That’s my boy
Somewhere Boy writer Pete Jackson discusses how the meeting of the Channel 4 drama’s two key characters shapes the story of a boy who, after growing up isolated and scared of the monsters beyond his door, enters the real world for the first time.
Although he describes the premise of Somewhere Boy as “relatively simple – ‘a boy who’s been locked away by his father is suddenly brought out into a real world he didn’t know existed,’” writer Pete Jackson says the set-up allowed him to explore many complex themes, including love, abuse, friendship, grief, isolation, modern masculinity, parenthood, childhood and youth.
“To do this we created two ostensibly very different characters: Danny, a boy raised by his dad in isolation, on a diet of old romantic movies and music from the 40s, who believed the world outside was teeming with monsters waiting to snatch him away; and Aaron, a boy with an absent father, raised very much in the real world on a diet of social media, computer games and porn,” he says, “One boy who’s clearly been raised in a strange fantasy world and another who, despite being up in his bedroom in an achingly ordinary house in an achingly ordinary town, also exists in a kind of fantasy world.”
After Danny moves into Aaron’s family home, “these two boys are each able to challenge how the other views the world, to show up what the other is lacking, to learn from each other – and begin exploring the real world, and adulthood, together,” Jackson continues.
“Being young is always difficult and confusing. And perhaps now, in a rapidly changing world, even more so. Young people are facing situations that are so new and unfamiliar, their parents have no idea how to prepare them because they’ve never faced anything like it. And while one of the most extraordinary things about humans is our ability to rapidly adapt to new situations, accept them as normal and move on, I wonder if that ability is causing us to not question exactly how the world is changing. Are we keeping calm and carrying on when we should be stopping and saying ‘what the fuck?’
“This show afforded us the opportunity to look at the world both through the eyes of Aaron, who’s just trying to keep up and fit in, and Danny, who’s coming to it all completely fresh and questions everything. Neither of them has the right answers but, together, they begin to figure out how the world works and begin to find their place in it.
“A good example of how the boys complement each other is their respective views on sex. Danny, knowing only his old movies, has a pretty clear idea of love and romance but has no knowledge whatsoever of actual sex. And Aaron, with constant access to porn, knows all about the cold mechanics of sex but nothing about love and romance. Somewhere in the middle lies reality, and these boys help each other find it.
“But this show isn’t just about the boys. They’re both products of their upbringing and their respective fathers. We wanted to look at what it is to be a dad, and the impact dads have on their offspring. Danny’s dad, Steve, broken by grief after the death of his wife, fearful and distrustful of the world, took the extraordinary decision to spirit his son away to what he thought was safety – buying a house in the middle of nowhere and creating a beautiful world within those four walls for him and his beloved boy.
“Once Danny was old enough to start asking why they couldn’t go outside, Steve told him the world was full of monsters that would snatch Danny away, just as they had taken Danny’s mum. It’s abuse, of course, a terrible thing to do to a child. But it began as an act of love, and Danny grew up with a loving, devoted, tactile, emotionally expressive, engaged and available dad – something that many boys and men lack.
“Aaron, in the real world, has had a very different but very common experience – a remote, distant and eventually absent father. We look at the impact both types of parenting have had on the boys; how they both think of their dads as heroes, despite all the abundant evidence to the contrary; how difficult it is for them to admit that their dads are flawed, broken human beings; and what it takes for them to then forgive their dads and move on, on their own terms.
“Tied up with this inability to demonise one’s father is the show’s main dramatic thrust: the search for the monster. Danny has grown up being told there were monsters, and believing it entirely. Once released into the outside world and told over and over again that his dad was a liar, Danny is almost relieved to discover that his mother was killed in a hit-and-run, that a man drove off when he could have helped. This allows Danny to imagine that there is indeed at least one monster and, therefore, that his dad didn’t really lie to him.
“Across the series, this allows us to explore another big theme. In a show about monsters, we are able to posit the question ‘what if there really aren’t any?’ In a chaotic world, it’s tempting to organise it in binary terms. ‘We’re good, they’re bad. I’m right, they’re wrong.’ It’s comforting to have enemies, to have monsters. It’s nice for the world to be polarised because it’s simple, and we know where we stand.
“But what if it’s not that simple? What if the world is mainly full of human beings just like us, who are chaotic, contradictory, messy, fucked-up, wonderful and awful all at the same time? What if we’re all just improvising wildly, trying our best and occasionally succeeding but more often than not failing? What if your beloved father wasn’t a hero after all, but a man destroyed by grief who allowed love to become abuse? And what if your angry, sullen, misogynistic cousin wasn’t a horrible guy, but a lost young man trying and failing to find his place in the world?
“The lesson Danny learns over the course of the series is that the world isn’t simply divided into monsters and heroes. And it’s not the world of his old movies, with white picket fences and no sad endings. It’s complex, hard, dirty and scary – but also rich and full and wonderful and rewarding. And crucially, it’s real.”
The series is produced by Clerkenwell Films, whose joint MD Petra Fried (and Somewhere Boy exec producer) says she was excited when Jackson brought her an idea for a show that “focuses on the creation of masculine identity from the dual perspectives of two boys, one who has been underexposed to the world around him, having been locked away for his whole life, and another who has been overexposed, via social media and online porn.”
She continues: “Working with Pete on the journey these boys take as they explore the real world together for the first time, and the subtle and emotional way their relationship develops, was a wonderful process to be part of.
“What was also really important to me was the way in which Somewhere Boy spans a number of genres without settling in any one camp – it’s a complex hybrid of family drama, coming-of-age story, social realism, fairy-tale gothic horror and revenge thriller. As a result, it’s always been a difficult show to categorise, something that can make a broadcaster nervous. But luckily Lee Mason at Channel 4 [the drama commissioner who has since joined Disney] took a punt on the show, and it’s partly the fact that it doesn’t sit squarely in any one genre that has helped it stand out from the crowd.”