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Idris Elba’s DJ-turned-nanny comedy an odd mix

Updated March 10, 2019 - 8:16 pm

You can add Idris Elba’s “Turn Up Charlie” (Friday, Netflix) to the ranks of high-profile projects about male nannies that includes Hulk Hogan’s “Mr. Nanny,” that fake sitcom on “This Is Us” and, well, it’s pretty much just those two.

Elba stars as DJ Charlie Ayo, who had a big pop hit in the ’90s, blew through all his money and has spent the ensuing years toiling as everything from a personal trainer to a dog walker while living with his Aunty and struggling to pay his share of the electric bill. When we first see Charlie, he’s spinning Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” in front of an empty dance floor at his mate’s wedding.

But when he reconnects with his childhood friend David (JJ Feild), a Hollywood star who just moved back to London with his wife, Sara (Piper Perabo), a famous American DJ, Charlie ends up looking after their horrible 11-year-old daughter, Gabby (Frankie Hervey), while angling for a comeback.

This isn’t one of those parody sketches that didn’t make the cut during Elba’s hosting gig on this weekend’s “Saturday Night Live.”

It’s an actual, honest-to-goodness series. Even though it comes off like a Disney Channel sitcom into which someone shoehorned F-bombs, illicit drugs and the very prominent use of a marital aid.

Charlie’s an interesting character. After bringing home a woman from that wedding, he puts some vinyl on his turntable as a soundtrack to their foreplay, only for her to interrupt the proceedings to ask if he could instead play the “Sexy Time” playlist on Spotify.

“Spotify? No, man. Spotify’s digital,” Charlie says in disgust. “This is analog. It’s smoother. It sounds nicer.”

At least the man has his priorities. And he’d be a solid lead in a grown-up series focusing on adult themes. Think “Californication” only about 75 percent less smug.

Instead, Charlie’s saddled with a kid who’s precocious in the way no real child ever is — “I can’t tell if your overwhelming idiocy is cute or cringe,” Gabby unconvincingly dismisses him — and he’s unable to stop saying things are “adorbs.”

If nothing else, “Turn Up Charlie” could benefit from the same can’t-quite-believe-it’s-a-thing curiosity that made “A Christmas Prince” so fascinating.

Elba is massively talented and bubbling over with charisma.

Fun fact: In 2006, he kicked off a short-lived marriage during a trip to see Floyd Mayweather fight in Las Vegas with a quickie ceremony at the Little White Wedding Chapel.

And he’s obviously fascinated with DJ culture, considering he’s making his Coachella debut next month with a set behind the turntables.

So if the actor, People magazine’s reigning sexiest man alive, wants to take time out from his career to co-create, executive produce and star in something like this, you let him.

If Elba wants to do the same with an update of “Knight Rider” where, instead of a sleek sports car, KITT is one of those old-timey bicycles with a massive front wheel, and he spends most of every episode furiously pedaling just to get anywhere, you take a chance on it.

After all, he’s Idris Elba.

And it couldn’t be that much more surreal than “Turn Up Charlie.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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