It’s scientifically impossible to doubt Idris Elba’s talent. Based on Turn Up Charlie, though, you sometimes doubt his decisions. The Netflix comedy, which the actor, producer, DJ and world’s handsomest man has co-created, sees the Luther star put down his world-beaten jacket and pick up some vinyl, as he plays a washed-up musician, Charlie Ayo, who has long since fallen off the radar of the cool scene. Then, in a twist of quirks, he has to put down those and pick up a schoolbag, as he becomes the reluctant nanny to the troublesome Gabby (Frankie Hervey).
She’s the daughter of his former best friend, David (JJ Feild), who has returned from LA to London, accompanied by his famous DJ wife, Sara (Piper Perabo). While reconnecting with them gives Charlie a chance to dream of making his way back to fame and fortune, though, they just see him as a chance to leave their child with someone else for several hours a day, if not longer. The result is an odd-couple comedy, a parent-and-child sitcom, a showbiz satire, and a heartfelt soap opera, and Turn Up Charlie’s problem is that it can’t decide which track to play. And so it jumps between each one, but none of the mixing or sampling skills that you’d expect from having Elba at the decks.
Elba is no doubt capable of comedy, but with a tone that skips every few minutes like a cassette tape, his comic timing never gets a chance to find a groove. It doesn’t help that the other characters feel so stereotypical, from his stern Auntie Lydia (Jocelyn Jee Esien, clearly having a ball with the role) to the generic wealthy parents with no time for anything but their careers. Frankie Hervey emerges as the real star, her precocious 11-year-old causing trouble at school, disrupting parties and swanning around Camden – before learning what the word “precocious” actually means. Scenes of her at school elicit some sincere sympathy for her balancing act between sassy and vulnerable, and the show sparks briefly to life when she gets the chance to embarrass and insult Charlie at every opportunity.
But these glimpses of something more are few and far between – it doesn’t help that Gabby swears all the time (“bitch, please”), which leaves you unsure who exactly the programme is aimed at. The loosely sketched characters and on-the-nose dialogue about being nice and being yourself feel like something aimed at a younger audience, but sex scenes and a gag involving a vibrator place us in firmly different territory. It’s nice to see Man Like Mobeen’s Guz Khan pop up as Elba’s stoner sidekick, not to mention Elba pushing himself into territories far from gritty crime drama, but this is no Kindergarten Cop. It may well settle into a groove by the end of the eight-part series, but going by the opening episodes made available for review, this unfortunate misfire is one to turn down.
Turn Up Charlie: Season 1 is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription.