Two episodes into its second series, the local drama is transcending its clichés and giving student life a welcomely realistic, if inconsistent, bent
We've all been there. We have imagined the shift from school to university as seamless, a journey from enjoyable but somewhat restrictive years into a fantasy world of respectability, freedom, new friends and possible partners. We believe that now we've earned our college years, growing up, settling down and getting our dream job will surely lie ahead. The joyous life that we've created for ourselves surely awaits.
Then, reality bites. The "party atmosphere" you probably dreamed about turns out to be extremely disruptive. Not everyone – especially your new housemates – respects you. Breaking ties with the friends you made in school is harder to do than you anticipated. Your new friend, or even your seemingly perfect "other", isn't the person you thought she or he was. And you’re no longer in the protective shadow of family, spoon fed work or watchful teachers. You're your own man or woman – and it's going to be a struggle to survive.
As its second series gets underway, BBC Northern Ireland's 6Degrees has found its voice as a pretty convincing chronicle of the above; a gloomier take on student life in Belfast, occasional glimmers of light at the end of what, contrary to expectations, are several long, dark and twisted tunnels. And this is a very good thing indeed. Because let’s face it, The Inbetweeners Movie, love it though we do, is a virtual exercise in dreamy wish fulfillment by the time it reaches its closing credits.
If no one would ever call 6Degrees original – the numerous plotlines and characterizations are rather well worn – its bleak, and more importantly human, outlook, reflected in both the cast and camerawork, is a refreshing change from the potentially damaging over-idealism that can exist in "young people's" productions.
Not one of our six protagonists can truly claim to be happy. Take Jess (Georgia Maguire, impressive); forced to relocate from England in series one, she is torn between her current boyfriend and the charms of the GAA team's coach. Sandie (Jayne Wisener, now fully grown into her role) must maintain her sanity and act as a mother hen to the group in an oasis of chaos, while attempting to figure out what she wants for herself.
The no-nonsense Eva (Derry-Londonderry's own Jamie-Lee O'Donnell) has gotten herself involved in a feud with a seasoned neighbour from across the road, and we know not if Eva's "hard as nails" approach to life is genuine or just a defense mechanism.
Elsewhere, Leech (Ryan McParland) is trying to not-very-convincingly re-invent himself as a ladies' man after splitting from his girlfriend. Danny (Niall Wright) is obsessed with both his work and his love life, perhaps overly so. And GAA captain Conor (Cillian O’Sullivan) has been forced out of the closet in circumstances beyond his control.
Admirably, the writers of 6Degrees have unveiled and intertwined these numerous plot threads into a likable and compelling tapestry. If the narrative is arguably too ambitious and riddled with occasionally unsubtle uses of pop songs along with the odd cringe-worthy line or two, 6Degrees should be commended for at least aiming to do something a little different as far as young people's television goes, whilst managing to retain a strong sense of local identity.
Even when the producers err along the way, they are at least erring in trying to do the right thing. The scenario and characters are believable, and there are more than enough shots of Northern Ireland's capital city and pop cultural references to keep teenagers happy. The challenge for 6Degrees, now, is to show us if and how it can blossom to its obvious potential.
Check out the official website for 6Degrees at www.6degreesni.com.