Warning: This contains spoilers for the end of Witless Season 1. Not caught up? Click here to see where to watch Witless online.
“Oh bums.” That’s how Witless Season 1 ended, and it’s hard to think of two better words to sum up the warped appeal of BBC Three’s crime comedy.
The first season closed on a genuinely gripping cliffhanger, as flatmates Leanne (Kerry Howard) and Rhona (Zoe Boyle) found themselves shooting their next door neighbour, Jackie. Why? Because they were trying to shoot Barry. Why? Because he was trying to kill them. Why? Because they were witnesses to a murder in Season 1 and were forced into witness protection by the cops – only for a mole in the police to betray their location to the gang tracking them down.
The result is a wonderful balance of absurdity and excitement, and it’s not an easy balance to pull off: on the one hand, the girls fear for their lives, as they’re chased by teenage assassins called “DJ Sound as F***” and “Appraisal”; on the other hand, they’re being chased by teenage assassins called “DJ Sound as F***” and “Appraisal”. It’s a show where tension is undermined by humour, but tension still builds nonetheless; where cliffhangers can leave you wanting to know what happens next, but are still set up with the words “oh bums”.
Season 2 sees Witless embrace that blend even more, as Leanne and Rhona understandably decide they can’t trust the police and go it alone instead. It’s a move that gently nudges them from fish-out-of-water comedy to girls-on-the-run caper, accelerating the pace and turning our couple into active players in their tale. Except, of course, that only makes things more haphazard – because Rhona and Leanne are far from the most level-headed of people.
Of course, Rhona would love to think that she is, and Leanne is in no doubt that she’s the smart one – and Zoe Boyle and Kerry Howard are as brilliantly entertaining as ever in their roles. Boyle’s mild-mannered and overly-logic thinker is completely out of her depth, while Howard’s insistence on using her acting skills to go into disguise at every opportunity remains endearingly amusing. (“I’m the specialist… old lady doctor,” she claims, as the duo hide out in a hospital, after Jackie’s body is picked up by paramedics.) By the time they’re infiltrating a funeral later in the season, with Leanne pretending to be a Russian ex-girlfriend of the deceased (“With Sandra… it is never over!”), it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious – made even more so by director Andrew Chaplin, who never misses a chance to blend cinematic style with the most mundane actions.
And yet their show is almost stolen entirely by DJ Sound As F***. Nicholas Fruin’s young assassin, who was enjoyably big-for-his-boots in Season 1, ended up in the finale having to shoot his friend, Appraisal (actual name: Gareth). Season 2 sees him benefit from his willingness to cross that line, as he finds himself taken under the wing of gang leader Willy Whelan – a boss who has an uncomfortably literal way of proving to others that DJ Sound As F*** has big balls. But he also has to deal with the guilt of the shooting, which gives the violent teen an unexpectedly tragic side. It’s not often you sympathise with a character named “DJ Sound As F***”, let alone do so while giggling – which you will do, when you see his incompetent, inappropriate, sadly innocent phone call to Childline about the whole thing.
All the while, the plot keeps moving at breakneck speed, as Rhona and Leanne find increasingly silly ways to solve increasingly silly situations – from caravans with naughty old people in them to being trapped in a closet full of guns. Writers Lloyd Woolf and Joe Tucker keep things just unpredictable enough to be gripping, whether it’s unplanned pregnancies or boyfriends who turn out to be more sinister than they appear, but just stupid enough to be fun – and that constant sense of implausibility oddly makes it all the more believable. If you went on the run from a gang, you suspect, it wouldn’t be cool, easy or straightforward; it would be chaotic, daft and relentless. In real life, no matter how fast you run, there’s always the chance you’ll just bump into the person trying to kill you on a street corner. At just five episodes long, the ruthlessly efficient Season 2 races along, taking us through a string of cliffhangers that don’t let up – and when it comes to cliffhangers, Witless has your bum on the edge of your seat every time.
Witless Season 1 and 2 are available on BBC iPlayer until 1st April 2018.