Somewhere Boy: This haunting drama is one of the best of 2022

by | Oct 16, 2022 | All, Reviews

There is a small mini-genre of television series, occasionally film too, which wants to explore what the world is like when it is viewed by a character who has had no experience of it due to being either secluded or imprisoned. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt took a comedic approach with very dark details dotted around its plotting, while the recent Sky Comedy Two Weeks to Live used the action genre. What Somewhere Boy (which airs across the week in double bills) can best be compared to is 2015’s Room where a mother and her young son are held prisoner with Jacob Tremblay’s Jack only experiencing the outside world through the stories his mother tells him.

There is a magnificent sense of ‘show, don’t tell’ to the opening moments of Pete Jackson’s Somewhere Boy. It paints a subtle picture of the situation that Danny (Lewis Gribben) and his father Steve (Rory Keenan) have been living in, but uses all eight episodes to expertly piece together not only Danny’s previous eighteen years of living away in the middle of nowhere, but his adjustment to society when his father dies in those early moments.

After losing his mother at an early age, Steve decided to keep his young son safe by locking him in the family home, filling his head with stories of the ‘monsters’ that live just outside the safety of their property. Steve has moulded Danny to be a boy completely unaffected by the outside world filling his days with the safety of black and white movies where nothing bad ever happens or the wholesome music of Marty Robbins. Danny has never had any reason to question his father’s story until he commits suicide on the eve of his son’s eighteenth Birthday. Losing the only person in his life and his protector is earth-shattering to Danny who now finds himself in a world he has no knowledge of outside of the story his father had crafted for him throughout their time together.

Perhaps no television show has vividly captured the fear of being confronted with a world that we, the viewer, might take for granted, but which feels weirdly alien and strange to someone whose only knowledge of the world is the stories of so-called monsters that lie beyond the periphery of the home and copious amounts of black and white films and classic songs on vinyl.

Danny (Lewis Gribben)

Lewis Gribben is mesmerizing as Danny, a star-making performance if there ever was one and which is very much the emotional core of Jackson’s writing. The series is unafraid to push itself into darker territory, and there are many unsettling developments and twists lying in wait (which will not be spoiled here) which are handled not only with aplomb by Jackson but also by Gribben who does a fantastic job in making Danny both a sympathetic character but also with an unpredictable air given that he has no idea how to deal with the world. Gribben brings an effortless charm and childlike quality to Danny. When he wanders away from his aunt Sue’s house (Lisa McGrillis) he takes shelter in the bed of an unsuspecting neighbour who is just getting out of the shower. He watches her towel off before hiding scared under her quilt. A less actor might make feel Danny slightly creepy. Another scene sees him hiding in the bathroom and startling Sue’s partner Paul (Johann Myers) but Danny has this other-worldly character to him. He’s found himself, through no fault of his own, in a world that he doesn’t understand and that isn’t quite sure how to react to him.

Directors Alexandra Brodsky and Alex Wincker make even the littlest details here feel just a little bit frightening or elusive. At first, you’re not quite sure what year you’re in, given that the opening scenes depict a telephone call where one side is within a telephone box. Even the cars initially seem like they are from a bygone age (a 90s-era Renault Laguna is used throughout) before we get a glimpse of an HD television and a smartphone.

Danny (Lewis Gribben)

The first episode is subtly but dazzlingly magnificent at capturing the sheer fear that comes with having to be confronted with a world of never-ending modernity and housing estates where every house looks exactly the same and there is more than one person in the world to contend with. There is a lovely visual gag involving three houses in a row and Danny’s immediate confusion that might be one of the funniest moments of any television series this year.

Danny’s entire universe has been built around not only whatever make-believe world his father concocted (seemingly a post-apocalyptic one involving monsters) but one that was also filtered through exposure to classic black-and-white films and music from bygone decades.  The show’s soundtrack leans heavily on the songs Danny and his father would listen to including a brilliant use of El Passo by Marty Robbins which is the song Danny chooses for his father’s funeral.

Danny was able to lose himself in the world of gentle swoon-romances, but he quickly comes to realize quite devastatingly that while the monsters might be of a more metaphorical kind, the real world also doesn’t hold a candle to the fantasy of the movies. In a later episode of the series, he has a conversation with someone about Brief Encounter and a visit to the train station where the majority of David Lean’s film takes place only to find out that it doesn’t hold up to the romance of the film. This perhaps sets out the stall of the series in its explorations of reality vs fantasy.

We want the movies, we want the fantasy, but that doesn’t exist, and increasingly Danny finds himself not only contending with a world that is neither the monstrous one his father told him about, but nor is it the romanticized one he desperately craves, instead finding a new world of emotional complexities and sometimes a deep sadness that keeps rearing its head.

Danny (Lewis Gribben) & Aaron (Samuel Bottomley)

That goes for so many of his scenes with Samuel Bottomley as his cousin Aaron, Lisa McGrillis as his aunt Sue, and her husband Paul, played by Johann Myers. They have their own issues dotting their lives before Danny is inserted into it, from Aaron’s absent biological father, to Sue’s attempts at trying to make an impression on a snobbish neighbour. Initially reluctant and a bit resentful of having to look after him and spend time with a newcomer to the family, soon a tender sense of friendship springs forth between Danny and Aaron that is at times lovely to watch, but which is also loaded with just a smidgeon of tension as the main story develops into a more dramatic direction.

Danny (Lewis Gribben) Sue (Lisa Mcgrillis) Paul (Johann Myers) Aaron (Samuel Bottomley)

Samuel Bottomley is brilliant as Aaron. He has grown up in a home filled with love and modern technology yet he shares more in common with Danny than even he realises. He plays the big man but in reality, he’s not the confident teen he appears on the surface. Jackson’s script expertly displays the parallels between the cousins. When Aaron is invited to the pub by a neighbour he’s clearly buoyed by the idea.  His mum is happy too. It’s clear he hasn’t had a big friendship group growing up and it’s clear she is pleased he’s been invited out with other boys his age. He resents her asking him to take Danny along, but when he does, Danny is quick to point out to Aaron that the people he perceives to be his friends clearly aren’t.  Danny can often be the smartest man in the room. His naivety gives him the power to call things as he sees them without the worry about how others might react to him. Lisa McGrills is also wonderful as Danny’s Aunt who shoulders a lot of guilt in the way Danny was raised. She knew that her brother was effectively keeping her nephew prisoner and clearly wished she’d come to his rescue sooner, but it’s also entirely believable that she would have felt powerless to intervene.

It’s important to say that Jackson’s script never demonises Steve or his decision to raise his son the way he did. Other characters may question his mental stability and why he chose to shield his son from society, but the life we see in idyllic flashbacks is one of contentment and a strong father-son bond. Danny is the first to come to his dad’s defence when Aaron labels him ‘a nutter’ and he realises that his cousin is jealous of the strong bond he shared with his father that Aaron never did with his own.  Rory Keenan plays Steve very delicately. He’s not a villain but more someone who acted out of grief and desire to keep his son safe. The show cleverly demonstrates the problems he had as Danny aged such as an accident at home which Danny should really go to the hospital to be treated for but a petrified Danny begs his father not to take him out through fear of what lurked outside. Another show might have been happy to portray Danny’s treatment as a form of abuse or torture but the show isn’t interested in painting anyone as one thing.

The show is about how you adjust to a world that you know nothing about but also about the importance of family and upbringing. It also serves as an interesting character study when Danny, a boy who has been hidden for his entire life, discovers the truth behind his mother’s death and wants revenge.

Danny (Lewis Gribben) at the farm

With each of its eight episodes running at less than half an hour, the show is unlike anything else. A dark comedy, a stomach-churning horror and a deep dive into how our upbringing shapes the people we become. This is Pete Jackson’s first script for television and we just pray it isn’t his last. Somewhere Boy is beautiful, deeply human and haunting – it is one of the shows of the year.

Somewhere Boy Continues until Wednesday at 10.00pm on Channel 4 

The Full series is now available on All4.

Eamon Hennedy

Eamon Hennedy

16/10/2022

Eamon has spent too much time of his life watching TV and wouldn't have it any other way. If there's anything you need to know about The X-Files, he's the person to turn to. From Northern Ireland, his eyes are amongst the most square in the land, and his "continue watching" on Netflix gets longer by the week.

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