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TV Review: Idris Elba in Netflix’s ‘Turn Up Charlie’

Elba stars and executive produces this family comedy dressed up in trendy DJ clothes.

With:
Idris Elba, Piper Perabo, JJ Feild, Angela Griffin, Frankie Hervey.

In case you didn’t ascertain as much from his upcoming gig at Coachellea, Idris Elba would like you to know that he’s really, truly serious about this DJ thing.

Not only does the actor double as a DJ in his spare time under the alias “DJ Big Driis,” but he now stars as one in “Turn Up Charlie,” the new Netflix comedy series he is also executive producing. This version of himself, however, is a one hit wonder turned ne’er do well playboy facing down the possibility that he just may be past his prime. While his childhood friend David (JJ Feild) became a more and more famous actor, Charlie partied too hard, got dumped, and moved in with his aunt. When his parents Skype him from Nigeria, he fashions a makeshift office to fake the kind of success he never got — and, if he’s being honest, isn’t even bothering to chase anymore.

But even when his career starts to turn around, it’s not at all the show’s most compelling storyline. In fact, “Turn Up Charlie” — directed in part by sitcom veteran Tristram Shapeero and largely written by Georgia Lester — is a bit of a Trojan horse for a standard issue family Britcom that kicks off when Charlie becomes a nanny (the show’s preferred term is “manny,” but since that is a terrible and unnecessary compound word, I am hereby ignoring it) for David’s precocious daughter Gabby (Frankie Hervey). He mostly does this to get in with David’s wife Sara (Piper Perabo, who does solid work here despite being miscast in the role of an internationally renowned DJ whose vibe is more reminiscent of a slightly cooler than average Silver Lake mom). He even gets to indulge a spark with Sara’s manager Astrid (Angela Griffin), whose love of reckless partying rivals his own. But of course, it’s not long before Charlie and Gabby grow to care about each other more, each learning from the other how to grow and become better people.

When the series focuses on their dynamic and Sara’s growing unease with her transient lifestyle, it’s perfectly fine and fun. “Turn Up Charlie” isn’t really trying to flip the script so much as have fun with it, and at the very least, it’s clear that Elba, Griffin, and Perabo in particular did just that.

But over its eight episodes, “Turn Up Charlie” keeps indulging its clumsier instincts. Its broad themes of learning to value others and balance ambition with family spill out in sporadic bursts. Its dialogue gets clumsier and clumsier, especially in the stereotypically wise for her years mouth of Gabby, who’s prone to rolling her eyes and declaring things like, “bitch please, my first word was ‘therapy.'” Its plots get lost in big set pieces and interpersonal DJ drama that’s nowhere near as interesting as the show wants it to be. (People nodding at each other over thumping bass isn’t a particularly scintillating creative process to be dropping in on, as it turns out.) And by the time every female character on the show has succumbed to Charlie’s supposed charms, it’s hard to understand exactly how or why beyond the fact that Elba is playing him.

Comedy, 30 mins. (8 episodes; all watched for review.) Premieres Friday March 15 on Netflix.

TV Review: Idris Elba in Netflix's 'Turn Up Charlie'

Production: Executive producers: Idris Elba, Gary Reich, Tristram Shapeero, Martin Joyce, Ana Garanito.

Cast: Idris Elba, Piper Perabo, JJ Feild, Angela Griffin, Frankie Hervey.

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