Bolu Babalola On Entering The ‘Big Age’ Of Life In New TV Series

Photo Courtesy of Channel 4.
Nothing confronts you with adulthood quite like the Nigerian saying "at your big age". As pop culture scholar and writer Bolu Babalola puts it, the phrase is as "mocking" as much as it is a "loving admonishment" within the Black community.
"Sometimes it’s said as an insult but so often it is said as a gentle roast and something like, 'Come on, get it together,'" she tells me with a warm smile over Zoom. "Like you’ll say to your friend, 'Really, at your big age, this is what you’re doing?' just to get them together." In her new Channel 4 pilot Big Age, Babalola depicts this through the journey of the protagonist, aspiring writer Ṣadé (Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo) who, after reaching the pivotal age of 25, attempts to navigate this new phase in her life with the help of her friends Dela, Zeke and Tayo.
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"I think Big Age encapsulates, you're 25, and it’s almost like a new adolescence," she says when I ask why she chose the popular Black colloquialism as the show's title. "It's a new era in your life. ‘Big age’ as in literally this is a big age in your life, this is a big era in your life where you're almost coming into your own. You’re discovering new things about yourself and you're finding your voice and you’re figuring out who you are as an adult; what you really want and what you really desire in relationships and career just generally. It is almost like an existential epoch in your life."
Photo Courtesy of Channel 4.
The voice of all things pop culture, Babalola's witty commentary and hot takes has earned her a growing online presence. But after falling in love with writing at the tender age of nine, she is more than just the internet’s favourite cultural critic. Starting out as an assistant producer at BBC Comedy, Babalola made her writing breakthrough with her short story Netflix and Chill in 2016, which was shortlisted for the 4th Estate B4ME prize. Last year she topped the Sunday Times bestseller charts with her anthology Love in Colour, a retelling of mythical and historical love stories, and at the start of 2021 she announced her debut novel, Honey & Spice. Now, the self-proclaimed "romcomoisseur" has moved into the big age of her own life: television. 
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I'm just trying to show us in our many nuances, and sometimes we're gonna be messy. And sometimes we're insecure but we also have each other.

"It's wild to see something that you have worked on for so long," she says. "This world that you've built, come together, and people bringing new life to it." As she expresses, this journey hasn’t come easy, especially when making the transition from writing books to writing for the small screen. "It was very illuminating for me and humbling for me because it’s a lot harder than writing fiction. Fiction is hard, it is, but scriptwriting is a lot of maths, you know. It's a lot of shifting blocks and figuring out a narrative formula and a moving beat towards the show, especially when it's a half-hour comedy."
Fortunately for us, Babalola’s efforts have paid off. Her dedication to depicting what felt natural to her has produced a carefree and joyous perspective of Blackness which, in mainstream media, is still a rarity. Similar to TV gems Insecure (Issa Rae) and Chewing Gum (Michaela Coel), Big Age is a funny and relatable comedy that encapsulates one of the many layers of being a Black Brit in today’s society.
Photo Courtesy of Channel 4.
"I just want people to watch Big Age and have a good time. I'm not trying to teach anybody anything," she explains. "I'm just trying to show us in our many nuances, and sometimes we're gonna be messy. And sometimes we're insecure but we also have each other. I want to show you the fact like, for instance, Ṣadé has insecure elements. And even though she’s figuring out who she is, she kind of knows who she is deep down. We can be confident and insecure at the same time, like, those two things can really coexist."
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Throughout our chat, Babalola’s passion for her upcoming pilot radiates from the screen. But nothing brightens up her smile more than when touching on the inspiration behind Big Age. Listing some of her top writers (Issa Rae, Michael Schur, Mindy Kaling and, of course, YA icon Meg Cabot) and movies (Brown Sugar, When Harry Met Sally) among her influences, she also shares that a large portion of the series is motivated by Black British women. "Our friendships, our lives, you know," she presses. "Being a Black British Londoner, being a Black British Nigerian second-generation woman, being a writer, being the eldest child, being the eldest daughter, all of those things, they just all came together. And so Big Age is kind of like an amalgamation of so many of my experiences and so many of my friends' experiences." 

I wanted my first TV thing to just really be reflective of exactly who I am and what I know. I think it's really important because I feel like our stories are what define us as humanity.

These experiences are immediately present in the pilot. Although we see the writer lean into her passion for romance through the burgeoning love triangle between Ṣadé, her "unrequited love" Zeke (Michael Workeye) and old friend Tayo (CJ Beckford), it’s clear that at large, the series pays homage to the beauty of Black female friendships. "There's a rom-com element and there’s always going to be a rom-com element. It is a rom-com and we’re going to see elements of that come out further on, it's going to be like a celebration of rom-coms so I'm probably going to be utilising tropes. But the real rom-com is Ṣadé and Dela (Racheal Ofori) and their friendship and their connection."
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Photo Courtesy of Channel 4.
I share my enthusiasm about how it felt to fully relate to characters like Ṣadé and Dela through these intersections that for once go beyond being Black or a woman. Babalola responds: "It was important for me to do that. I wanted my first TV thing to just really be reflective of exactly who I am and what I know. I think it's really important because I feel like our stories are what define us as humanity. And so if we don't see ourselves reflected, who are we saying is deserving of humanity? It's actually dehumanising if we disallow the breadth of our stories. So yeah, I'm just really glad that I have this opportunity to tell one of ours, because, again, this is a singular story, you know?"
Big Age is one of many stories being aired as part of Channel 4’s Black to Front initiative on 10th September. This will see the network broadcast a full day of programming from Black talent and Black contributors. "I'm sharing a platform with really talented people," Babalola says. "I think it's just so beautiful, to be able to see us in so many different ways and our multitudes and our nuances."
Nevertheless, Babalola is keen to push this representation beyond Big Age and the Channel 4 initiative. Alongside her dreams to "write a good old fashioned rom-com movie" (we can’t wait) and try her hand at directing, what else does she want to do? "[To be] able to give the opportunity for other storytellers like me, who look like me, the chance to tell our stories would be like a massive, massive blessing. Whether that be in the form of a production company or whatever. That would be the dream."

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