Netflix’s “Turn Up Charlie” starts out as a nanny story. And as nanny stories go, you expect a problem child who transforms along the way, eventually loves the nanny and rubs-off the nanny too. But as the series progresses, it becomes a coming-of-age story.
Elba stars as a Nigerian, Charlie Ayo. Whilst many people love to hate Nigerians it seems some others simply can’t get enough of Nigerians. Firstly, Ncuti Gatwa plays Eric Effiong, a Nigerian in the Netflix original and British comedy-drama series “Sex Education”. Now, Elba follows suit in “Turn Up Charlie”.
Although his parents who live in Nigeria believe he is a music executive, Charlie is a DJ who is surviving on the past glory of his one hit wonder. He is a broke bachelor. And for 35 years, he has lived with his aunt Lydia – Jocelyn Jee Esien – better known for her comedy sketch show, Little Miss Jocelyn. His ex-girlfriend Alicia has also moved.
As the story goes, Charlie DJs at a friend’s wedding where he re-unites with childhood friend David (JJ Feild). As for David, life has been good or so it would seem. He married celebrity DJ Sara (Piper Perabo – Cheaper by the Dozen), and they have a daughter Gabrielle (Frankie Hervey) aka “Gabby” or “Gabs”. David and his family have recently relocated to London from Los Angeles. Gabby has been having difficulty fitting and it has been difficult to get a nanny who can cope with her.
Shortly after the friends are re-unite, Charlie does David a favour of babysitting Gabby one day. He hangouts with Gabby at the Camden Stable, they seem to get along and boom! Charlie lands himself a job as Gabby’s nanny.
A little bit about Gabby. She is an 11-year old with a 130 IQ. Speaks three different languages and has a blue belt in Krav Maga. She also has a talent which would impress Charlie. She beat boxes. But she is suffering from parental negligence. And perhaps a pre-teen crisis. She swears and is wise beyond her years but she does not know the meaning of precocious. Soon enough, Gabby befriends a schoolmate, Hunter, who isn’t exactly a good influence. And her parent’s are okay with it, giving a sense that it doesn’t matter who she is hanging with so long as she has made a friend.
At first you might find her sarcasm humourous. For instance, picture the 11-year old when she says,
That scene was nothing short of hilarious. Agreed, David and Sara are not great parents – David especially. But after an outburst that sees Gabby spraying her parents and guests at Sara’s gig with a fire extinguisher, you might stop finding her funny. Thereafter, you’ll only see a conceited spoilt brat. Sadly, this character does not change much.
Elba although more notable as an actor is also a real life DJ with a stage name DJ Big Driis. So it is understandable that he would want to share the struggles of a DJ’s rise to fame. Halfway through the season, Elba eventually begins to the tell the story he intended. The spotlight turns on Charlie after Sara released his track. Gabby and Sara chip in to make it happen. And Charlie’s career revival journey begins.
Somewhere in Netflix’s “Turn Up Charlie” also is the story of an emigrant. It’s very relatable. And we believe that Lydia’s role was to impart some African values in Charlie and by extension Gabby. But that didn’t quite come through. Rather, what we got was forced comedy from a garish-looking and proverbs-spewing aunt. As well as a disappointing representation of Nigerians characterised by her attempt at a Nigerian accent which was a colossal disaster. She would have been more appreciable speaking in a Cockney accent. Even more frustrating is when she attempts to suck out a huge snail from its shell. That is so not Nigerian. Phew! Whilst the Rwandan Gatwa wouldn’t have been our first choice to play a Nigerian, it seems that but for his inexplicable mix-raced sisters, “Sex Education” did a better job portraying Nigerians through the Effiong family.
The first season of this series co-created by Elba and Gary Reich has eight episodes. Each a little short of thirty minutes and they go by very quickly. And the muddled up plot are its major downside. Giving Gabby too much prominence diluted the essence of the story. Yet, it can’t quite pass as a family-friendly series because of the swearing, implied sex and drugs. And so, Netflix’s “Turn Up Charlie” turns out to be a hot mess, regrettably.
Created by: Idris Elba, Gary Reich
Executive producers: Idris Elba, Gary Reich, Tristram Shapeero