This week sees the return of the BBC Comedy Feeds to BBC iPlayer. Now in their fourth year, the shorts are part an ongoing scheme by BBC Three, BBC Comedy and BBC Academy to provide a platform for new and emerging comedy talent, both on- and off-screen.
A number of previous pilots have gone on to secure commissions for series, including Fried and Josh from last year’s collection.
From Radio 1’s Greg James to a new sketch show, we take a look at this year’s crop of Comedy Feeds.
A sitcom in a pupil referral unit for kids with behavioural and psychological problems? Radges sounds like the kind of set-up destined for easy jokes and stereotypes, but stand-up Fern Brady’s script avoids cheap gags with 17 minutes of heartfelt humour. Yes, there’s the scary one hitting on a nervous girl, and there’s the arrogant best friend, who is mostly interested in who she’s going to pull, but these are familiar figures from the everyday rather than “mad” people. Their laughs rely on swearing a bit too much, but they are as much about common problems as they are about their behavioural difficulties – and even then, they’re told from the perspective of those railing against (or taking advantage of) how they’re perceived by the rest of the world.
A dinner party with a supposedly “normal” sparks some amusingly awkward chaos – and amid it all, Sarah Hadland’s teacher tries to keep order by waving around the wonderfully named “integrity stick”. It’s something Radges can hold aloft with a proud smile.
Photo: BBC/Des Willie
BBC Radio 1 presenter Greg James makes his writing debut with Dead Air, the tale of a late-night radio DJ, Jake Cross, who gets the chance to inherit the big breakfast slot when the previous present kicks the bucket. How funny you find it may well depend on how big a fan of James you are. The pilot, co-written with Mark Chappell and Shaun Pye, ticks a lot of familiar sitcom boxes, from the silly best friend (the “face blind” Hardip – Richard David-Caine) to the token irritating rival, Big Shane (Jarred Christmas).
But even if some of the jokes and expressions feel a tad too scripted – in the world of fictional radio DJs, this is no Alan Partridge – James makes for a charismatic presence in front of the camera, while Tom Davis (whose gruff vocals brought gravelly giggles to the recent Murder in Successville) is a highlight as Jake’s ruthless manager, not to mention Olivia Poulet as his One Direction-loving producer. An elevator encounter with Montserrat Lombard’s brilliantly frosty widow steals the whole show.
Photo: BBC/Tiger Aspect/Ollie Upton
Funz and Gamez
Say the words “comedy game show” to someone and they’ll likely think of two more: Shooting Stars. The pilot of a new game show called Funz and Gamez, then, would surely be destined to languish in the shadow of Vic and Bob’s towering BBC series? Judging by this pilot, conceived by comedian Phil Ellis, the comparison isn’t just invited – it benefits from it.
Ellis, who picked up the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Panel Prize at last year’s Fringe with the format, has come up with a perfectly twisted balance between wholesome family fun and borderline psychological abuse. The secret? Inviting children on as contestants. The result raises the stakes from your typical, boring game show, and also opens up the spoof’s niche appeal to all ages.
And so we watch as Ellis bullies his guests with a winning grin – a cheesy facade that hides a depressing back-story. The programme educates too. “Life lesson number three,” he sings, dramatically, as part of a series of useful tips, “don’t get too close to your gran.”
Rounds include everything from arm-wrestling to asking kids to pick their least favourite parent, while prizes are guaranteed to be things that they will like. “We broke into your house while you were out,” reveals Ellis, offering them a chance to win back their belongings. The live audience reaction is as much fun to watch as the participants’, while additional support from equally morose adults never fails to raise a chuckle.
The result is a hilariously demented spectacle that feels more like a traumatic circus than one of those tired shows that spring up every weekend. All that plus terrible musical jingles? This is wonderful, original Saturday teatime telly. When was the last time you said that?
Is there anyone out there who enjoys their nine-to-five existence? Sunny D stands firmly in the “no” camp. It follows Dane, an account manager who hates his company’s sports metaphors (“Get it to me by end of play”) almost as much as he loathes his twin sister, whose sole function is to remind him how unsuccessful he is.
The idea of an everyman struggling through life is far from original, but it’s presented with a huge helping of wit, from colourful graphics to cutaways featuring fictional press conferences. The conclusion may be predictable, but Baptiste’s fast-paced script crams in a lot of jokes before we get there.
Photo: BBC/Des Willie
Jamie Demetriou, Natasha Demetriou, Liam Williams, Claudia O’Doherty, Ellie White, Alastair Roberts and Daran Johnson. Write down these names, because they’re all destined to become famous, based on this inspired pilot.
Sketch shows are, by their very nature, hit and miss, but People Time has a seriously impressive hit rate, thanks to its eclectic bunch of performers. The cast switch between silly and surreal with a frantic ease, tackling everything from blokey banter in the streets to sexualised music videos. It feels like a long time since there has been a troupe capable of cult TV success. The last great TV sketch show in the UK may be Big Train – and look at how many of those have become household names.
The result is bizarre, unpredictable and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. You’ll never put too many leeks in your frittata again. (When you wind up quoting the lines the morning after, you know you’ve got something special on your hands.)
Coming back home from university is a rite of passage that makes everyone feel like they could be in a sitcom. It’s credit to Andrew Mettam that his take on it feels so unique. Fishbowl follows Hattie (Last Tango In Halifax’s Katherine Rose Morley), who has had a first term that’s literally gone to pot… and more besides. Her parents automatically try to contain her wild ways, but Hattie is determined to escape.
So far, so comfortable – until we begin to meet the rest of the weird suburban community, which includes the always-excellent Michael Smiley as a TV licence-dodging paranoid loner, also eager to go on the run. Things slowly escalate with a tender line in parental affection and a refreshingly odd tone, which build to a highly entertaining 25 minutes.
“There’s a dead badger in your fridge,” someone informs Les. “It’s not for you,” he snaps back. One of the strongest pilots of this year’s batch.
Photo: BBC/Bwark Productions/Mark Johnson
The 2015 BBC Comedy Feeds are available on BBC iPlayer until 12th August