Following in the footsteps of Broadchurch, Southcliffe and Happy Valley, E4’s eight-part teen thriller Glue, which began last night, takes the rolling farmlands and winding lanes of Britain’s underused countryside and makes them the backdrop for a disturbing yet thoughtful study of teenage ennui.
Set in the fictional village of Overton, where farming and horse racing are the only career prospects, Glue hones in on a rag-tag bag of young friends with nothing better to do than get wasted, pop little blue pills and joyride in stolen cars just to kill the boredom. Their hedonistic lifestyle is brought crashing-down, however, when the body of one of their friends is found under the wheel of a tractor.
Rather than play up the drama of this big reveal by juxtaposing it with the thumping danger of a horse race, writer Jack Thorne takes a more grounded approach, having a farmer stumble across his friend’s body while investigating a bump in the road. It’s the realism of this ordinary moment being shattered by an extraordinary event that gives it its tragic power.
Though billed as a teen-drama-meets-murder-mystery, Thorne is less interested in the details of a police investigation as he is in focusing on the various ways in which teenagers cope with grief. Some burst into tears or withdraw from the world, while others chose to act out by stealing a car and racing into the night, desperate for any distraction from the intense pain they feel.
Yet the way Thorne slowly leaks information as the tragedy forces the characters’ secrets and buried feuds to the surface again, suggests that the show will take on more of a whodunit vibe in future episodes and it will be interesting to see if Glue can grip the nation in the way that Broadchurch did last year.
But Glue is not only concerned with grief and murder. At its heart this is a coming-of-age story that perfectly captures the conflicting feelings of ambition and frustration of teens stuck in the countryside and casting around for a future.
This theme is well suited to the isolation and claustrophobia of the show’s bucolic surroundings, something which is exemplified in a tautly wound opening sequence in which our heroes go skinny-dipping in a silo that quickly fills with wheat grain before they are pulled out on the point of suffocation – a pointed indication of how short the gap is between boredom and tragedy.
For this to work, strong performances are required and the young cast are so convincing in their roles you can expect Glue to do for them what Skins (another show written by Thorne) did for the likes of Nicholas Hoult and Jack O’Connell. Jordan Stephens, of Rizzle Kicks fame, is particularly surprising as Rob, a bored stoner with no direction and no desire to find one. Charlotte Spencer, too, is excellent as Rob’s girlfriend Tina, a trainee jockey trying to balance having a good time with supporting her alcoholic mother.
But the most impressive performance comes from Yasmin Paige as half-Romany PC Ruth. Ruth acts as the moral heart of the show, in much the same way as Allison Tolman’s Molly Solverson did in Fargo, showing determination to do the right thing even if when it ostracizes her from her community and fails to win the respect of her colleagues.
While parts of his depiction of youth culture feel like hoary clichés – the stereotype of pill-popping, sexually adventurous criminals is not one I have ever experienced – Thorne certainly has a knack for representing real teen issues with sensitivity and a dark humor. Combine this with the alarming beauty of its location and the puzzling mystery Thorne is starting to weave, and Glue starts to feel like one of the most compelling pieces of TV in quite some time.
Click here to watch the trailer for Glue