walley and Alex Murphy give us a pair who are low on problem-solving skills but full of feeling, and though his characters are regularly flummoxed by situations that would not challenge lightly educated sheep, Foott’s affection for them is contagious.

Even Billy (Shane Casey), a cartoon baddie, turns out to be an innocent simpleton, full of sincere fellow-feeling (“Congratulations!” he beams at Jock, still brandishing his knife, “You’re going to be a great dad!”), later as disturbed by the prospect of more jail time as by the task of tying his own shoelaces.

The Young Offenders, on the other hand, has mastered the double knot.

Tied into this unexpected pregnancy crisis and accidental hostage crisis is another crisis that feels no less meaningful: Conor’s make-or-break first kiss with Demi Isaac Oviawe’s Linda, whose patience has limits. When you’re a teenager, there’s no such thing as a small problem.

But the show affords them, and us, such pure, innocent joy, such magical resolutions. Foott’s great fillip with the film, repeated in the series, was to have his two hard chaws dance, with ferocious intent and practised synchronicity. Here, with a choral singalong on a runaway bus, he more than matches it.

Like a perfect final shot – an RTÉ news camera’s image of one sensitive young man’s heroic achievement, which looks to the uninitiated like the actions of a thug – the show generously shares its secrets, with hopes of more to come.

You’re only young once, but with any luck you can be a repeat offender.