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Stories were set in a squalid house where the students lived during their time at Scumbag College. It can be classified as a comedy of manners.

When it was first broadcast, the show gained attention for violent slapstick. Though new to mainstream audiences, Mayall and Edmondson had been using it in 20th Century Coyote for some time. The show also featured surreal elements, such as puppets playing talking animals or objects. Confusion was added with lengthy cutaways to scenarios not involved in the main plot.

Episodes in the second series sometimes included "flash frames" (three frames, equivalent to 1/8 of a second), but these were edited out of some repeats. These were included as a mockery of the British and American public's fear of subliminal messages in television and music. Unlike original flash frames, which lasted only one frame, these were long enough to be noticeable without actually being identifiable. The images included the end caption of Carry On Cowboy, a rusty dripping tap, a leaping frog, a dove in flight, a skier, and a hand making pottery.

The episodes ran 35 minutes, and episodes were very often edited to a standard half-hour running time when repeated on the BBC or satellite channels.

In the United States, The Young Ones ran on PBS, MTV, Comedy Central in 1994, and BBC America in the early 2000s

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