Tucker's Luck: A Critical Analysis
Tucker's Luck is a slice of the bad part of the 1980s, an era of global recession and well-intentioned but largely ineffective social programs. UK unemployment figures at the time topped 3 million, which meant one in eight workers went jobless.
Against this background, Tucker's Luck is a working-class drama, set in an urban society that's highly institutionalized, from education (comprehensive schools and standardized testing) to employment (the Job Centre and the dole) to living conditions (council-owned housing). Moreover, it shows the effects of such state-sponsored institutions on kids, producing an environment in which most either turn cynical (and dependent) or struggle against the system.
That's not to say that Tucker's Luck is entirely downbeat. Tucker Jenkins and his mates generally have an underlying optimism despite conditions, and therein lies the dramatic tension that drives the stories.
Tucker's Luck addresses some major issues facing young people in Britain in the '80s: high unemployment, declining currency values, inflation, rampant bureaucracy, life on the dole (that's welfare payments, for those in the U.S.), a thriving black market, and piece-meal, low-paying jobs with no benefits.
Yet, the series skirts around other major youth issues (drugs, pregnancy, violence), mostly due to the fundamental good nature of the three main characters. The series never delves too deeply, generally playing up violence as an element of excitement. The effects of drinking are shown, but not addressed directly; likewise, there are plenty of love interests, and some discussion of relationships, but the issue of sex is left largely unaddressed. Finally, parents - in parental roles - are nearly absent. They pop up now and again to deliver a lecture, or provide work, money, or obstacles to three able-bodied young men who are otherwise left to range and forage as freely as their meager cash allows. So, to the extent that the program attempts a grittily realistic portrayal of working-class urban life, the grit is heavily sugar coated.
More universally, Tucker's Luck is a look at a trio of young friends, their relationships, and their gradual development into men.
As for Tucker himself, he is a bright kid, with leadership qualities and energetic determination when motivated. He's capable of working within societal norms to achieve a goal, but finds himself continually stymied by the unfeeling ineffectualness of the official and quasi-official systems and programs that supposedly exist to help him. Unlike those around him, he is not dulled to his plight; indeed, he is frequently roused to righteous and well-spoken anger. Then, he could be speaking for a generation of young people, faced with hard times and little hope.
In today's economic climate, Tucker's Luck has gone from being a period piece to being painfully current. In fact, had this been the 1980s, the recession would have been over by now. It's not like there wasn't warning - read this article from more than five years ago about unqualified school-leavers, from BBC News, 21 August 2006. Or this article about a 20% unemployment rate among teenage workers from MSNBC.com, 16 January 2009, and this declaration of Britain's recession from BBC News, 23 January 2009. This article from BBC News, dated 05 March 2009, says that the current UK recession is worse than the 1930s. To bring this paragraph full-circle, there's this article, from BBC News, 17 August 2009, headlined "Many school leavers 'facing dole.'" Here's an article, dated 29 July 2010 from MSNBC, about the lack of jobs and opportunities for even highly educated young people. This article, dated 21 October 2010 from MSNBC.com, illustrates the topsy-turvy economy in which state unemployment benefits pay better than a real job. There's this article from MSN Money, 18 May 2011, saying that only one in four teenagers will find summer jobs - and that figure is up from the previous year. Lastly, there's this programme from BBC Radio 4, covering the issue that this generation will likely be "poorer than their parents."
Review: the three series
Each series of Tucker's Luck has its own feel, which is consistent with a programme about changes and growing up. Each series plays its role in the development of Tucker Jenkins from a relatively carefree older kid to a maturing young adult.
The first series is often cited as the most-popular, and it is certainly the most-familiar to those who came to Tucker's Luck through Grange Hill. The relationships are still relatively simple, as are the issues and the storylines. Tucker at the end of Series 1 is mostly the same person as he was at the beginning, although he has confronted the series villian (and lost).
In the second series, we see more of Tucker's development, as reflected in a wider circle of friends. While Tucker's two key mates, Alan and Tommy, have not yet moved on, there is the definite sense of wheels in motion. This movement is evident in many ways: Passmore's evolution, Tommy's adoption of a new circle of friends, Creamy's introduction as a homeless person and exit as a keyboard player for a touring band. Here, the Tucker at the end of the series is a very different character than the Tucker at the beginning. He's gone from motorcycle delivery boy working someone else's job, to entrepreneur; likewise it's made clear at the end of the series that several of his circle are moving on with their lives.
By the third series, Tommy has moved on and Alan and Tucker are looking toward the future. The storylines delve deeper into the process of moving on - selling a business, getting a divorce, applying for an educational grant, earning academic qualifications. The issues are more-complex, and are dealt with in a more-rounded way. Even Tucker's girlfriend through the series is a more traditionally ambitious (and traditionally flawed) character than his previous girlfriends. By way of contrast, we have Tucker's older brother, Barry, who spends much of the series trying to recover the past (his stolen Capri). Tucker's chance meeting with Trisha Yates at the end of Series 3 brings Tucker full circle, in a way, but it's clear that the past is, well, past.
Tucker's Luck offers a consistently high level of quality. I enjoy the first series for its simplicity, the second series for its character development, and the third series for its social commentary. There's not a bad episode in the bunch, but it helps to take the entire run of three series as a single body of work, with an overarching theme centered around Tucker's growth.
Similar tv programmes
Other TV shows of the 1980s set within a certain contemporary socioeconomic condition include the BBC soap opera EastEnders and, on the other side of the Atlantic and the social scale, the American yuppie-based thirtysomething.
EastEnders revolves around the residents of a fictional community in London's East End. It began in 1985, and is still running on BBC One. thirtysomething revolved around the hectic lives of young, upwardly mobile professionals and their families in the suburbs just outside of Philadelphia. It originally ran on ABC from 1987 to 1991, and encapsulated life in the 1980s for many viewers.
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