There are few comedy tropes more compelling than that of the adult baby: Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s character in Fleabag is one, constantly breaking things just to get a reaction out of those around her; Kendall Roy in Succession is one, throwing temper tantrums when something doesn’t go his way. Juice, a new BBC Three comedy created by Mawaan Rizwan, is a worthy addition to the adult baby canon. It delves into the mind of a cartoonish millennial named Jamma, played with (intentionally) excruciating hamminess by Rizwan. It’s a show about what it means to be a grownup when you’re incapable of doing anything for yourself. Jamma dances and gesticulates through life blithely, often trying to do the right thing but rarely doing anything other than making whatever situation he happens to be in worse. He gets his kit off at a house inspection to make his butt-cheeks dance, calls a time-out on the kids’ football game he’s coaching to seek their advice on his love life and is unable to speak to his boss without insulting her. Juice is a parade of humiliating little moments like these, to the point that I wouldn’t be surprised if many viewers watch the show through their fingers.
Rizwan began his career as a YouTuber, and rose to fame hosting How Gay Is Pakistan?, a documentary about gay rights in his country of birth. Juice is based on a show Rizwan mounted at the Edinburgh festival fringe in 2018, and, unlike so many other queer comedies, it is not about a quest for acceptance in any traditional sense. Jamma’s parents and siblings are totally accepting of his being gay – his mother, Farida, and brother, Isaac, are played by his real-life mum Shahnaz and brother Nabhaan (who has appeared in Industry) – but are decidedly less onboard with his being a total weirdo. In fact, nobody in Jamma’s life is: his older therapist boyfriend Guy (Russell Tovey, a fan of Rizwan’s original fringe show), while well-meaning, can’t wrap his head around the fact that his partner is pathologically and unrelentingly avoidant.
In other words, Jamma lives entirely in his own world. Juice feels like a cartoon come to life: when Guy tells Jamma he loves him, the walls of a changing room start to close in; a flirtatious new acquaintance hangs around Jamma like a ghost, eyeing him up when his texts start burning a hole in Jamma’s phone. It can take a moment to get used to Juice’s eye-popping visual style – the opening scene, in which Jamma’s boss’s office becomes a jungle, replete with carnivorous vines, feels like a relic of older, more ramshackle surrealist shows such as The Mighty Boosh – but it quickly settles into its rhythms, mounting some witty, ridiculous set pieces. When Jamma is experiencing anxiety, everything around him shakes and shudders; his orgasm is met with the blast of a confetti cannon. Rizwan has said Juice was inspired by the work of the director Boots Riley, a master modern surrealist; Juice’s fantasy elements aren’t executed with quite as much panache, but they still add sparkle to what could otherwise have been a fairly standard exploration of millennial malaise.
Juice can be patchy – some of the show’s surrealist elements feel heavy-handed, or stall moments that should feel snappy – and it’s at its best when exploring Jamma’s relationships with his family. Shahnaz is a total scene-stealer as a washed-up actor trying to stage a production of War Horse with a group of small children; volatile and manic one moment and tender the next, it often feels as if her character is more finely drawn than Jamma, who generally acts wacky and weird. It’s entertaining watching him be a little bit of a dick to everyone – upon finding out that Isaac has been hired at the marketing agency where he works, he hints that he shouldn’t take the job “cos of like … colonialism and stuff” – but moments of nuance, such as a heart-to-heart he has with Farida about the work required in a long-term relationship, are few and far between.
It doesn’t matter so much, given that so much of Juice is raucous and purely entertaining. In many ways, it’s a love letter to slapstick comedy rendered in the millennial vernacular: Buster Keaton transplanted to agency offices and mid-century furniture stores, and forced to hop and flop his way around a serious world that doesn’t really make much sense.