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BBC Three often gets something of a bad rep due to the nature of some its programme. But as the channel prepares to be moved online, the Beeb’s line-up for younger audiences has not only gained more support from those keen to keep Three on-air, but has demonstrated over and over its value both as a showcase for talent and a platform for tackling important issues.
The broadcaster, though, has a wider remit than that, from the Proms and the scientific achievement of photographing Pluto up close to coverage of athletics at the London Anniversary Games. The arrival of a David Walliams-starring Agatha Christie drama this week only adds to the diverse pickings.
We review the best TV shows and films currently on BBC iPlayer:
Music Box with Guy Garvey
The Elbow’s likeable frontman throws the curtains wide on a new music series exclusive to iPlayer, which sees Garvey share and discuss artists that he is most excited about. The series will run every other week for six episodes, with the first living up to its promise of introducing audiences to new music through its focus on Here We Go Magic. The exclusive premiere of the video for Falling – from their new album Be Small – is an apt coup, with Garvey providing the kind of amusing and insightful commentary that listeners to his Radio 6 Music show will be familiar with. Space for archive music from Radiohead brings diversity to the line-up, while the sub-30-minute runtime makes this an easy fit into your commute. Most impressive, though, is the BBC’s Playlister, which enables you to add tracks to a music playlist – a feature that, while not always relevant to the Beeb’s catch-up TV content, really comes into its own. Much like YouTube’s links to purchase audio from its videos, it’s the kind of innovative touch the BBC is good at – and could signal a strong future for IPlayer in the music VOD world. One day like this a fortnight will see us right.
Available until: June 2016
Photo: BBC / Dean Chalkley
Matt Berry Does… Summer Holidays
Matt Berry’s series of topical shorts continue to make us chuckle, even as the subject matter becomes more and more arbitrary. His response to the topic is to deliver his most surreal voice over and footage combo yet – but even if the topic and its follow-through feel more haphazard than in the past, there’s something undeniably hilarious about Matt Berry’s voice over the top of screaming fish. Long may that stay true.
Available until: June 2016
Photo: BBC iPlayer
The Ugly Face of Disability Hate Crime
You may not have heard of Adam Pearson, but you’ll recognise him. He has one of those faces. That’s partly because he starred in Under the Skin as one of Scarlett Johansson’s victims. And partly because he suffers from neurofibromatosis type 1. If you haven’t heard of that either, you’ll certainly recognise the conditions effects: his facial disfigurement turns even the most well-assuming stranger into a demonstration of prejudice. Some people avoid him on buses, but others joke about setting him on fire. Every year, there are estimated to be over 50 thousand hate crimes against disabled people in the UK. But why are only around 1,000 reported? Taking to the streets for revealing vox pops and trying to track down someone at Google to clamp down on online bullying, his campaign to raise awareness of “disabilism” (prejudice against people with any form of disability) is funny, provocative and hugely uplifting. Like its important subject matter, this is a piece of television that shouldn’t go under-reported.
Available until: 22nd August
Photo: BBC/Betty TV/Mark Johnson
London Anniversary Games
It’s been three years since the London 2012 Olympics, but the Anniversary Games held every summer still conjure up warm feelings of nostalgia and national pride. With Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah and Usain Bolt all on the cards for the 2015 competition, though, there’s also sporting entertainment galore.
Available until: 23rd August
Photo: BBC/Andrew Hayes-Watkins
The Sky at Night: Pluto Revealed
NASA’s New Horizons mission is yet another reminder of mankind’s scientific achievements: the first time any probe has visited the dwarf planet. How did we get those images in such stunning close-up detail? Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Chris Lintott present the inside story of the groundbreaking trip across the solar system in the 750th episode of the Beeb’s long-running astronomy programme.
Available until: 19th August
Photo: BBC/Victoria Weaver
Storyville: Circus Elephant Rampage
In 1973, a baby elephant was captured from the wild and trained to perform in the circus. He was named Tyke. “20 years later…” begins Storyville’s Circus Elephant Rampage ominously, as we are told of how the animal went on a rampage in Honolulu in 1994. Interviews and footage of trainers explaining their process build up to the event in a detail that recalls the recent Blackfish – and the final footage, shot first-hand by onlookers – is as shocking as that documentary.
Available until: 21st August
Photo: BBC/Jumping Dog Productions Pty Ltd/The Altoona Mirror
People Just Do Nothing
Several years after it was first a BBC Comedy Feed pilot, People Just Do Nothing returns for a second season following the vaguely inept owners of pirate station Kurupt FM. (They’re very big in the Brentford area.)
Co-created by and starring Allan Mustafa as MC Grindah and co-starring Hugo Chegwin as DJ Beats, what started as a YouTube series has been nurtured by the Beeb into a comedy staple – becoming the first BBC Three show to premiere on iPlayer along the way. There’s a hint of Alan Partridge to the mockumentary – “How far does Kurupt reach?” asks our filmmakers on a balcony overlooking a council estate. “As far as the eye can see,” comes the proud reply. “But not that bit on the left.” – but the setting, characters and knowingly bad music has its own rhythm, which the cast stick to with engaging chemistry. Scenes where we catch Beats out of his hat and in a business suit for a job interview bring a surprising sympathy to his useless existence – and even more sympathy for his girlfriend, Roche, who has to endure the worst birthday party for their daughter ever recorded on screen. Asim Chaudhry as their friend, who runs a string of incompetent and illegal businesses, is always a treat. (Watch out for his “Polish Vodka”, which isn’t from Poland, but is made with window cleaner.)
Available until: 2nd August (Season 1)
Photo: BBC / Roughcut / Jack Barnes
The BBC’s latest season of comedy pilots has arrived and it’s a consistently hilarious batch. Highlights include warped game show spoof Funz and Gamez, complete with depressed host and a production team that breaks into their contestants’ homes to steal prizes, and sketch show People Like Us, which just might be the best ensemble sketch programme since Big Train. Elsewhere, the return of a wayward daughter from university to her rural home is a delightfully original piece of comedy in an age where many sitcoms have become bland and familiar. These feeds should come with a warning – because they’ll leave you hungry for more. (Read our full review).
As BBC iPlayer’s Original Drama Shorts return for another season, one of 2014’s best, My Jihad, returns as a miniseries of three 15-minute films. The first introduced us to Fahmida (Anjli Mohindra) and Nazir (Hamza Jeetooa), two single Muslims who crossed paths at an unsuccessful speed-dating night. Picking up events one month later, this is a universal exploration of love in modern Britain that packs in twice as much warmth and wit as most 30-minute shows do in a whole season.
BBC iPlayer continues to prove a platform for new talent with its latest bunch of shorts. From a moving demonstration of isolation and connection in an online age to a darkly funny – and unpredictable – story of female love and family loyalty, this is an impressively versatile collection of stories that are more than worth spending time with.
Broadcast by the BBC to mark the 10th anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings, A Song for Jenny is a heart-rending example of the cathartic power of TV. The film, adapted by Frank McGuinness from Julie Nicholson’s book, follows Julie as she tries to find out what happened to her daughter, Jenny, who was travelling in London that morning. It’s a horrifically honest performance from Emily Watson that brings to life exactly what Julie was going through, while the script keeps things sincere and straightfoward. The result is a rare insight into the raw anguish of loss. A decade after the terrorist attack, it brings a country together in a cry of bereavement, a prayer for grief and a hymn to a mother’s courage.
Available until: 4th August
David Attenborough Meets President Obama
“Americans really go in for birthdays,” says David Attenborough, in his delightfully humble way, after being flown to the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama. Ostensibly an interview by Barack with the wildlife broadcasting legend, the 35-minute programme is a more casual chat, covering everything from David’s record-breaking dive on the Great Barrier Reef to the challenges facing the environment today. The greying Obama, who is on something of a roll at the moment, is as professorial as ever with his thoughtful questions, indicating that he is well aware of the need to raise awareness of global warming. The fact that this drew 2.5 million viewers when broadcast on BBC One is proof that he’s succeeded at that. Watching Sir David get a surprise birthday cake is a bonus.
(If this gets you in the mood for more Attenborough, BBC iPlayer is your friend: the service usually has at least one wildlife programme presented by the national treasure. At the moment, it’s Natural World.)
Available until: 11th August
BBC Proms 2015
The Proms are a fantastic additional to the cultural calendar every year, with the Beeb’s increasingly diverse range of programming – this year, instead of the semi-traditional Doctor Who Prom, there is a David Attenborough-themed event and one based around Sherlock – helping to make classical music as accessible as it is affordable. For those unable to make it to the Royal Albert Hall, the televised coverage is second to none, with a large proportion of Proms broadcast live and subsequently available to stream. Composers from Beethoven and Handel to Britten and Holst, plus performers such as Yo-Yo Ma, whenever you want to watch or listen to them? Play on, BBC. Play on.
Photo: BBC / Chris Christodoulou
Available until: 17th August (First Night of the Proms)
“Runny nose, coughing, swollen glands, slight fever…” There’s something about hearing familiar symptoms said in a foreign language that makes them all the more unsettling. BBC Four’s latest import, then, makes for a mildly creepy watch, as we see a contagion spread quickly through Antwerp – only for the authorities to (ahem) cordon off a quarter of the city to contain it.
The opening episodes give us an introduction to the usual array of potential victims, from the immigrant who brings the disease into the port to the police and officials trying to battle the infection. The stand-outs, though, are strong-willed clever clogs Jana (Liesa Van deer Aa) and teacher Katja (Veerle Baetens), who takes her class for a fun day trip to the National Institute for Contagious Diseases. As you do. If patient zero turns out to be a metaphor for the dangers of illegal immigration, it’s impressively underplayed, while the location and language make for an effective change to the usual Scandi shows in this Saturday evening slot. You’ll be Google Translating your own common cold symptoms in no time.
Available until: 27th July(Episode 1)
Matt Berry Does… Father’s Day
Matt Berry proves once again that almost anything he says is funny, mostly because of the way he says it. After several excellent comedy shorts for BBC iPlayer, the IT Crowd and Garth Marenghi star now has his own series of short films titled “Matt Berry Does…”. After a profile of the Oxford vs. Cambridge boat race earlier in the year, he turns his anthropological gaze to Father’s Day, providing a history of parenthood that dates all the way back to our primate ancestors. Alongside the bizarre and silly turns this spoof documentary takes, not to mention the vaguely satirical swipes at the failed evolution of men, the highlight is simply Berry using the phrase “UK daddy”, something that he repeats over and over again. It doesn’t stop being funny. This is the second of six “Matt Berry Does…” specials. Roll on the other four.
Available until: June 2016
“This is the Earth, our home…” begins Michael Palin at the start of each episode of The Clangers. “A tiny, wet planet, lost and alone. Lost in the vast silence of space…”
It’s not the introduction that older viewers will be used to, but it’s immediately clear that the Beeb’s updated version of Oliver Postgate’s classic has no intention of rebooting the show for modern audiences. In a year where Gerry Anderson’s equally loved series was given a CGI makeover, new characters and a different back-story, The Clangers feels like the antithesis to ITV’s Thunderbirds.
Palin’s avuncular tones are the perfect fit for The Clanger’s reassuring voice-over, which rejoices in the small details of our creatures’ lives. The result is something that feels as timeless as ever, because it doesn’t alter what made The Clangers special in the first place: its ability to present imagination as the most natural thing in the universe. Read our full review.
Available until: 10th August (Episode 1)
Photo: BBC/Coolabi, Smallfilms and Peter Firmin
Women Who Spit
“Your shabby, slipped-stitch mistakes make you miraculous,” spits Vanessa Kisuule in a short poem urging women to stop shrinking back and to take up space. It’s one of countless brilliant lines you’ll hear during this series of short films, which see female poets tackle topics facing young people today.
Cecilia Knapp’s explanation of why she writes is inspiring, Deanna Rodger’s look at those forced off the street is provocative, while Jemima Foxtrot’s double-performed examination of confidence and doubt is an entertaining and powerful reminder of the importance of self over surface. Each are excellent performers, leaving your tongue tripping back over syllables to savour their taste, but keep Megan Beech’s passionate cry for more women on our TV screens until last: after the previous four fantastic compositions, you’ll be hard pushed not to agree.
Important and urgent, this collection shows just how valuable BBC iPlayer can be as a platform to voices that should be heard more often.
Available until: May 2016
Photo: BBC/Thomas Caron Delion
Bridge to Terabithia
New classmate Leslie unlocks a mesmerising world of fantasy and imagination for fifth-grader Jesse in this poignant adventure based on the best-selling novel.
Available until: 26th July (7pm)
David Baddiel’s smart comedy stars Omid Djalili as Mahmud, a Muslim who lives in North London. When his mother dies, he finds out that he’s adopted – and Jewish. And so an American Jewish cabbie teaches him how to be a proper Jew, with disastrous results.
Available until: 26th July (1am)
Bruce Willis stars in this enjoyably duff modern update of Frederick Forsyth’s 1971 novel. Willis plays the titular hit man, who is hired to kill someone in the US government – only for Richard Gere to try and stop him. Worth watching just to see what wigs he ends up wearing. “Master of disguise”, indeed.
Available until: 2nd August
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt bring a surprising amount of charm to this whimsical, flimsy tale of an advisor at the Department of Fisheries, who is hired by the assistant to a wealthy Yemeni client to create a salmon fishing paradise in his home country – something that he deems nigh impossible.
Available until: 8th August
Adam Curtis’ bizarre, surreal, brilliant provocative documentary deconstructs the media’s presentation of politics and history with a dizzying complexity and a dark sense of humour. At over two hours, it’s a daunting watch, but an important one – not least because it showcases the potential for BBC iPlayer as a platform for bold, experimental work. (Read our full review)
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