I Was Told That Whatever You Did, You Did to Be Happy; HER PARENTS WERE THE APOSTLES OF LIBERAL SOCIETY, SO WHY DOES AMY JENKINS TAKE SUCH A GRIM VIEW OF YOUTH

Article excerpt

Byline: JANE KELLY

AT FIRST it seems to be the familiar TV tale of five ill-assorted young things sharing an urban flat together. No one wants to take responsibility for buying loo paper or putting out the bins. Unwanted girlfriends move in and create havoc.

But This Life, an 11-part BBC2 series which began last month, is much more.

The series presents a chilling portrait of the young middle classes. The values of professional twentysomethings are clearly laid out: they are utterly casual about sex and drugs, from nicotine to heroin. Squeezed economically, their one anxiety is money and status.

The men, desperate to sleep with as many `girls' as they can, are frantic in case they are professionally eclipsed by women.

These young people, all lawyers, believe that fulfilling individual ambition is all that really matters. We see them doing a lot of performing - but not in court. In the first episode, Anna, who wears a leopardskin coat to work, and looks like the type of woman who she might be expected to prosecute, decides to offer sexual favours to try to get herself a job.

She is advised that this is `outdated' by Milly, an Asian, who we later see having oral sex and getting out of a shower with her live-in boyfriend Egg who is distraught because she earns more than he does.

The series gives a painful insight into how the new generation thinks as they inhabit a world of gruelling work, sex and drugs - in that order - unalleviated by romance, high culture or idealism. The programme is billed as a `comedy drama' but it presents a depressing picture of people who believe in nothing and feel no duty to anyone but themselves.

This remarkable morality tale comes from Amy Jenkins, 29, writing for TV for the first time, who was a solicitor for a year before dropping out to write. She wrote a script with Danny Boyle, producer of the controversial film Trainspotting and submitted one of her works to Working Title, the company which made Four Weddings And A Funeral.

They took her on, and BBC 2 Controller Michael Jackson asked her for a proposal for a `twentysomething script'. The result was This Life.

She says her work is an accurate reflection of what she has experienced and bluntly shows how her generation thinks.

`They have an individualised morality. They care about getting on with people and personal development,' she said. `They have therapy and osteopaths. They do not have a view on how society should be. They don't care about that.

`Any optimism comes from close, particular relationships, not from thinking about the wider world and how they can improve it. My friends don't care about Europe or John Major. They don't vote. There is no need to because the world is safe and all the battles have already been fought and won for us. The only question they ask is: `How can I survive?'

In this world, it seems, society doesn't exist, only the individual and his or her needs.

`They find the laws about drugs irrelevant. I have never met anyone who has not taken illegal drugs. Among the twentysomethings they are de rigueur.

`They take sex as it comes, as often as possible. That's not immoral.

They don't have a higher morality, because there isn't one.'

A life of total freedom it might seem. But what permeates the drama is a strange sense of loss and deprivation. The twentysomethings of today apparently feel that the thirty and fortysomethings had it much better.

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Resenting their lack of money and job insecurity they turn inward.

Struggling to get a step on the career ladder leaves no time for finer feelings. Their driven attitude masks the fact that they have no roots and no beliefs.

Amy describes a new `me' generation, full of envy and ambition, but without the prosperity of the Sixties or Eighties.

`You can't blame young people for being selfish and self-obsessed. …