Precociousness is a delicate balance. Some shows can get away with it, like “Peanuts,” which gives depression and anxiety a colorful childlike simplicity. But how cute can precociousness possibly be when it takes the form of a hard-drinking 11-year-old who requests more vodka in her Screwdriver? According to Netflix’s newest comedy (or drama? Dramedy?), “Turn Up Charlie,” the answer is very.
“Turn Up Charlie” stars the suavest man alive, Idris Elba (“Luther”) as Charlie Ayo, a down-and-out pop star turned failing DJ. Charlie effortlessly glides through life, bouncing from rave to rave to his aunt’s house, where he lives. Charlie seems doomed for a life of mediocre gigs until he has a chance encounter with an old friend at a wedding. This friend, David (J.J. Field, “The Romanoffs”), just so happens to be a famous movie star. While visiting David, Charlie is able to see first-hand how evil David’s mischevious daughter, Gabby (Frankie Harvey, debut), is to her nannies. Soon, David and his wife, Sara (Piper Perabo, “Covert Affairs”), are convinced that Charlie would be the perfect nanny for their family. However, Gabby is not quite as convinced of this and decides to resume her reign of terror to rid herself of Charlie.
Elba is an amazing actor and expectedly gives a great performance in “Charlie.” But it becomes very clear that Elba is not the right choice to portray the character. Elba, himself a DJ in his own free time, is not believable as a failing DJ who lives with his aunt. He is so charming and magnetic in every scene that it seems almost wrong that the people around him are more successful than he.
The show also suffers from a pace that makes it feel as though it’s trying to outrun its viewers, lest they realize the premise does not make too much sense. In any given scene, characters’ emotions flip on a dime — from happy to uncomfortable, from anger to forgiveness — with little explanation or justification. In one scene, Gabby is happily dancing with Charlie at a party, then abruptly turns on him when a studio executive strikes up a conversation with Charlier about his career. The manner in which the show abruptly flips from scene to scene without allowing pause for anything to sink in, makes it feel like an abridged Sparknotes version of a real television show.
While the problem of absent parents is a perfectly reasonable, Gabby remains violently angry about it — so much so that when David initially tells her that Charlie is her new nanny, she brandishes a blow torch. This character trait feels even more ridiculous when you consider that her parents truly do care about her. They clearly will go to any lengths to find her the best nanny possible, and David even picks up gifts for Gabby while he’s away (which are promptly shoved into a drawer).
“Turn Up Charlie” is kind of like “The Nanny,” if Fran Drescher had been really into Depeche Mode. It works off the classic fish-out-of-water tropes and is more or less a waste of Elba’s talent. That being said, it is possible to enjoy it. If you take “Turn Up Charlie” for what it is — a casual show about a DJ nanny — then there’s enough charm to salvage it. It’s meant to be an outrageous, feel-good show, and it honestly achieved that feat. “Turn Up Charlie” isn’t objectively good, but it has some heart, at least.