IS Idris Elba James Brown in disguise? Even though the erstwhile godfather of soul was known as the hardest working man in show business, his death in 2006 put an end to his hard-working practices and brilliant music career. His spirit, however, seems to have found its way into the ever-prolific Elba.
Though his IMDB seems to reflect the normal workload of any popular actor, it does not note the adverts, deejaying, social work or general omnipresence of the man. He seems to be everywhere.
One of his latest appearances is in the Netflix show, Turn Up Charlie. Executive produced by and starring Elba, Turn Up Charlie sees him as a struggling, dance scene deejay still living off of the glory of a long-forgotten dance tune he produced.
He lives with his aunt Lydia (Jocelyn Jee Esien) whilst lying to his parents, who he speaks to on FaceTime, having them believe he is a successful businessman. They also think he is engaged to be married to his, unbeknown to them, ex-girlfriend, Alicia (Ashley Bannerman).
As he is playing a small gig at a local pub, his old school friend David (J. J. Feild) shows up. David, a successful actor, has returned from America with his wife, Sara (Piper Perabo) and daughter, Gabrielle – ‘Gaby’ – (Frankie Hervey). Sara also happens to be a world-famous, deejay and producer.
When the precocious and spoilt Gaby manages to force another nanny to quit, by stealing her vibrator, Charlie steps in to help out his old friend as both parents have pressing engagements that they have to attend.
With Charlie being one of the few people that Gaby seems to get along with, David and Sara decide that he would make a good nanny. Charlie, desperate to get back into the upper echelons of the music scene, takes the job.
Set over eight, twenty-five-minute episodes, Turn Up Charlie is an enjoyable, slightly nostalgic – I was hardcore clubber in the eighties and nineties, though not into the drug scene at all – amusing dramedy.
As one would expect from a project co-produced by an actor, the acting is first-rate in the show, with a few faces well known to British audiences – Angela Griffiths, Gus Khan, Jocelyn Jee Esien – making an appearance.
The role of Gaby is central to the story and in Frankie Hervey they found the perfect actor to inhabit the role. She is brilliant. Her chemistry with Elba is perfect, the two playing off of one another expertly. Their characters are so clearly defined and motivations easily understood, that none of the interactions seem forced or out of place.
There are four writers credited on the show – Georgia Lester, Laura Neal, Victoria Asare-Archer and Femi Oyeniran – With Georgia Lester credited on five out of the eight episodes. As she is credited – according to IMDB – with the first three episodes and the last two, one has to assume she pretty much sets the tone of the show.
For the most part, the story is good. Charlie is a good guy who, like a lot of people, wants to be seen as something more than he is. He also, like so many, does not, initially, take responsibility for his own mistakes and foibles. Gaby just wants to be more important to her parents than their respective careers. To this end, she projects a facade of confidence and entitlement, acting as though nothing bothers her.
David, back in England to ‘tread the boards’, is feeling upstaged by the nightly acclaim his colleague Grace (Bo Bene) is receiving in his play. When his agent tells him of a possible film job in South Africa, David wants to take it.
Sara is in a different place in her life and career, wanting to give Gaby more stability and let her relentless travel and deejaying take a backseat. Her agent, Astrid (Angela Griffiths) is not ready to settle down and stop partying, causing tensions between them.
As I said earlier, the story is good for the most part but suffers towards the end from being an almost truncated story. Because of the episodic nature of the show and the mixing of comedy and drama, it could probably have been better served over ten or twelve episodes, as opposed to the rushed and mildly unsatisfying conclusion in the eight episodes.
It is unclear whether Turn Up Charlie was written with the thought of a second series, though – even though there is some scope for a second series – it seems unlikely. Turn Up Charlie is an enjoyable series even if it is not a must watch.
Idris Elba will, no doubt, continue to be one of the hardest working men in show business. The godfather of soul would appreciate that at least.