BBC Three TV reviews: What’s new on the online channel and what’s worth watching?
Helen Archer | On 09, Sep 2017
In February 2016, BBC Three became the UK’s first online TV channel. The channel continues to serve up fresh new stuff every day, both long-form drama, documentary and comedy and short-form content that ranges from animations and clips to interviews and blog posts. (See our guide to what’s coming soon to BBC Three.)
The channel also offers a range of old BBC Three shows to stream – you can see our guide to which box sets are available here.
But which of the new TV shows and online videos are worth catching up with? Every fortnight, we round up the latest BBC Three titles available online and review them.
Pick of the Week: Romesh: Talking to Comedians in Caffs about Growing Up
Fresh(ish) from talking to comedians in pubs about comedy back in March, Romesh is branching out in this latest instalment, where, as the title suggests, he’s talking to comedians in caffs about growing up. It’s basically an excuse to have some lighthearted banter with some of his comedian friends over a cup of coffee, which isn’t to say it’s not an amusing wee half-hour of TV.
Brother and sister Daisy May and Charlie Cooper (of This Country) share stories about which one their mum loves best, who is the more talented, and Daisy’s terrible audition to be an exotic dancer, as she snogged the pole for the duration of a Damage song. Nish Kumar bonds with Romesh over the terrible food their parents would eat, beore winding each other up about their lack of success with girls. Sara Pascoe shares a horribly cruel experience that happened to her at school, while Katherine Ryan explains why she ended up at the Playboy mansion. Desiree Burch and Romesh laugh at each other’s stories of binge-eating, and James Acaster agrees that Romesh’s phase of hating white people was fair enough.
It’s all done with the host’s usual light touch and none of the chats outstay their welcome. A cynic might say that it’s also something of a primer into the up-and-coming roster of BBC comedians, but there’s doubtless worse ways to promo new talent.
Pick of the Week: Sex Map of Britain
Despite only being on its second episode, this new series has already attracted a lot more attention than its sibling, Drug Map of Britain, doubtless because of the tabloids’ seemingly never-ending fascination with all things sex. Their rather prurient take on things overshadows the frankness with which the subjects here talk about their sex lives, and why they do what they do.
The first programme, Desperately Seeking Semen, looks at two lesbian couples, who are hoping to become parents with semen donated from men they find on the internet. Unable to afford clinical artificial insemination, which can cost thousands, they find that there are men willing to do it for petrol money. While some are donating for altruistic reasons, there are others who prefer ‘natural insemination’ – that is, having sex with the person who will be carrying the baby – while others talk about hiding what they do from their wives and about their ‘genetic survival’. Anyway, we get to see the chosen donors as they go off to the bathroom, and also the actual insemination, in one case done with a dog-breeding kit, which was bought by accident.
The second instalment goes behind the scenes at a sexual health clinic, where both staff and patients are interviewed, providing a glimpse at the varied reasons people end up there – everything from problem pregnancies to infidelities are uncovered, while people who regularly have unprotected sex with lots of different partners wait anxiously for their test results.
Both episodes provide an illuminating look at something which is normally kept under wraps.
Pick of the Week: Khadija Saye
It’s been less than three months since the fire at Grenfell Tower, a tragedy the likes of which Britain hasn’t seen in decades, made worse by the knowledge that it was completely avoidable. With reports emerging about the people who survived and witnessed the fire now attempting suicide, and remaining in temporary accommodation, this five-minute film is a punch to the gut.
It focuses on Khadija Saye, the 24-year-old artist who lived on 20th floor with her mother, Mary Mendy. Khadija’s promising career just beginning, she is interviewed in her home, as she prepares for an exhibition of a series of self-portraits at the Venice Biennale. Full to the brim of joy and excitement, she has a permanent smile on her face, as she talks about her British-Gambian identity and the dual identities she explored in her work. Raised half-Catholic and half-Muslim, she was picked from the estate in Ladbroke Grove with a full scholarship to attend the prestigious Rugby school, where she boarded, experiencing a clash of class and culture. She talks, too, about how proud her mother is of her, and how she is looking forward to taking her to Venice later in the year to show her the exhibition.
It’s very much the portrait of a woman on the cusp of an outstanding future. As such, it’s almost unspeakably heartbreaking. Khadija and her mother were just two of the people who died that night. It’s hard to believe we will ever begin to come to terms with the magnitude of the loss.
Can Robots Love Us?
Five years ago, James Young was hit by a train, leaving, in his words, part of his body on the tracks. Modern technology has provided him with a prosthetic arm and leg, which makes life a lot easier for him. But, he says, he’s “becoming more robotic, and the line between human and machine is blurring”.
This is the jumping off point for him to examine the ways in which technology can help people, from a woman with a robotic leg to another using the virtual world as a form of therapy to overcome her phobias. There is, of course, the obligatory look at ‘sex robots’, but there’s also a funny and moving chat with 83-year-old Bill, who, since he lost his wife, feels increasingly cut off and lonely. At first sceptical of the robot he’s introduced to – which seems to acts as half-carer, half-company – he’s soon charmed by it, as it offers him cups of tea, and dances for Bill’s amusement. Ultimately, the documentary is less about robotic love than it is about human empathy, and the efforts to which people go to develop technology that they hope will improve lives, helping people with a variety of problems.
Croatia 2017 – The Brits Are Coming
This series promises daily updates for the next couple of weeks from some of the hundreds of young people heading to Croatia for their holidays, where the Sonus festival is proving a great draw. So far, we’ve witnessed the escapades of Jordan, Joel and Luke from Burnham-on-Sea, who keep managing to lose each other just when they’re meant to be heading for the bus to the airport – Luke is eventually found passed out on someone’s lawn, having previously been found passed out on the side of a road. Catherine from Wishaw, meanwhile, managed to miss her flight to Croatia, after the friend she was going with got herself lifted by the police the night before their planned departure. They eventually make it over there four days late, and Catherine, who’s on her first ever holiday, is determined to enjoy herself. Then, there’s a group of DJs, who have rented a villa and are making good use of the Tinder app, and two armed forces guys, who are driving to Croatia from Folkestone via Amsterdam and Budapest. It’s basically an epic tale of drunken hook-ups, missed connections, bonding on the beach and running out of money. It’s also pretty funny in places, as when Joel phones his Nana to tell her he’s going to be back a day later than planned and demands she makes him ham sandwiches on his return. Everyone seems to be having a great time, and seeing the chaotic and somewhat unglamorous reality behind the usual inspirational Instagram feeds is somewhat refreshing.
Britain’s Forgotten Men
Much has been written about the plight of the white working class in the wake of Trump’s election win. In this short series, filmmaker Dan Murdoch goes to Manchester to talk to the young men living in the estates on the fringes of the city, where young men find themselves dealing with homelessness, unemployment, and lack of opportunity.
Clayton, in Manchester, is one of the most deprived areas of the country, where half the residents are under 30. Just up the road from where the industrial revolution was born, now the factories are closed and people are in menial work or on benefits. Jack finds himself in a hostel which costs £250 a week, and can’t afford to work, because then, his housing benefits wouldn’t cover it. Jordan, meanwhile, is out begging and sleeping in doorways, when he can’t get together the £18 it costs for a cheap B&B. Chris has been squatting for a year and is now bedding down in the disused Cornerhouse cinema, Manchester’s most famous squat, which police are attempting to reclaim.
We also follow Mikey, who is trying to organise a community action network and train “an army of activists”, but who has been accused of extorting money from the Cornerhouse squatters. Greg, meanwhile, works under the title United Estates of Wythenshawe and does what he can to help feed people, while also running a gym in an effort to keep people off the streets. And finally, we meet Jimmy, who is pinning the hopes for his future on his boxing career.
There is the now somewhat generic footage of young men disguising their appearance with scarves and anonymous facemasks too, wielding large knives while hanging about in an underpass. Their take on Brexit, as they appeal to Trump to come and “sort this mess out”, is telling of the ways in which anger at cuts and austerity can result in right wing, racist politics. The series raises questions about how people cope when they find themselves falling through the cracks, and the angry repercussions of trying to survive an uncaring society.
One Night of Ecstasy
This eight-part series of six-minute films tells the story of how a trip to a festival ended in tragedy for a group of young people from the small town of Millom in Cumbria. Intercutting interviews, news footage and photos with some elements of dramatic reconstruction, it takes us back to July 2015, when the friends attended Kendall Rocks. After setting up camp, they immediately get down to the business of having a good time, with drinking and recreational drug use, yet, by the next morning, four would end up in hospital and one would lose his life.
Splitting the series into short parts and leaving each one on something of a cliffhanger does seem a rather cynical decision, especially as several minutes are taken up by recapping what has just gone before. But it’s a decent documentary that shows the effects of a tragedy on a small community, and the tearing apart of friendships, as each deals with the repercussions of the night in their own way. It becomes a picture of a dramatic coming of age, of how the tight-knit group were torn apart, and the life-changing consequences of what should have been a normal weekend.
Annie: Out of the Ashes
Annie Price was just a baby when the caravan she was in went up in flames, leaving her with severe burns and her tiny life in the balance. Having pulled through, and later being adopted by a loving family, she was told throughout her childhood that her birth mother had deliberately set the caravan alight, due to the shame Annie brought on the travelling community, as someone who is half-black and the result of an infidelity. Now 30, Annie has decided to try to find out more about what happened that night.
The resulting programme is framed as something of a detective story, with Annie meeting many dead ends, before finally finding someone who was there and who can shed light on the whole affair. In among that story, though, is her investigation into the travelling community – the prejudices they faced and the ways in which they try to keep their tradition alive, as well as their own possible prejudices. There is, too, the story of Annie herself, a pretty remarkable woman, whose attitude to life and to her own situation is nothing short of inspirational, and all the lovely people she meets on her journey to find answers to questions she didn’t know needed asking.
Girls Get Stuffed
This new series of shorts follows Grace Victory and Bella Younger on a culinary adventure, as they enthusiastically sample food (which, put simply, just looks completely delicious), while informally interviewing the people who prepare it for them.
First up is a burger called The Devastator, which consists of four or five patties, melted cheese slices – Grace and Bella are particularly effusive about melting cheese, and understandably so – bacon, pulled pork, gherkins and salad on a half-brioche, half-sourdough bun (which is important for the structural integrity, apparently). Anyway, the whole thing looks amazing, but is so highly stacked it proves difficult to eat. Next, they go to Brighton to sample some ‘three-minute ice cream’ – ice cream which is made in front of them, on a frozen plate with fresh ingredients and judicious use of a couple of spatulas. Then, it’s back to London for vegan burritos, which no one is particularly looking forward to, but proves to be a revelation, complete with deep fried seitan and deep fried vegan cheese (again, the melt here is to be seen to be believed).
The whole thing is pretty joyous, as Grace and Bella effuse over each fresh ingredient, salivate over the smell of bacon, and accidentally stuff burger up their noses. These five-minute, bite sized chunks of TV positively fly by, leaving you hungry for more.
Last Chance: This Country
BBC Three continues to produce some of the best mockumentaries around with this amusing look at rural life in modern Britain. “Young people feel more marginalised than ever,” the opening titles tell us of the current generation of kids growing up in the UK. Our heroes? Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe, two cousins who are more best friends than relatives. Growing up in the Cotswolds, they’re constantly at odds with the community around them, but furiously loyal to each other. That attachment is evident just from the chemistry between real-life siblings Charlie Cooper and Daisy May Cooper, who write and star in the show. They’re surrounded by the typical supporting cast of eccentric characters, but This Country opts for sympathy over stereotypes, something that makes the laughs notably slower to build, yet more rewarding. There’s a sadness and a silliness to the show, as it taps into a marginalised community with heart, wit and a lot of swearing. “While you’re pining over Noel Edmund’s House Party, you’re missing out on Alan Carr’s Chatty Man,” observes Kurtan, profoundly, the voice of a lost generation. Read our full review Words: Ivan Radford
Last Chance: Clique
BBC Three’s new, much-touted campus-set drama has finally begun, and it’s as glossy and OTT as promised. Having been compared to everything from Gossip Girl to Skins, which its writer Jess Brittain also worked on, it’s full of beautiful young things, and set in an Edinburgh of bright lights, affluence, and glamour, although it also has a pitch-black underside.
Holly (played by newcomer Synnove Karlsen) and Georgia (The Fall’s obsessed babysitter, Aisling Franciosi) are childhood friends and first year students who find themselves sharing dorms and classes. After going to a lecture given by economics professor Jude McDermid (Sherlock’s Louise Brealey), in what appears to be the bowels of a futuristic spaceship, they are introduced to a dubious feminist ideology and encouraged to apply for a mysterious internship.
Next thing you know, the pair are being driven around by a chauffeur, snorting class As, and attending glamorous parties in fancy houses with swimming pools in the basement. But there’s a sinister element to the whole enterprise, and the stakes are high. This isn’t student life depicted with anything resembling realism; it’s more of a psychological thriller, which uses campus life as a backdrop. Clique promises to examine the nature of female friendship, with its rivalries, jealousies, and competitiveness. Judging by this first episode, it will doubtless be a huge hit.
Photo: BBC / Sophie Mutevelian
Last Chance: Fleabag
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s new six-part comedy, which started its life as a play at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, already has people asking whether she’s Britain’s answer to Lena Dunham. It’s easy to see why – this shares with Girls a willingness to explore the darker aspects of what it is to navigate life as a single female in the city. The characters portrayed share, too, a willingness to (ahem) experiment, and a certain type of knowing narcissism, mixed with self-loathing.
Waller-Bridge stars as the character known only as Fleabag, newly single since her boyfriend dumped her for masturbating to a speech on democracy by Barak Obama. By day, Fleabag struggles to run a cafe on her own, gets thrown out of meetings with her bank manager for accidentally flashing him, and picks up men on the bus; by night, she attends lectures with her sister, where they embarrass themselves by being bad feminists, goes on dates with men with bad teeth, overshares in taxis, and turns up at her father’s house unannounced. All this is done with self-aware, fourth-wall-busting, straight-to-camera asides, and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny moments.
The supporting cast is promising too, with Sian Clifford as Fleabag’s anorexic, high-achieving sister, Bill Paterson as her emotionally distant father, and Olivia Coleman as a stepmother with a good line in smiling bitchiness.
Last Chance: Dictator Land
In this three-part documentary series, Ben Zand travels to the former Sovet Union countries of Kazakhstan, Belarus and Tajikistan to find out about “the good, the bad, and the completely mental about living under a dictatorship”. In the first episode, it doesn’t take him long to realise he’s being followed by shadowy government minders, as he’s given a sanitised tour of the capital. With criticism of the government earning dissidents prison time, the difficulty he has is not only in slipping his short leash, but also in meeting up with anyone who is willing to speak to him on camera. As the country’s Independence day looms, the surveillance cranks up a gear. To avoid him witnessing any potential protests (it’s also the anniversary of the day 16 oil workers were gunned down in public during a strike), he’s whisked away to some nearby mountains. As he’s put on a ski lift, without any skis, he’s far away from the story happening in Astana. He does get to meet some people willing to speak to him, and he goes to an opposition meeting which has its own share of secret service agents loitering about. But what these three episodes are about, really, is how difficult it is for anyone to speak freely in a dictatorship, and the intimidation and fear Zand experiences in his short time there is nothing compared to the day-in, day-out struggle the people of the country have to deal with.
Stacey Dooley Investigates… The Billion Pound Party
Stacey’s off to Northern Ireland just in time for the 12th of July marches, to speak to DUP supporters in this half-hour documentary. The largest party there, and now with a big sway in Westminster, she’s keen to find out why young people vote for a party which is anti-abortion and same-sex marriage. She meets Ruth, a 19 year old drama student who’s heavily involved in the DUP, and whose beliefs seem to have been passed down from her parents.
There’s a potted history of the Troubles, before Stacey visits the sites of the massive bonfires, where young people shout abuse at her, after finding out she’s from the BBC. Posters of Sinn Fein politicians are stuck on the piles of pallets, which go up in flames, and Irish flags are burnt – one person she interviews compares it to the burning of ISIS flags. It rather belies the idea, which is frequently voiced, that Sinn Fein wants to ‘wipe out their culture’, and, as one Sinn Fein activist says, it veers more into hate territory, with the DUP supporters aggressively asserting their supremacy.
It’s all rather baffling to Stacey, who, when the DUP supporters tell her they feel more British than the English, repeatedly tells them that this sort of thing just doesn’t happen in England. She discovers that people vote on the constitutional question rather than any kind of real opposition to same-sex marriages or abortion, but it’s pretty dispiriting stuff nonetheless, as the two sides seem locked in an eternal battle. The result is an interesting documentary and an efficient taster of the politics of Northern Ireland.
Living Differently: Season 2
The second season of BBC Three’s Living Differently strand was released all-at-once on Thursday. Comprising six short films, it looks at the different challenges people face due to medical conditions. In Our Teen Who Dies if He Falls Asleep, we meet 17 year old Liam, a gentle lad who loves his lego and is obsessed with trains. He suffers from a congenital central hyperventilation syndrome, which affects fewer that 1,500 people worldwide. His mum and dad speak movingly about the way in which he’s defied doctors expectations, after it was predicted he wouldn’t live past six weeks.
It’s a theme repeated in Our Fragile Boy, about 5 year old Kaden, who has bones so brittle they can break from him sneezing, and Our Girl with the Mystery Condition, who suffers seemingly undiagnosable illnesses. In My Dad the Powerlifting Champion, Rich Willis, who was born with dwarfism, trains to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, with his daughter’s encouragement as his inspiration. Paralysed beauty blogger Tess Daly (no, not that one) tells how she has amassed a large Instagram following, despite the obvious challenges being paralysed means for applying makeup. The big pull of the strand will doubtless be The Woman Who’s Constantly Sexually Aroused, in which 23 year old Amanda describes how her rare condition makes her life a misery.
What shines through in all the films, as with the previous series, is the love and encouragement of the families and the endless human will to make the most out of the life you are given.
Killing at the Carwash
One sunny day in May 2015, 19-year-old Tavin Price set out with his mother, Jennifer, on a trip to Venice Beach. Tavin had a yen to dip his feet in the water. Under 5-foot tall and developmentally disabled, after he was hit by a car at the age of 3, Tavin had a lust for the small pleasures in life.
On their way to the seaside, they stopped to get some supplies from the shop attached to a carwash. When Tavin went into the shop, though, he was challenged by some young men inside about his choice of footwear – he’d put on red trainers, and red is the colour of the ‘Bloods’, the lifelong enemies of the ‘Crips’. He was told to take off his shoes, but he refused, and left the shop. Not long after, a man approached him as he was waiting for his mum to finish cleaning the car, and shot him several times at close range. He died in his mother’s arms.
This is just one among the many, many gang-related murders that happen in LA each year. Using CCTV footage, police tapes, recordings of the emergency calls after the shooting, and interviews with Tavin’s mum, who had to be relocated out of the city after the murder for her own safety, the documentary economically yet effectively highlights the random pointlessness of gun violence, and the lifelong grief it leaves behind.
Professor Green – Is it Time to Legalise Weed?
Pro Green, as his name suggests, is no stranger to weed. He used to smoke it daily, and became a dealer himself. Those days are long gone, and now, when he smokes, the effects are different – he becomes more paranoid, and he’s kind of amazed when he thinks back to his younger self.
He takes great pains to point out that he’s making a balanced documentary here, that he’s not entirely sure whether legalisation of marijuana is for the best. To this end, he speaks to everyone, from experts who talk him through the dangers of increased THC in the drugs, to Nick Clegg, who talks about the lack of political motivation the subject inspires. He even accompanies Durham police on a raid – although the van goes strangely silent when he admits he himself has been the subject of such raids.
He meets dealers, growers, and smokers. He is talked through how to order your marijuana on the dark web, and he speaks to one man who makes his living as a ‘jacker’ – stealing crops from other dealers. He opens up to an addiction expert, who puts his own experience of the drug in the perspective of his personal life, and to a successful investor, who is currently putting his money in US dispensaries. Finally, he meets people at Teeside Cannabis Club, an 80-strong collective who grow cannabis for personal use, essentially decriminalised by the police, as long as there are no complaints from neighbours.
In other words, he packs a lot in to this hour-long documentary. It will come as no surprise that, by the end of it, he seems convinced that legalisation is the best option, but it’s the evidence provided in this engaging film that led him to that conclusion.
Olly Alexander – Growing up Gay
Olly Alexander, the lead singer of Years and Years, is an openly gay man, and, on the face of it, leading a successful, happy life. But he has struggled since his teenage years with anxiety and depression, he has self-harmed, and he has overcome bulimia. In this documentary, he looks at why so many of the LGBT community face such struggles, and what can be done to help them.
He starts with the personal, by going home to the house he lived in with his mum after his parents’ divorce, and reading through some of his old diaries, which document the bullying he suffered at school and his inability to talk to anyone about it.
He meets other young people experiencing similar things, he goes to a men-only eating disorder recovery group, he does a talk at a school with Paris Lees, and he hosts a gay mental health night where he encourages people to write down their secrets and stick it in his honesty box. While this hour-long documentary can seem a little meandering, it does bring up some interesting and revealing points, about the value of honest communication, of not putting on a happy face when you’re suffering inside, the consequences of rejection from ‘straight’ society and the shame that can take hold early on, which is often hard to shake.
One Deadly Weekend in America
On one random weekend in America, the 12th-13th of July 2015, 197 people were injured and 87 were killed due to gun violence. This documentary takes a look at some of the human stories behind those figures. From a drunken outing at a lake in St Louis, Missouri, to the streets of Los Angeles, from Oceanside, California, to Seneca, South Carolina, the documentary weaves together stories of lives cut short.
The film looks at a tragedy engulfing a halfway house for care-leavers, a high-spirited schoolgirl, a man with severe depression which leads him to seek suicide-by-cop, and a young man in a car park with his date by his side who was ambushed by a trigger-happy policeman. The filmmakers outline what is left behind, after split-second fatal decisions through interviews with family, friends, and loved ones. The sheer pointlessness of it all is voiced over and over again – two of the parents who have lost their kids say, separately, but in almost the same words, that what would have led to a fistfight in their day now leads to a gun being drawn and a life irrevocably taken.
The stories told are seemingly random but they build up a picture of a weekend of devastation – yet just a weekend like any other – and the cumulative effect is a patchwork quilt of grief, anger and despair.
This short documentary was filmed in Albany County Jail, New York, in which up to 1,000 men and women can be held for up to a year, while they await trial. It focuses on four people, as they face up to what brought them there and what their futures may hold. Lorenzo, who made a deal to reduce his life sentence for murder, in return for testifying against the Mexican Mafia, blames himself for his father and brother being killed after he turned ‘snitch’. Jason, who has an alcohol problem he traces back to his upbringing by a father who came back from the Vietnam war extremely troubled, has now found religion, which helps him get through his days and gives him hope for a future. Travis, who was introduced to gang life by his family, has just received the news that his father has died, and, allowed out in order to say his final goodbye at the funeral parlour, is now reassessing the kind of man he wants to be. Celeste, meanwhile, talks openly about her addiction to heroin and its power over her. This is a sombre, dark documentary, which gets into the minds of its subjects in a remarkably short period of time, exposing four lives, in among many others, full of regret and sorrow.
This 10-episode series, brought to us by YouTube star Humza Arshad, is a follow-up to last year’s Taking the Humza. It takes us behind the scenes of Pak Nation, the small, fictional independent production team, where presenter Ahmed Armstrong, who styles himself as Britain’s leading Gentleman Documentarian, is battling it out with a new ‘youth’ presenter, Tommy Khan, for top spot.
We follow Ahmed, as he gets fitted for a suit at Savile Row, where he tries to haggle down the price, and as he attempts to get new PR representation for himself and his equally ambitious lifestyle vlogger wife. The meaning of the title ‘Coconut’ becomes all too clear, as he ingratiates himself to Brexit voting racists, attempts to deny his Pakistani heritage to a genealogist, unveils a statue to ‘National Treasure 2017 Katie Hopkins’, and visits a stately home.
With a bluster and insensitivity resulting in him alienating everyone around him, the character has lost the charm he exhibited in the pilot. In its place, there is an offensiveness reminiscent of David Brent, yet without any of his redeeming features, and a distinct lack of anything remotely funny.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Should I Marry My Cousin?
18 year old Hiba from Bradford has some big decisions ahead of her, not least of which is whether to marry within her own family. It’s frowned upon by most of the white Brits she interviews on the street, but within her own culture, she says, around 70 per cent of people choose this route, which has a much lower divorce rate.
Her grandparents, for example, have been married, seemingly happily, for 54 years, and Hiba’s uncle is a vocal supporter of the practice. Her dad, meanwhile, is on the fence, and her mother – whose first marriage was to her cousin, a union she says she was lucky to be able to get out of when she did – is firmly against it.
We follow Hiba to Pakistan, where she has an awkward meeting with her two eligible male cousins, as well as two female cousins, who are uncertain themselves about whether it would be the right choice for them. One of them brings up genetic issues, which prompts Hiba to visit the doctor to get tested to see if she is a possible carrier for hereditary diseases, who talks her through the risks.
This is a balanced documentary which looks at a subject most white Britons seem to have pretty strong views on, and succeeds in demystifying some of the more controversial questions surrounding it.
Stacey Dooley Investigates: Kids Selling Drugs Online
Stacey Dooley’s back, and this time she’s hitting Snapchat to buy drugs from teenagers. Apparently, this is how most young folk get their highs, proving irresistible to dealers because of the non-permanent nature of the messages and images on many of the apps. The people selling indicate the nature of their business through emojis, which denote specific drugs. It’s a bit like Deliveroo, apparently – you can get them delivered more or less to your door almost instantly.
The first of the two dealers Stacey contacts turns up to their rendezvous in his school uniform (his mum thinks he’s at football practice, he says), and when Stacey tells him who she really is, he claims the pills he’s selling are a combination of mints and painkillers. The second guy who turns up is not much older, and is surprisingly forthcoming about his motives for dealing and the lifestyle it affords him.
To meet the people higher up the chain, Stacey travels to Glasgow, where she encounters a group of seemingly personable and friendly kingpins, who cover their identities by wearing balaclavas and gloves, while they cheerfully brandish swords and talk about how they bury their drugs (and money, and bodies) to avoid detection. Despite all this, they’re happy to show her their massive piles of cocaine (which they buy in liquid form and is smuggled into the country in bottles of olive oil, and which they heat into powder on the hob in the kitchen), bricks of heroin, and bags of weed.
Finally, Stacey doorsteps the offices of Snapchat, where the communications officers are not nearly as welcoming to her as the Glasgow gang or the underage dealers. As usual, Stacey proves herself to be adept at getting a surprising amount out of the people she meets, but the revelations of this particular documentary probably won’t come as much of a shock to most.
Leo: Becoming a Trans Man
In many ways, Leo is very lucky. Having known from an early age he was born the wrong gender, he started hormone blockers to stop him developing into a woman, with the full support of his mother and his sister. Now, coming up to his 16th birthday, he is excited to start taking testosterone, so he can develop as a male, before hoping to have full reassignment surgery at the age of 18.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing and his primary school years were not easy, although at his secondary school people have been more accepting, and he has formed strong friendships. He has, too, a mentor in the form of an older friend, who has fully transitioned and is able to give him help and advice about his own journey. His father, older than his mother, had more trouble coming to terms with the fact that this wasn’t a “tomboy stage”- in a short interview, Leo’s dad says that, in his day, it would be “beaten out of him” at school (which, if you’re watching this as a double-bill with Murdered for Being Different, is a comment that really hits home). Now, he is fully supportive of his son, but Leo has some big decisions ahead of him, such as whether to get his eggs frozen before the testosterone makes it impossible.
This is a great wee documentary, which is illuminating and non judgemental, about a normal family doing their best by Leo, who is a well-adjusted and eminently likeable subject. Where it succeeds is in totally humanising a topic that is often mired in needless conflict and controversy.
Murdered for Being Different
It’s been 10 years since Sophie Lancaster was beaten to death in a Lancashire park, after she and her boyfriend Robert Maltby were set upon by a gang of youths for the crime of looking different. This dramatisation is based on research, interviews and published accounts, and tells the story not just of the couple, but of the people who were there.
With a timeline that jumps from the assault to Sophie and Rob’s first meeting two years earlier, the programme intercuts their romance with that night and the aftermath, as police attempt to get a young witness to name the attackers. It also takes in Robert’s rehabilitation and his final goodbye to Sophie, who never woke up from the coma she was left in after the vicious beating.
The acting across the board is top notch, from Nico Mirallegro as Robert and Abigail Lawrie as Sophie through to Lewis Brown as the witness eaten up with guilt for his part in the events of the night. The ferocity of the attack – hinted at throughout, but shown in fairly graphic detail towards the end – is made visceral by Sally Lindsay as Robert’s mum, who, when she first sees her son’s face on the hospital bed asks in horror and disbelief. “Is that a footprint?” she asks.
Director Paul Andrew Williams (Song for Marion) does a good job of telling the story of a completely senseless violent death, and as an homage to Sophie Lancaster, it’s sensitively done. Whether it will help combat the alarming, and increasing, number of UK hate crimes, highlighted at the end of the film, remains to be seen.
Don’t Deport Me, I’m British
This old-school documentary from programme maker Stefania Buonajuti dispassionately lifts the lid on the issue of people who come to the UK as children, who are raised here, yet whom the powers that be are at liberty to deport when they hit 18 because they weren’t born here.
The hour-long film looks at three very different cases. The first is that of Bashir, who was trafficked out of Afghanistan when he was 9 years old, after witnessing his father being shot by the Taliban. Having made a year-long journey over land and sea, he was fostered in Cardiff, but now that Afghanistan is deemed ‘safe’, the Home Office wants to send him back.
François was sent from Jamaica to live with his auntie in London at the age of 7. After getting into some trouble with the police as a teenager, he’s been deported to Jamaica, where he’s trying to appeal the decision and get back to his 4-year-old son.
Bok, meanwhile, was sent back to Bangladesh just before completing his A Levels, as it was decided that, at the age of 11, he was sent to the UK as an economic migrant, and is in no danger in his family home.
These are three very different cases, but what unites them all is a Home Office determined to get as many immigrants out the country as possible. The consequences of the omnipresent ‘curbs on immigration’ rhetoric is here laid bare in all its dubious logic, as people who feel they belong nowhere have to deal with the devastating real-life ramifications of a policy enforced with a total lack of empathy and grace.
Unsolved: The Boy Who Disappeared
On November the 2nd, 1996, 16-year-old Damien Nettles vanished after a night out on the Isle of Wight, leaving behind friends and family searching for answers and a community awash with rumours. No body has ever been found, and no one has been charged with his murder. In this series of eight 15-minute short films, with accompanying material, we follow journalists Bronagh Munro and Alys Harte, as they rent an out-of-season holiday let by the sea and spend three months investigating the case. Their search takes them to the heart of the island’s drugs underworld, and the pair track down police informants, ex-cops, heroin addicts, as well as the last people to see Damien before he disappeared, to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Billed as BBC Three’s take on Serial, or Making a Murderer, this is ultimately rather disappointing. There is the sense that the journalists haven’t uncovered anything new, and are just retelling the story. In an early episode, a “lead” takes them a wooded area where it is claimed that Damien’s body might be buried; towards the end of the series, we find out that Damien’s family and friends were aware of this, and have been digging there for the past five years. Similarly, when they introduce a new suspect late on, it’s hard not to feel manipulated. The journalists complain about others withholding evidence, yet it seems that they themselves are guilty of the same thing, keeping back vital details from the viewer until it suits them.
While it is genuinely moving to hear Damien’s mother and brother talk about the effect the disappearance has had in their lives, the anger and the loss that they cannot escape, overall this seems like a pointless and rather contrived exercise.
Sex, Drugs & Murder: Life in the Red Light Zone
This rather luridly titled 15-minute documentary goes to the Holbeck area of Leeds, where, in October 2014, a pioneering pilot scheme was set up, allowing sex workers to work in a managed red light zone. Up to 30 women work the streets between 7pm and 7am, completely decriminalised, but it has proved controversial from the outset. Here, the documentary makers speak to the women who work there, and residents and businesses based in the area, to find out what impact it’s had on their lives.
While some people object to it – one salon owner complains of the hit her business has taken, though remarks that the streets are cleaner since it started, as needles and condoms are removed more frequently – others see it as something of a necessary evil. Hannah Lewis, a youth worker who lives in Holbeck, feels it’s better to work with the sex workers rather than against them.
But the bulk of this documentary focuses on what it means to be working the streets, interviewing some of the women who work there, who describe their lives with gritty forthrightness. These woman are all too aware of the dangers which face them every time they gets into someone’s car. Sammy Jo, one of the women interviewed, was out on the streets with fellow sex worker Daria Pionko the night Pionko was beaten to death in 2015, her murder used by people who are against complete decriminalisation as ‘proof’ that it doesn’t keep women safe. Yet the documentary also points out that the police and council say that sex workers are now three times more likely to report violent incidents.
Police have been reviewing the red light zone since Daria’s murder, and this documentary doesn’t come down on either side. Instead, it puts human faces on the story of a contentious scheme, allowing those directly affected to speak for themselves.
Rehab: Live Addicted
This documentary gets rare access behind the doors of Broadway Lodge, an addiction treatment centre in North Somerset, and it’s a meandering, honest look at some of its patients, as they begin what they hope is their road to recovery.
The film opens with Big John, a former patient and now a support worker at the centre, as he tries to track down a young woman addict whom he befriended, after she begged him for some money. He takes her to the facility, yet she is deemed not ready to start treatment, and goes back to the streets. We don’t see her again, and that’s an indication of the form of this documentary – tiny fragments of peoples’ lives as they try to come to terms with their addictions. Some are admitted with the shakes, barely able to walk, to begin a medical detox, while others are dropped off by worried parents, who hope for the best yet are prepared for the worst.
We see the inner workings of 12-step meetings, where people are forced by their peers to confront aspects of their characters they’d rather not, and it’s painful and uncomfortable to watch. There are, too, stories of childhood abuse, the families who are lost to drugs and the violent chaos and abandonment which ensues. The physical toll addiction takes is also shown – one scene films a man’s legs, swollen and purple from needles, as he describes how he was resigned to losing one, so long as he could still inject into the other.
What the documentary ultimately and effectively demonstrates is that recovery from addiction is never easy or simple, that there will be false starts and relapses, and that the only true recovery lies in the demanding, never-ending work of total honesty and self-acceptance. It’s a scrupulous look at what goes on in an addiction facility, clear-sightedly showing that there is no miracle solution to breaking an addiction, and that the journey is difficult, painful, and often life-long.
Living Differently: Our Baby Made of Glass
BBC Three’s new Living Differently series has been released all-at-once as a box set on BBC iPlayer. Its opening episode introduces us to six year old Zoe, who has brittle bone disease, as her parents talk us through the challenges they face in their everyday lives. Mis-diagnosed before she was born as having the most severe form of the disease, they were originally advised to terminate the pregnancy, but held firm in their need to have Zoe. Told she might not be able to come home from the hospital, and then, that she probably wouldn’t see her first birthday, she is now expected to live a long and productive life.
Which is not to say bringing her up is not without its challenges – changing a nappy was a three-person job, one which could, and has, resulted in broken bones. Zoe has suffered well over 100 snaps, in her arms, legs, ribs and collarbone, and has to wear a neck brace permanently.
What comes through from this documentary, though, is the love and closeness the family have, grateful for each day with one another, and the grace under pressure demonstrated is ultimately very uplifting.
Live from the BBC: Season 2
You might recognise Sara Pascoe from her appearances in previous BBC series W1A and 2012, or from panel shows like Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Have I got News for You and Mock the Week. She’s also the author of Animal, The Autobiography of the Female Body, which was made into a stand up show. Here, we get a glimpse of her latest comedy.
For those of you looking for some funnies to take your mind off the sheer horror of life, please be warned – although this went online the day after the Grenfell disaster, it includes a Brexit joke about your house going on fire and gravity stopping working, less than five minutes in. It’s a shocking jolt back to reality, in a skit which wouldn’t have stuck out, had it not been for the timing.
Beyond that, there are jokes about pimping out friends to do blow jobs in return for cocaine, seemingly murderous Uber drivers, and looking forward to the day your boyfriend dies, when you’ll be able to get a dog. It’s relatively edgy humour, then, and Pascoe skips through the subjects with ease. It’s an encouraging start to BBC Three’s new season of stand-up comedy.
Undercover Tourist (Box Set)
This is an absolutely brilliant series of four short films, shot by activists as they go undercover to investigate different forms of animal cruelty and exploitation around the world.
In Thailand’s Tiger Selfie Trade, Katie Stacey, a writer and wildlife camera assistant, travels with her boyfriend Luke Massey, a wildlife photographer, to scrutinise a trade which exploits tigers for profit. It’s big business, with queues of people lining up to get a picture with one of the 1500 tigers kept in captivity in Thailand, in conditions akin to a puppy farm. Cubs are bred in huge numbers and are taken from their mothers early and dumped in the lap of a tourist who bottle feeds it, all the better for the ‘cute’ photos. Adult tigers, meanwhile, are prodded so that they bare their teeth for the more ferocious snaps.
Sally Snow, a marine biologist, meanwhile, goes undercover in Indonesia to look at emaciated dolphins kept in hotel swimming pools, and a travelling circus where they jump through flaming hoops and wear sunglasses in highly chlorinated water. Ruth Peace goes to Cyprus to work with activists Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), who go out at night on covert rescue missions to free at least some of the millions of migratory birds, which have been caught in the giant nets put up across British bases.
In Vietnam’s bear farms, Megan McCubbin, a wildlife photographer and zoology student, investigates the market in bear bile, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine. Though the extraction of the bile is illegal, a loophole in the law means that keeping bears in tiny cages is allowed. And, of course, there is a black market for the liquid, a video of the collection of which is shown; it’s horrifically cruel.
The content of these films is undoubtedly upsetting, but this is essential viewing for anyone concerned with the exploitation of wild animals for the profit of man.
The Man Who Lives with a Magpie
And from the sublime to the ridiculous, from those who seek to rescue animals from harm at the hands of humans, to Charlie Gilmour, who has a deep connection with his pet magpie.
Having raised the bird ever since his partner’s sister found it alone and trembling while out walking, Charlie talks about the nurturing relationship which has developed. Fed on a diet of mealworms, either delivered by the postman or from his own plastic breeding boxes, the pair share their food as well as their living space.
It’s clear the magpie has had a big effect on Charlie, as we see loving videos and selfies of them exchanging kisses while in bed, in a bedroom covered with white droppings. His girlfriend is remarkably understanding, and insists she feels no jealousy, although Charlie believes she thinks the relationship is “slightly inappropriate”.
Charlie’s busy creating for the first ever a “crow cafe”, where people can come and bond with birds much like his own over tea and homemade bird-shaped shortbread. He wants to share the crow love, he says, “bringing more people into the flock”, as crows suffer from bad PR, apparently. He’s looking forward to another 20 to 25 years with his own magpie, and reflects on how lonely he will feel if she ever leaves him – a very real interpretation of empty nest syndrome.
(If you don’t watch this until the end, it closes with a warning not to touch a baby bird unless it clearly desperately needs your assistance or is very, very young.)
The Manchester Attack
Almost two weeks later, and the events at Manchester Arena are still almost impossible to comprehend. That a bomber would attack a gig where the audience consisted of mainly children and young people, waiting in the foyer until they were being picked up by their parents before detonating his suicide vest, is the stuff of nightmares.
BBC Three has made a tribute, of sorts, to that terrible night. Made up of a collage of tweets from the concert, and footage disseminated on social media, it paints the picture of a fun, lighthearted event that turned to unimaginable horror, and the confusion and panic that followed.
It’s a snapshot into a night that changed British society, the ripples of which we’ll see for a long time to come. The atrocity is now seared into our collective consciousness, while, for the injured and the bereaved, the physical and psychological scars will endure.
My Big Gay Jewish Conversion
This one-off documentary, part of the BBC’s Queer Britain series, follows Simon Atkins, raised as a Catholic in the West of Ireland, as he explores converting to Judaism. He’s has been going out with his Jewish partner Matthew for two years, and just loves the Jewish faith, mainly, it seems, on account of the food (which does, it has to be said, look delicious). He’s also annoyed that, as a Catholic, he can’t marry his partner, so looks into Judaism because the faith permits gay marriage. He’s slightly horrified at the thought of a circumcision and doesn’t delve too deeply into the Torah, but is instead charmed by a very charming London rabbi. But what’s that? They allow gay marriage but don’t allow anal sex?
Heading off to Tel Aviv, he’s quite upbeat about it all, even more so when he’s taken out to cool clubs by soldiers who are openly gay (there is very little mention of neighbouring Palestine here, or what the soldiers are fighting for).
But hold on! When he goes to meet orthodox Jews in Jerusalem he’s horrified to find out that homophobia isn’t limited to Catholicism. Indeed, it’s rife in not only the Hasidic jews he meets, but in many of the people he interviews on the street. His bubble thus burst, he heads home to his boyfriend and decides that he has it pretty good after all.
This is a pretty superficial look at religion, which somehow manages to gloss over anything particularly interesting or informative. It’s also quite naval-gazing, ultimately coming across as a myopic study of what religion can do for one person, rather than looking at wider questions of faith and homophobia.
This new strand of weekly programmes explores what it means to be queer in modern Britain. Presented by journalist Riyadh Khalaf, who brings a touch of the personal to his reporting, the series looks at the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community.
Starting with Does God Hate Queers?, Khalaf interviews people who have been estranged from their religious families after coming out, and speaks to a Christian who believes that gayness is a developmental issue that can be ‘cured’, as well as a woman looking for a marriage of convenience, which will allow her to fit into her religion, while also being able to pursue extra-curricular lesbian relationships.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as we also watch a joyful renaming ceremony for Elijah, who has been given the full support of his church during the search for his identity.
In the second episode, Khalaf looks at the pressures faced by gay men to have the ‘perfect’ body. There’s an interesting discussion here about the way in which masculinity is highly prized in the gay community, while femininity is viewed as unattractive, and the interviewees talk about how they’ve been made to feel ashamed to be femme. Meanwhile, this pressure to be fit and masculine has led to an increase in eating disorders. It all ends with Khalaf getting naked for a Gay Times photoshoot, but there’s a lot more to digest here than protein shakes and trips to the gym: this six-part series is off to a promising start.
Stacey Dooley Investigates…
Even by Stacey Dooley’s standards, her new documentary is deeply harrowing. It follows an undercover investigator, Mike, in the Philippines as he poses as a paedophile in order to catch women who are pimping out their own kids for sexual abuse, mainly by men from the US and the UK. In order to get to the stage where the women can be arrested and their children taken into the relative safety of social care, Mike spends hours online, gaining the women’s trust. They send him videos of their children being abused and graphically explain what he can do with them. He then meets them in a public place – a mall or a restaurant – before they come back to his hotel room, only to be busted the minute money changes hands.
Dooley waits in a next door room, with the team of ICE Homeland Security Investigators and police and social services from the Philippines, watching on hidden cameras, as the deal is done and the children’s laughter echoes from the pool outside.
The descriptions of abuse are graphic and the reality of it all takes its toll on Stacey, Mike and the viewer. Stacey asks questions of the desperation of the women who do this, although her sympathy seems to evaporate as the reality she is faced with sinks in. Going to meet two sisters whom she witnessed being busted, they try to absolve themselves of any guilt by telling her the children make their own choices, and Stacey’s anger and frustration is apparent, but she does point out that what will happen afterwards to the children – being separated permanently from their families, never going home again and instead being put into state care – is deeply traumatic for them too. It’s all extremely distressing, especially as one investigation ends and another just as quickly pops up in its place, pointing to the scale of the problem and the never-ending stream of men whose perverted desires fund it.
Lee Ridley: Voice of the People
This short series follows award-winning comedian Lee Ridley as he attempts to, quite literally, find his voice. Unable to speak, due to complications arising from cerebral palsy, he now performs under the stage name Lost Voice Guy, and here, he’s scouring the country to find the funniest accent, so he can programme it into his iPad to ensure his jokes get as many laughs as possible.
First up, he heads to Newcastle, where he goes to a salon to interrogate a Geordie beautician, then he’s off to St James Park, where he meets James Tindale to get advice about the best Geordie bantz. On the streets, he tries out his new accent, to see whether he gets more laughs in Newcastle-ese. The results are unexpected.
This is a light-hearted series, as Ridley turns a negative (how to be a stand up comedian when you can’t speak) into something positive.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Are There Fascists Next Door?
While on the tin this documentary poses the question of whether the far right could come to the fore in the UK, it’s actually looking at the deeply concerning rise in popularity of fascism amongst young people in France, where, apparently, the number of people who’d describe themselves as far right has doubled in the past five years.
With the majority of members of far right groups under 30 years old, and Marine Le Pen the most popular candidate among young French people, it’s certainly a deeply cononcerning trend. The rhetoric on display from Le Pen supporters is extremely repetitive, with constant references to Islamic terrorism as well as the complaint that immigrants are taking jobs that should be given to French people. When asked about whether such views are racist, the answer is that there are white immigrants too, and that being Muslim isn’t a race. Much of this is deeply familiar to anyone paying attention to British media – more so, as Le Pen supporters speak of their pleasure at the Brexit vote, hoping that France can follow suit.
The filmmakers interview anti-fascist demonstrators too: they speak to young, articulate and thoughtful first and second generation immigrants, who overwhelmingly support Macron. While the interviews don’t get too deep, this is a snapshot into a trend which does seem to be worryingly far-reaching.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube Channel.
Can’t Cope Won’t Cope
This six-episode Irish comedy drama by Stefanie Preissner, originally aired on RTÉ, is a strange beast. On the surface, it appears to be about two young women living their best lives: by day, Aisling (Seána Kerslake) is apparently successful at work, while flatmate and best friend Danielle (Nika McGuigan) is pursuing her passion of graphic design; by night, they’re making the most of the club life Dublin has to offer. But scratch the surface and the programme is a lot darker.
Aisling goes to work sweating alcohol, before throwing up, leaving early and heading straight to the pub for some hair of the dog, and it soon becomes clear that her drinking is more problematic than fun. Going to a club and picking up a one-night stand before having to do the walk of shame straight to a chemist where she has to take the morning after pill – again – all the while ignoring phone calls from her mum, her self-destructiveness is clear. It’s less hinting at a dark underside as it is hitting you, sledgehammer-like, over the head with it.
This is a promising start to a series that was a success in Ireland, but it’s not the breezy flatmate sitcom you might be imagining. It’s more Fleabag than Friends, and it looks likely that it will get even darker as the series progresses.
The Rapper Who Chopped His Penis Off
This documentary tells the story of Andre Johnson, aka Christ Bearer, a rapper for North Star and Wu Tang Clan, who, in 2014 (as the title of the programme suggests), cut off his penis, before throwing himself off a second-floor balcony while high on PCP. On the surface, it’s pretty garish subject matter, but the programme is actually a pretty thoughtful examination of the results of untreated depression, bereavement, and substance abuse.
Brought up by a single mother, whom he was very close to, when Johnson started working with the Wu Tang Clan, the money started flowing in, allowing him to get more heavily involved in weed, booze, and PCP. After witnessing his mother’s death, he felt he was “heading down a bottomless vortex”, and the documentary examines the way in which, in his male-dominated community, the answer to depression or loss is to block it out by drinking or getting high. As Johnson’s drug-taking got more and more out of control and began to affect his relationships, he had fewer and fewer people to talk to.
The night in question – when Johnson cut off his penis with two swift slices of a sharp blade, believing it was the source of all his problems – is detailed in police recordings, but the documentary also covers the aftermath. The media attention was intense, but Johnson was able to address his mental health problems, resulting in a more sober and peaceful way of life. Weirdly, it ends up kind of hopeful, but why it should take such an action to get to that place is, of course, the burning question – and, as this suggests, it’s all to do with treatment for mental health, as well as breaking down the masculine response of bottling up problems.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
The second season of the surreal mash-up comedy created by Darren Dutton and Jonny Roberts has begun, with a promised 10 2-minute episodes being screened over the next few weeks. In case you missed it last time, it’s set in a field with minimal props, and mixes audio from popular TV shows with original live action, with actors lip synching the soundtrack of the different programmes.
In the Judge Rinder episode, he’s portrayed as a kind of human Jabba the Hutt, all bloated and – for some reason – his torso sprouts from a kitchen sink, the taps of which he likes to caress as he hears the case of Danny, who extended a loan to his carpet and was never paid back. In the Pointless riff, host Alexander Armstrong is made into a bit of a creepy sex pest, invading peoples’ personal spaces while asking them increasingly weird questions.
It’s a fun show, in a throw-away, daft nonsensical fashion. When it first started as a web series, it was a comedian’s favourite, with Bob Mortimer, Peter Serafinowicz and Matt Lucas singing its praises, and, judging by the first couple of new episodes, it’s lost none of its original bonkers appeal.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
This series of inspirational stories has amassed a large number of programmes over the past few months. All between one and three minutes long, the shorts range from individuals who devote their lives to rescuing animals to people determined to overcome physical challenges. In among those are stories of kindness, forgiveness and determination. What links each film is an overwhelming optimism, the desire to make the world a better place, to use your life wisely and compassionately to make a real difference in the lives of others. In a world which sometimes seems increasingly bleak, this series is a very welcome little haven of light.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
This string of short films examines what it’s like to look different. Filming five women as they put on their make-up, each talk about their specific conditions – Rochelle has vitiligo, Phyllida suffered facial scarring after a road accident, Katie was born with a condition that gave her cysts on her face, tongue and neck, Annabel was born with a birthmark on her face, and Bobby received facial burns after a car she was in burst into flames.
The act of putting on their make up – and taking it off – allows them to reflect on what it’s like to live outside the norm. Each have been subjected to cruelty on account of their appearance: Annabel describes being in a supermarket when a woman told her she wouldn’t go out the house if she “looked like that”, while Bobby recalls the bullying she experienced at school and the anger she felt at it.
But the overwhelming similarity between each is the acceptance of the way they look, how it is part and parcel of their identity, and the peace they now feel with it – that it’s just skin, and the only problem they have is in getting other people to accept that. These are thoughtful women with much to say about the true meaning of beauty.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Happy Man (Box Set)
With nearly 1 in 5 men in the UK suffering from anxiety and depression, and suicide being the single biggest killer of young men, comedian and mental health campaigner Jack Rooke looks at the ways in which men can deal with their emotions.
Having lost his best friend Olly to suicide two years ago, the three-episode series is framed around a stand-up gig Rooke puts on for what would have been Olly’s 30th birthday. The first episode is the most personal, as Rooke goes to visit Olly’s grave, with a can of Red Stripe and a bunch of flowers, before talking about his own family background and how he coped with the loss of his father. Speaking to his mother and his dad’s best friend, the abiding lesson is that there is no shame in showing your emotions – that it is, indeed, crucial and necessary for good mental health.
In the second episode, Rooke goes running with friend and fellow comedian Richard, who was sexually assaulted a few years ago and who tried to keep it under wraps, before realising that this was damaging him in myriad ways. He gets his hair cut by Camden Black Barbers Initiative, who provide a space for men to come and talk about what they’re going through, before heading to Scotland to go cold water swimming with Finlay, a young man with a history of anxiety and depression, who finds the bracing fresh water helps him get a perspective on things. In the final episode, Rooke confronts his feelings about his body by becoming a life model and then getting done up in drag, investigating the relationship between what we look like and how we feel.
This is a timely series of short films, and Jack Rooke is a vulnerable, funny, and thoughtful guide to the ways in which men can cope with the pressures of life.
I Shot My Parents
This rather chilly documentary looks at the case of Nathon Brooks, who, in 2013, when he was 14 years old, shot his mother and father several times in the head as they slept. Amazingly, both parents survived, and the filmmakers follow them as they make their way to visit their son in prison, where he’s serving a 15-year sentence for assault with a deadly weapon.
The film looks at the crime itself, speaking to the police, the defence and the prosecutors who investigated the case, and it includes the original police interview with Nathon, who proves himself a natural and convincing liar. Thanks to CCTV footage taken from inside the house, there is incontrovertible evidence Nathon was the culprit. Put in the care of his grandmother before the case came to court, despite her concerns that he was dangerous, Nathon’s relatively easy sentencing is mainly thanks to his parents, who refused to help the prosecution.
Nathon is also interviewed, although he is unemotional and unforthcoming about what led to the shooting, and, according to his psychologist, the family haven’t spoken much about the events of that night. As he sits with his parents during visiting time, and they fret about whether he is brushing his teeth, what is left unsaid weighs heavy on the viewer.
The refusal to unpack complex emotions and speak honestly about how a seemingly ordinary boy in a seemingly ordinary family could commit such a crime becomes what the documentary is all about. It is, too, a testament to an abiding and seemingly unbreakable parental love, which binds the family together despite the complex mixture of horror, fear and bewilderment the crime left in its wake.
The Monkey Lab
Should animals be used for testing drugs? BBC Three wades into the controversial debate with its eyes wide open – and viewers should do the same. Upsetting images and footage are on screen throughout this half-hour examination of the divisive issue. The documentary packs in ideas and arguments too, from those who say that diseases such as Parkinson’s and HIV need to be cured to the protestors (on the side of the majority of the public) who do not believe that human lives warrant the use of primates. Rather than taking a stance, as a lot of modern documentaries do, the programme is commendably balanced, showing us the scientists and handlers who work in Bio-Medical Primate Research Centre in the Netherlands – who admit to being conflicted about their work and often get to know their animals – and also spending a large amount of time in the everyday challenges faced by people suffering from HIV and Parkinson’s – living proof that their conditions have improved thanks to animal tests. Those who already have an opinion on the matter are unlikely to find their viewpoint changed (and would do well, perhaps, to avoid the upsetting scenes on display), but for those who have never considered the question before, this is thought-provoking viewing. There is undoubtedly hope on both sides of the fence, though, that the Dutch centre’s Alternatives Department will reduce the number of monkeys used in research and ultimately phase them out entirely. Words: Ivan Radford
The Idris Takeover
In case you missed it, Idris Elba took over the reins at BBC Three last week, and with his choice of programme he sought to highlight diversity along with an Idris-esque aspirational message – that you can be whoever you want to be, if you put your mind to it. To this end, there’s a series of dramas, Five x Five, dealing with everything from racist cops to the pressure put on teens to commit knife crime. Also screened were “Moses Strong Man” and “Marcus the Wheelchair Boxer” – short documentaries which look at the impact of sport in dealing with adversity, and how a focus on becoming great at something can help not just you, but have an impact on the lives of others too.
In “Breaking Out of Bradford”, we meet Leila Taleb, a young woman determined to become a barrister, despite feeling that she doesn’t belong in that world on account of her working class background. And there’s a documentary about Shogun, an unsigned Scottish grime MC, who give us a glimpse into his life and talks about the barriers he’s faced in pursuing his dreams.
There’s more, including Romesh Ranganathan talking to established comedians about how they made it in their world, but what links everything is the Idris mentality – the kick up the backside, inspirational reminders to young people that they can achieve great things, regardless of where they come from or the colour of their skin. Perhaps the strand can be summed up by what Leila says during the course of her documentary – that until you see yourself represented in what appears to be a closed field, it’s easy to imagine it’s just unattainable. Idris’s schedule is about showing the possibilities which are only as limited, he posits, as your imagination, drive and determination.
Kicked Out: From Care to Chaos
Rebecca Southworth knows that, in many ways, she’s lucky. Now a university graduate and a filmmaker, she understands only too well how differently her life could have turned out. Being put into care at the age of 13, after confiding in a friend about the abuse she suffered at home, she was much more likely to become homeless or go to prison as an adult than to finish her education.
Indeed, there are 70,000 children in care in the UK. In this documentary, Rebecca interviews some of the care leavers behind that statistic and teases out the myriad reasons they, as a group, face the almost insurmountable challenges that they do. Meeting up with an old schoolmate, Tyler, Rebecca sees first hand the alternative reality which could have been hers had it not been for the encouragement and security given to her by her foster parents. Tyler, like Rebecca, got into university but was unable to complete his course, and is now homeless and trying to get help from a seemingly uncaring bureaucracy. Liam, meanwhile, squats with activists, and Scott, who was put into care as a baby and moved from one place to another throughout his childhood, still suffers the emotional scars of abandonment, and now gives talks to prospective foster parents to lead them through what they might face.
Interwoven with these stories is Rebecca’s own, and her increasing gratitude that she was given the stability she was when she needed it. This is a documentary which blends her personal story together with a wider one, and effectively highlights the shameful way in which British society treats those who most need their care.
Teenage Knife Wars
This documentary follows former footballer Jermaine Jenas, as he returns to his home city of Nottingham to investigate what’s behind the recent spike in knife crime. This involves him meeting balaclava-ed men in abandoned warehouses, who pull out massive machetes from underneath their hoodies and explain that they would no sooner leave the house naked than they would knife-less. Jermaine’s mum, whom he visits with a camera crew in tow, is understandably nervous about what he’s up to.
He speaks to another mother at the grave of her own son, who was knifed to death at the age of 27, in a typically pointless act of violence. What start as petty disputes, it seems, quickly escalate. One schoolboy explains that when you’d normally just have a fist fight and be done with it – something which has been happening since time immemorial, a kind of rite of passage in high school – nowadays you have to bring a knife because the expectation is that your opponent will have one. Young people, it seems, are now ready to ‘kill or be killed’ over nothing.
This is a sobering documentary, telling a story reminiscent of the Glasgow knife gangs of the 1970s, or the American gun mentality. As those situations showed us, there are no easy solutions, and Jermaine is visibly frustrated as he tries to talk some sense into young people ready to die, or get life changing injuries, for the pettiest of reasons.
Just a Couple
This new, six-part series, written and created by Sebastian Thiel, introduces us to Mark (Michael Salama) and Shav (Frieda Thiel), a couple who spend their mornings winding each other up and their evenings taking selfies on the sofa, while wearing facemasks. Their arguments range from TV cheating (when one partner goes ahead and watches a new Netflix series without the other) to what photos their friends are texting them.
They’re at the point in their relationship where they’re just beginning to do things like unthinkingly give each other foot rubs, wear headscarves in bed, and fart in front of each other – just past that excitable, only-just-met period, and easing into life as a long-term partnership.
The easy, good-natured comedy arises from all the small irritations of couple life, but the programme also centres around the joy and tightness it brings. The two leads are funny and charismatic, their performances light and natural, and they perfectly personify that slightly fizzled-out but still apparent chemistry which is the heart of a long term relationship.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Another new comedy series started this week, and it, too, focuses on couples – although at a very different stage in their relationship. Climaxed, written and created by Tom Craine (who previously worked on BBC Three’s Josh), joins various pairs just as they finish having sex for the first time, and looks at the awkwardness and miscommunications thereafter.
The first episode sees Hanna (Rose Matafeo) trying to get rid of her one night stand, Alfie (Patrick Turpin), whose name she has forgotten. It seems as though he had rather a better time than her (“You’re really good at that, you could do that professionally,” he tells her) and is keen to bed down for the night, before taking her out for a breakfast the next morning. Rather excruciatingly, he can’t seem to take the hint that she wants him to go immediately, until she’s more or less shouting “Leave now!” into his face. It’s all a bit awkward, but more than that, it’s kind of sad and depressing – and we’re not entirely sure it’s meant to be. A new episode is streamed every Sunday, and, if nothing else, it will show you there are worse things that can happen than going home alone on a Saturday night.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Taxi to Training
James Cordon seems to have kicked something off with his Carpool Karaoke: filming people chatting in cars as they drive around seems to be a thing now. Here, comedian and Grimsby Town fan Lloyd Griffith drives football players to their training, and gets to know a little bit about them in the process.
First up is Watford’s Troy Deeney, and after getting him settled in the passenger seat with some small talk about what car he drives, Griffiths starts asking him euphemistically about “an incident when he went away for a while and then came back”. Deeney reveals that he told his son he was at football camp, when he was jailed for attacking a group of students, but the subject is swiftly put to bed as Griffiths introduces a series of games and quizzes he’s created to find out how much the players know about their fellow players and their clubs.
The “taxi trivia” tape he puts on is voiced by Gary Linekar, and includes a bit where they have to press a buzzer to answer – raising some questions about health and safety – while ‘paddle foot’ raises the stakes of the danger aspect, as a ball is flung around the car.
The next episode, featuring Crystal Palace’s Joel Ward, follows much the same framework, but Ward speaks about his Christian faith and how he got into football by playing for the church team. It’s interesting to note that while Deeney stiffed Griffiths on the fare, Ward actually gifts his driver a pair of gloves. In these interviews, it’s the little things that say so much.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Young and Sterile: My Choice
When technology journalist Holly Brockwell went public with her four-year struggle to be sterilised on the NHS last year, the immediate, vitriolic backlash she experienced came as a surprise. Perhaps it shouldn’t have. After all, the scrutiny of women’s bodies is a worldwide problem, and the constant policing of female reproductive autonomy remains one of the patriarchy’s favourite pastimes.
In this documentary, Poppy Begum speaks to Holly and other people – male and female – who have decided, relatively early in life, that they don’t ever want children, and seek to take control of their own fertility. The reasoning behind such a drastic decision ranges from person to person. One man cites a 2009 episode of Eastenders, in which Ronnie tricks her partner into impregnating her by pricking holes in his condom, and his fear that a potential partner could do the same to him. Most of the reasoning is more sound than this. Some don’t want to hand down disease or depression to another generation, some seek to avoid their own childhood trauma, while others have just never felt the maternal – or paternal – appeal.
There is one bio-ethical expert who challenges the procedures universally on the grounds that destroying healthy reproductive organs goes against the healing ethos of medicine, but other than that, the people are able to speak for themselves without judgement or condemnation. It’s an interesting look at people who have decided to take their future into their own hands.
My Unusual Vagina
Once you’ve finished watching a man getting sterilised, the next short film in BBC Three’s Extraordinary Bodies strand features a labiaplasy. This 15-minute documentary follows Antonia’s journey to get an operation to ‘fix’ her vagina, which, according to her, looks like a Big Mac rather than a hot dog (this is a bad thing, apparently), and has been the cause of insecurity and discomfort for much of her life. Determined to finally do something about it, she bites the bullet and spends over £3,000 to make her vagina look more ‘neat’.
Much of the film features Antonia discussing everything she thinks is wrong with her vagina, illustrating it with drawings, and purveying porn and social media to demonstrate the ideal genitals she’s hoping for. Although she talks at the beginning about the pain her labia causes her, it soon becomes clear that cosmetic concerns are behind her decision to go under the knife.
Antonia is accompanied by her seemingly rather confused, albeit supportive, mother to her operation, where a surgeon cuts away the offending skin. But will the results be everything she would hope for? The documentary is an interesting, yet somewhat shallow, look at a new procedure, which only usually gets talked about in mockery, and Antonia is an articulate subject. But we only ever scrape the surface of what leads her to the surgeon’s table.
The long-awaited mockumentary satirising YouYube vloggers has landed – aptly – online. In BBC Three’s new series, Liam Williams plays a version of himself, a nihilistic and dour comedian, who spends his Friday evenings googling ‘when to give up on your dreams’, when he sees an advert for a vlogging competition with a prize of £10,000 up for grabs. After uploading a drunken, depressive rant under the screen name ‘vloggy mcvolgface’, he unexpectedly wins the opportunity to learn from the great and the good of YouTube, overseen by agency boss James Wirm (Tim Key).
His first training session sees him get lessons from vloggers extraordinaire (or “self-manipulating content puppets”, as Williams calls them) Charlie and his girlfriend, Millipede, who make hundreds of thousands of pounds in advertising and sponsorship deals with their winning combination of upbeat superficiality. By the end of the 15-minute episode, Williams’ interest is piqued, and he’s created a welcome video in which he talks in a high, transatlantic accent about the importance of being ‘happy’.
It’s a great start to what promises to be a skilful skewering of a new breed of stars whose online fame bleeds into real world entertainment.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel – new episodes are released at 10am every Saturday.
Now into its second run of short dramatic monologues by up-and-coming BAME writers, The Break continues to deliver unshowy yet revelatory character driven narratives, which get under the skin of their young protagonists.
In Tits, Adelle Leonce stars as an office worker whose drunken game of truth-or-dare spills into her office life, meaning she must now attempt to retrieve photocopies of her boobs from her boss’s inbox. While it starts off as humorous, it runs the gamut of emotions, from fear and panic to vulnerability and, ultimately, hope.
Etching, meanwhile, gives us Broadchurch’s Charlotte Beaumont as a woman trying to break away from her far-right family, and it’s a thoughtful examination of what it means to be ‘loyal’ to a community which is doing harm, and whether being part of that community is viable.
These are just the first two of the new, five-part season. Like the previous run, they showcase disparate voices with a lot to say about the push and pull of modern life.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
City Boy Fight Club
You have to pity these poor ‘city boys’. By day, they are privileged estate agents, riding around London in their jeeps, showing overpriced flats to people with rich mums and dads, but come nightfall, they are forced to stare deep in the empty caverns of their soul, only to find an unimaginable emptiness. Their attempt to fill that aching void leads them to challenge each other to boxing matches in the hope they can punch the pain away by destroying their mirror images inside the ring.
We follow Josh, “head of assets” at a central London estate agent, as he seeks a rematch with Challon, whose claim that his shoulder popped out of its socket (a claim disputed by Josh) resulted in their first match being abandoned.
The main tension rests in whether ‘Challon the Assassin’ will actually turn up to fight ‘Josh the Bull’, as through much of the programme he claims not to be bothered by the whole thing. Pre-match ‘takedowns’ in the run-up to the fight involve awkward moments when they’re not sure whether to greet each other in the boxing gym where they train, with Josh claiming his shaking hands are to do with anger rather than fear. Interviews with their trainers, and a voiceover that warns us about the dangers inherent in unregulated white-collar fights, attempt to give the whole escapade more gravitas. We won’t spoil anything for you, other than to say the ultimate showdown turns out to be more of an ultimate let-down.
Double Mastectomy Twins
This thoughtful and ultimately life-affirming documentary focuses on twin sisters Rose and Charlotte, as they prepare for the double mastectomies that will dramatically decrease their risk of developing breast cancer. Having lost their mother to the disease when she was just 39 years old, the twins both tested positive for the BRCA2 gene. By opting to get mastectomies, their chances of getting breast cancer drops from 85 per cent to 12 per cent – a lower risk than that of the general population. Having seen what cancer can do, their decision seems like a no-brainer, although that doesn’t make the operation and its consequences any less daunting.
They hold farewell parties for their boobs, taking plaster casts of them to remember them by, before they go into surgery (the documentary features quite graphic footage). All the while, off camera, their father, too, is fighting a losing battle with his own cancer. Their ordeal brings back memories of what they went through when their mother died, and their gran shares the keepsakes which were left for them, packed up in a box until they felt ready to go through them.
It’s all very moving, and Charlotte and Rose deal with things in different ways. But what shines through is their will to live a long and happy life, and their gratitude at being given the opportunity to escape a fate that was laid out for them by a genetic predisposition beyond their control.
3 Guys Eat
The Chicken Connoisseur recently proved that there’s an appetite for takeaway reviews, and likeable comedians Mo Gilligan, Johnny Cochrane and Kae Kurd capitalise on it. In between gigs, they drive around on a mission to find the best takeaway in the UK, starting with Randy’s Wing Bar in Hackney Wick, London.
This seems an altogether more upmarket joint than any The Chicken Connoisseur has visited – along with their chicken wings covered in lashings of sauce and topped off with a blue cheese dressing, they get chicken liver popcorn (chicken livers covered in panic breadcrumbs and deep-fried).
This prompts a conversation about the benefits of offal (it’s good for sperm, apparently), as well as some lighthearted musings on free range chicken versus its steroid-pumped counterpart. The programme is informative too, as Mo demonstrates the best way to eat a chicken wing (one full 360 rotation, while sucking every last bit of meat off the bone), while Johnny is ridiculed for his rather more prim method – proof positive, Mo says, that he’s mixed race, and “definitely eating via the white side”.
All in all, this is a pretty tasty morsel of TV. Without wanting to spoil anything, Randy’s chicken proves something of a hit, with its pleasing meat-to-sauce ratio and the elegant way in which the blue cheese melts on top of it. The clip for the next instalment looks less appetising, featuring a bag of very sweaty chips.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
The Real History of Sex
Comedians Cariad Lloyd and David Reed wrote and voiced these short animations, which look at sex, dating and make-up through the ages. Lloyd plays a dim vlogger who interviews Reed’s sex historian Donald Greenacres in a hot tub, occasionally joined by random and bemused repairmen, supermarket delivery people, and Lloyd’s gran.
The little nuggets of sex trivia include the fate of the woman who wrote the first lonely hearts ad (she was put in a mental asylum for four weeks) and the fact that sex toys date back to caveman days, making them older than shoes and cheese. Roman make-up tips include rouging your face with animal dung. Fashion, meanwhile, is presented as an ever-present threat to women of the past, as organs were displaced by corsets and immolation was rampant due to wearing highly flammable materials next to open fires. We also find out that the rumour that the Nazis created sex dolls is fictitious, made up “to make Nazis look bad”, although it’s probably fair to say the Nazis didn’t need much help in that regard. The series is a curiosity – it’s gently amusing while also being reasonably interesting – but it’s ultimately somewhat throw-away.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Annie Mac – Who Killed the Night?
When London’s Fabric was shut down last year, after two clubbers died drugs-related deaths, many were up in arms. Though it has since reopened after introducing new regulations, the closure pointed to a shift in British nightlife, which has been on the cards for some time. With venues being demolished up and down the country to make way for flats and commercial developments, it seems that the days of the super club are numbered.
Annie Mac’s look at the reasons behind the changing face of British clubbing is, unfortunately, pretty slight. While she talks to club owners, promoters, property developers, London’s “night tsar” Amy Lamé, and club-goers themselves, she veers towards a rose-tinted, golden-era depiction of the past, and it’s very much a London-centric look at the issue. While paying lip-service to smaller, underground (and illegal) club nights, where many feel the future of nightlife lies, Mac prefers to concentrate on the age of the superclubs, making the documentary seem dated even before the end of its running time. It ends up being a rather sanitised look at a youth culture which has long since grown old.
Bunny Boiler’s Dating Vlog
Scottish writer and comedian Rachel Jackson was performing a short, self-written show – based on her own experience of being dumped – at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival when she came to the attention of BBC Three. Her “Bunny Boiler” dating vlog is now being screened in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, and it’s a great wee antidote to those of us averse to rather more typical tales of romance.
Jackson’s character Cassandra is newly single and shares her experiences with the viewer in a series of intimate, straight-to-camera monologues. Though the title suggests someone slightly desperate and stalkerish, the irrepressible Cassandra bucks expectations by having an innate knowledge of her own worth and enjoying life to the full. Whether she’s flirtatiously nibbling on her dentist’s fingers, or free-style rapping to the man sitting next to her on the bus, she’s not necessarily successful in the art of the pick-up, but she dusts herself down quickly and is on to the next man in no time. Jackson is likeable, funny and charismatic, and her short dispatches are less about romance than they are about self-love. Recommended.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Refugee Diaries (Box Set)
This terrific little three-episode series of 10-minute films introduces us to Thaer, a Syrian who hopes for the chance of a new life in England after air strikes target his home in Idleb. We first meet him in 2015, as he says goodbye to his family to begin his journey across the Mediterranean, spending three months in the camp in Calais before smuggling himself over the Channel. But the bulk of the series covers what happens when he gets to England. After getting out of a detention centre, he’s punted around from city to city, ending up in Newcastle, where he has an interminable wait for the Home Office to decide whether to grant him asylum, set against the backdrop of a divisive Brexit campaign. From there, he moves to London, where he tries to put down roots with the odds stacked against him – all the while watching news from Syria, and trying to keep in touch with his family and friends who are still there. Thaer is an articulate, intelligent, and sympathetic guide to the obstacles refugees and asylum seekers face in their effort to make a life for themselves away from their war-torn countries. This is a moving snapshot into their lives, and the kind of programme the BBC was designed for.
Illegal Job Centre / Gang Girls
Following on from her look at the flow of contraband into UK prisons, Livvy Haydock is back with two new short documentaries. In the first, Illegal Job Centre, she investigates the exploitation of migrant workers by unscrupulous bosses, while in the second she focuses on girls who are caught up in gangs. The incredulousness and naivety displayed in her original prison documentary has been toned down a little, but it’s still evident, as she expresses horror that the people who pick up illegal workers from car parks to take them to work for half of what they would be paid as documented workers. While the migrants are being charged £60 a week to live on mattresses side by side with each other, 21 to a house, they are getting up at 5am in order to stand in car parks hoping that a white van will come and retain their services. But it’s hard, dirty, unsafe work, and they often end up with injuries which lead them to life on the street, replaceable in the eyes of the builders who employ them.
In Gang Girls, Haydock speaks to women who have been groomed into joining gangs, where they are often sexually exploited and used as drug mules and procurers. The difficulty of getting them out of the vicious cycle they inhabit is explained by health and social care professionals, while the gang members themselves talk about their own experiences on the condition of anonymity. Both documentaries are glimpses into marginalised lives which are undervalued and lived in the shadows, but they come off ultimately as rather superficial, offering no real insight into the worlds inhabited.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
The Cost of Cute: The Dark Side of the Puppy Trade
In this excellent but rather traumatising documentary, Grace Victory investigates the puppy trade, and the harm humans are doing to man’s best friend in the quest for cuteness. Be warned, the programme includes some upsetting footage, shot by the RSPCA and customs officials, of dead puppies in wheelbarrows or discovered in plastic bags in the back of vans. There are, too, graphic descriptions of illegal puppy farms, where bitches are treated like factory farmed chickens – kept in cages and mechanically fed, given hormones to force them into heat, and delivering litter after litter of puppies, who are briskly whisked away.
The bitches have a lifespan of about four years, while their puppies don’t fare much better. Taken from their mothers before getting the necessary nutrients, and not being vaccinated before being transported in hidden compartments of lorries, they are treated like livestock. Many people who buy puppies from the internet aren’t aware of their provenance, as the criminal gangs behind these enterprises are well-versed on how to make it seem as though the dogs come from loving homes. But new owners often welcome their new family member only to find they often have severe health problems – 20 per cent of puppies born online will die within 6 months.
This is one aspect of the programme, but Victory’s hypothesis is that the consumer has to take responsibility not only for the animals they buy but for the rise in certain flat-faced breeds, which are increasingly popular – and Instagram-friendly – even as their health problems make them less desirable. The most smuggled dogs are the ‘cute’ ones – French bulldogs, pugs and miniature dachshunds – the kind of breeds that often have to have expensive surgery in order to correct problems that have been bred into them, resulting, in many cases, in the dogs being abandoned when their owners can’t afford the treatment. The number of pugs abandoned at Battersea Dogs Home has tripled in the last 5 years.
It’s all extremely depressing, but it should be required viewing for anyone thinking about buying a dog. Which, as an aside, is not compulsory, as the many, many abandoned puppies in dogs’ homes up and down the country attest to – the adorable, tiny one-eyed pug Grace meets during filming being an example of the kind of dog that needs a good, loving home.
The Ladventures of Thomas Gray
Lads, eh? Lads and their bantz! You all thought you’d had enough of that sort of thing, and yet here we are, on the cusp of 2017, with BBC Three launching a new boxset devoted to, well, LADdventures. Fortunately, Thomas Gray isn’t really your Dapper Laughs kind of lad, and this programme, while being quite affectionate towards its subjects, is simultaneously sending them up. As Gray travels to Essex then Newcastle, he finds groups of young men (lads) who enjoy such diverse activities as boxing, weightlifting, going to clubs and drinking, playing football, pulling pranks, going to pubs and drinking, hanging out with their friends, playing charades, and, sometimes, staying in and drinking.
Clearly, just going to different cities and drinking with different groups of young men (lads) was turning out to be a little repetitive, though, so in Episode 3, things switch up, and Gray investigates grime music, and in the final programme, he speaks to somewhat creepy pick up artists, who give him tips on how to talk to women, with varying results.
It’s all quite good natured, even the foray into the kind of gross and unpleasant world of the pick up artist, and Gray is an entertaining host, who can subtly take the mickey out of the people he’s with, without completely humiliating them. It’s a fine line, but he pulls it off with aplomb, and this is a box set which, while a little pointless, is nonetheless relatively inoffensive. High praise, indeed!
Sex, Drugs and Murder – So This Is Christmas?
The merry Christmas edition of BBC Three’s Sex Drugs and Murder strand of documentaries allows us to catch up with the sex workers based in the managed red light zone of Holbeck in Leeds. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s not exactly full to the brim with festive cheer. Kayleigh’s just had a terrifying experience with a client, which has sent her into a downward spiral, and is back using drugs. She’s looking forward to a Christmas of not working – because, although she herself won’t be able to spend the day with her family, she feels her clients should.
Sammi Jo, meanwhile, is anticipating a lucrative day, and she has found in years gone by that men spend the Christmas having dinner with their families before leaving the house to pay for sex.
Adele and her cousin Amy keep up the seasonal tradition of familial fall-outs, by arguing over money and drugs, and Adele is left looking for a cheap bedsit to stay in. She’s just happy she’s not in prison, as she has been the past three Christmases, when she’s been locked up for shoplifting.
The programme is an examination less of sex work and more of what people have to put themselves through in order to feed their addictions, and with each episode, the regular viewer is just happy that nothing too horrific has happened to its subjects. Their day-to-day life is horrifying enough.
Sex on the Edge (Box Set)
This set of five films, all under 10 minutes, explores some of the more unusual and less-discussed sexual peccadilloes, most of which remain unacceptable in wider society. It’s eye-opening stuff, veering from race play (where racial abuse and stereotyping is employed for sexual pleasure) to chastity play (where you literally lock up your genitals in a little cage and hand the key over to someone) via age play (with its daddy/dom and ‘little’/sub dynamic). Most shocking (not to mention dangerous) are ‘rape play’ and ‘breath play’, due to their grey areas of consent, and the kind of trust involved in making them work with no physical or mental damage to either party.
Fans of each genre are interviewed, describing their fetish in some detail, and are intercut with sex experts and sociologists who give us some much needed background and insights into the possible motivations at work. It makes for pretty fascinating and thought-provoking viewing, but it’s not for the prude or the faint-hearted.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Drugs Map of Britain, Episode 6. Newcastle: Super strength Ecstasy
In this 20-minute look into the world of MDMA, Poppy Begum goes to Newcastle, where she meets just a few of the vast number of young people who take the substance regularly for recreational purposes. Hanging out with them outside nightclubs, they open up to her about their feelings of alienation, anxiety and depression, which they say the drug alleviates.
The documentary gets darker when an 18-year-old female dies, after taking ecstasy at a nearby club. While club promoters refuse to speak to Begum about the incident for fear of having their licenses removed, the users she speaks to tell her that it won’t put them off taking it. Students for Sensible Drugs Policy (SSDP), meanwhile, sell packs which are designed to give people safer clubbing experiences. The packs include things like chewing gum and also drugs testing kits, which gauge how much MDMA is in any given pill or powder, and gives users an idea of any other drugs they contain, and how much they can feasibly take without overdosing. This documentary probably won’t tell people anything they don’t already know, but it’s a balanced look at something the mainstream still seem to have a problem talking about honestly.
Brainwashing Stacey: Living with Big Game Hunters
Stacey’s on her second outing to find out what it would take for her to change her mind about something she really believes in, and this week she’s looking at the hunting of rare animals. Post-Cecil the lion, trophy hunting is persona non grata, although, for many, it has never been a popular pastime. Those who are ‘for’ it present arguments concerning conservation issues – by sacrificing the life of one animal, they contend, many more are kept alive. Joining American hunter Marc and his 12-year-old son, Jaken, as they travel to South Africa for a two-week holiday at a 4,000-acre enclosed game ranch, the arguments are laid out by Gordon, the ranch owner, and other hunters, but the reality of going out and killing for the enjoyment of it remains anathema to Stacey. When Jaken proudly shows Stacey a video of him killing a bear, then giggling and high-fiving his father before joining him in a post-killing prayer, Stacey expresses bafflement. Whether she can bring herself to actually try to kill something herself seems doubtful, but in the end, as usual, she manages to humanise the people she meets, even as they participate in an activity that, for many, is beyond comprehension.
Stephen Port has now been jailed for a whole life term for the murder of four young men and the drugging and sexual assaults of several others. In this 20-minute documentary, John Pape, a friend of Port’s second victim, Gabriel Kovari, speaks out about the failings of a police force that allowed Port to go undetected.
Gabriel was killed less than a week after moving out of Pape’s house, and although Pape was assured by police it wasn’t murder, he was concerned when he found out that another young man, Anthony Walgate, had been found dead nearby just two months earlier. Three weeks after Gabriel’s body was found, Port’s third victim, Daniel Whitworth, was found in the same place as Gabriel, by the same dog walker. Despite all this, the police did not think a predator was at large, accepting on face value the explanations of accidental drug overdoses and suicides. Only when Jack Taylor was found dead in the same graveyard, in the same circumstances, almost a year later, did a proper investigation begin.
The Met police has now referred itself to the IPCC over ‘potential vulnerabilities’ in its response to the four murders, and Pape suggests that a lack of diversity within the police force led to the assumption that the dead men were victims of their own lifestyle rather than a predator. The refusal to investigate, despite the urgings of family, friends and advocates from gay rights organisations, could, it is suggested, have prevented at least one murder and several separate rapes and sexual assaults. This documentary is a story of searing anger and long-lasting grief, as the deaths of young men were treated with indifference due to alleged unthinking, systemic bias.
Breaking into Prison
In this short and rather unilluminating documentary, Livvy Haydock looks at the way in which contraband gets into UK prisons, speaking to people both inside and outside the prison industrial complex, who facilitate the supply of mobile phones, drugs, and weapons.
Meeting dealers in underpasses, who package up logs of weed before they are passed to a “mule”, who will stick them up his anus in order to get past security, she is surprised when they tell her the kind of money that can change hands for things like basic mobile phones and synthetic drug spice. A complicated graph shows how “networks” of people conspire to get the stuff – from the dealer to the contact to the mule and then into prison.
Targeted drones laden with drugs and weapons can also be used, with prisoners flashing lights to attract them to the window of their cell. And, of course, prison workers themselves can get things past security much more easily than visitors or returning inmates.
None of this can come as much surprise to anyone who knows anything about life on the inside, or who has even watched any TV in the last few years. Haydock comes off simultaneously naive and savvy, feigning surprise at revelations that seem fairly obvious. None of the bigger questions are addressed about the systemic complicity in getting the contraband into prisons and whose interests it serves, nor the effectiveness of attempts to counter drug addictions and criminality.
This six-part, 40-minute spoof series introduces us to “televisionary” Christoph Spinelli, a documentarian who specialises in true crime documentaries and miscarriages of justice. Spinelli, played by The Mighty Boosh’s Rich Fulcher, is a legend in his own mind, although ratings are more important to him than getting to the truth of a case.
In Sexy Murder, he investigates the ‘disappearance’ of Polly Worcester and the subsequent witch-hunt of neighbour and cat-lover Tom Jessop, a man whose assumed guilt rests on the fact he enjoys video games, lives alone, and doesn’t have a girlfriend.
While Spinelli and the documentary team attempt to prove Jessop’s innocence (“78 per cent of people we surveyed said Tom had innocent eyes”), they are nonetheless integral in getting him wrongfully accused in the first place. As they reconstruct a crime they don’t know happened, in order to prove someone who hasn’t been accused of it couldn’t have done it, they lead police straight to the door of the “loner”.
Featuring turns from Shaun Williamson and Maggie O’Neill as Tom’s bemused parents, this is a gently amusing and highly ridiculous take on our obsession with popular real-life crime series like Making a Murderer, The Jinx, and the podcast Serial. The cast is universally excellent, but for our money, Mick Mohammed steals the show as Jessop’s inept lawyer.
Sex, Drugs and Murder – Complicated Love
It’s somewhat ironic that in the same fortnight as the miscarriage-of-justice parody Sexy Murder, BBC Three is screening the second part of the excellent – yet terribly named – Sex, Drugs and Murder, which looks at the lives of some of the sex workers in the managed red light district of Holbeck in Leeds.
We catch up with Sammie Jo, who featured in the first episode. Now with a new boyfriend, who goes out with her as she works to make sure she’s alright, she’s spending up to £120 a day on crack and heroin, having fallen back into the habit, after having been raped. Sammie Jo is as forthright as ever, but her life is increasingly chaotic, which leads to her being parted from her beloved quails.
We are also introduced to Kayleigh, who has been working the streets for the past 12 years. She describes how her heroin addiction led her to sex work, which so disgusted her that she would come home and rub herself raw with bleach. From a loving family who nonetheless could not prevent her descent into serious addiction, she has three children, all of whom now live with her mother. Having recently adopted a puppy, Princess, she describes how she needs to be needed.
The Holbeck managed area remains controversial, but the pilot scheme has been extended, which is a favourable development for the women working there. In the first 8 months of 2016, the documentary tells us, 44 incidents have been reported in the area – although it doesn’t provide any information about any convictions, other than the fact that the man Sammie Jo said attacked her was found not guilty.
This is a welcome update on the women at the front line – likeable, engaging people who are courageously open about the problems they face, yet who fear for their personal safety every time they go to work.
From the very beginning, BBC Three’s Class feels like a fresh approach to the universe of Doctor Who and creator Patrick Ness immediately makes his own voice heard. His characters are likeable and immediately engaging, and even when The Doctor turns up, it never feels like he’s leaning on brand recognition. Coming some time after previous spin-offs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, Class plants itself somewhere between the two, pitting school students against aliens in a much more grown-up setting than in its long-running parent show. It’s also much scarier and more mature than any of them. Who meets Buffy? It’s just what the Doctor ordered. Read our full review.
Reggie Yates – Life and Death in Chicago
Fresh from his stint in a Texan prison and as a soldier in the Mexican army for his previous BBC Three documentaries, Reggie Yates now heads to Chicago, to take a sober look at the city’s gun violence epidemic. In a place where the murder rate has risen by 72% over the course of this year, Reggie finds communities trying to cope with loss on an unimaginable scale.
At a community meeting, he hears the angry testimony of people who have lost loved ones at the hands of the police, while at a police motorcycle rally, family and friends commemorate the lives of officers who have been killed in the line of duty. He meets a female pastor, who worked as a volunteer liaison between the community and police, until she herself was targeted by officers, while in her car with her two young children. She shows Reggie footage of the incident, in which one officer sprays her with pepper spray, while another officer stands by and laughs.
But the documentary is not just about police brutality – it also delves into the murky water of black-on-black violence. Lee McCullum Junior, an honour roll student, was found in his car with multiple gunshot wounds to the head, and Reggie attends his funeral. He listens as a family friend give an impassioned speech on the evils of gun crime, yet as mourners emerge from the church, there is already talk in the air about retaliation for Lee’s death.
There are no easy answers on how to tackle any of this, just a whole loads of bemused, bewildered, and grieving people in a city where guns and deprivation are fuelling segregation and prejudice, a microcosm of the country as a whole. Reggie and director Toby Trackman treat the subject sensitively, in a documentary which reveals the human toll behind the headlines and statistics.
Being Black, Going Crazy?
Keith Dube, aka Mr Exposed, takes a look at black mental health in this documentary, and while it’s an important and long-overlooked subject, the programme itself is a little threadbare.
Dube has himself suffered from depression, and after writing about his experiences in a blog, people started getting in touch with him. He found that for many black people, a number of issues combine to make it especially difficult for them not only to get help, but to admit they’re suffering in the first place.
In the space of half an hour, Dube speaks to people who have suffered a variety of mental illness, including Simone, whose African parents know nothing of her struggles with anxiety, and Ashley, who was diagnosed with psychosis and talks about the hallucinations he would have while in the grips of it.
Kemeta, meanwhile, found her mental health deteriorating after the birth of her son, though when she confided with her GP, she soon found herself held down by five policemen before being sectioned. A medical expert later explains that when black people go for help they’re “generally seen as more dangerous”, and so are more likely to get a severe diagnosis.
This speaks of structural racism at play, but Dube feels people are too likely to blame everything on race and should instead examine their own behaviour. He looks at issues of generational differences and black people being unable to talk to their family about their mental health, and also at the role religion can play.
Even while experts are telling him that black communities live in rundown areas, generation after generation, which affects their mental health, Dube continues to body-swerve discussion of racism. While admiring the courage of the people who speak so openly and candidly about their own experiences, the documentary fails to put that in a wider context, and it’s weaker for it.
Tales from the Serengeti
Ralph Kidson was working a variety of terrible jobs when Wildseed Productions found one of his self-published comic books and got in touch. Tales of the Serengeti forms part of the fruits of their collaboration, and it’s terrific. In Part 1, Bob the warthog goes for a walk and finds a donut, cunningly placed there by American tourists who are ‘hunting’ wild animals. Things are looking pretty bleak for Bob, until some of his fellow Serengeti-dwellers unwittingly get involved. Be warned – the four-minute cartoon is foul of language and fairly blood-soaked, but it’s also beautifully scripted, voiced and animated, and filled with a cast of characters – from monkeys to tigers to alligators – who are both memorable and effortlessly entertaining.
Once upon a tweet…
Have you ever wondered about the people behind the tweets? This terrific little strand of two-minute films tells some of their stories, and in doing so gives us a look at the concerns of young people in modern Britain.
Afghan refugee Gulwali talks about the traumatic voyage (“a journey of fear, a journey of death”) from his homeland to the UK. Passing through 12 countries and being imprisoned in many, then boarding a boat to Greece, he finally made it to Britain in the back of a refrigerator lorry. Now at Manchester University, in his final year of a politics degree, the tweet which inspired this film – “after hardship ease comes keep going don’t give up” – becomes a powerful message of hope and survival against all odds.
Previous shorts have featured Capres Willow, who, after seeing yet another video of a black man being shot by white police, tweeted “in shock for a split second but then I remember nothing in this world shocks me any more”. She explains that it was the impetus which inspired her to organise a UK #blacklivesmatter march. Leo tweeted “If you don’t believe your man is where he says he is then you’re insecure but if your man isn’t where he says he is then you deserve better” – which serves as the springboard to tell of the time he was caught cheating, a video of his ‘walk of shame’ put up on the internet for public consumption. Oloni, meanwhile, invited women to talk anonymously about their sexual experiences with the tweet “Ladies shall we have some fun tonight? I want to know your hoe stories. Ladies only”, inspiring hundreds of frank tales. Lucy’s tweet #blindgirlproblems “blind girl does her own makeup” went viral on buzzfeed, as she highlights one of the problems of sight loss which many don’t consider.
Each of these tiny fragments are fascinating snapshots into the lives of not only individuals but also whole communities who are not generally represented in mainstream media.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel – watch them all in our playlist above.
Josh Season 2
BBC Three’s flatmate sitcom starring Josh Widdecombe and directed by David Schneider returns for a second series after some lukewarm reviews for the first. Josh is still sharing a flat with Kate (Beattie Edmondson) and Owen (Elis James), and Jack Dee’s landlord Geoff remains a constant presence in their lives.
Tamzin Outhwaite guest stars in the opening episode as the innuendo-loving, sex-mad cougar Valerie, whom Josh has been set up with after being dumped by his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Kate tries to cheer Geoff up after accidentally sending him an insulting email about energy-saving light bulbs by taking him to the cinema and feeding him wasabi peas. Misunderstandings ensue.
This programme is never going to set the world on fire. Its ground is so well-trodden that that the only surprise is that sitcoms like this are still being made. Upon the evidence of Episode 1, it seems unlikely that Season 2 of Josh will change the mind of the many critics of the first.
BBC Three Comedy Feeds
For our full reviews of each of BBC Three’s six new comedy pilots, click here.
Drugs Map of Britain: Dying for weed
In the fourth and final episode of BBC Three’s series, Poppy Begum meets the people who use cannabis in various forms to alleviate health problems. While the UK government maintains that it has no therapeutic value, many disagree, taking the law into their own hands by ordering in from the Internet to combat their illnesses.
Andy was in two motorcycle accidents 17 years ago and suffers chronic pain, epilepsy and osteoporosis as a result. Phil has brain cancer. Both take cannabinoids, either in oil or solid form, for pain relief and in the belief that it actively helps reduce tumours. Jeff, meanwhile, supplies people like them and campaigns to get medicinal marijuana legalised in the UK, as it is in 25 states in America.
Since Andy started using, he has been able to cease eight prescribed medications, including fentanyl patches – the hardcore opiate that killed Prince – and finds himself more able to communicate and bond with his son. Meanwhile, Phil goes for a long-awaited scan on his tumour and is given the all-clear.
The illegality of the drug, though, means that desperate people who have heard anecdotal evidence that it can reduce tumours buy untested, unregulated oils, which can have negative effects. Unreputable online dealers are able to get away with scamming desperate people. Begum listens while Jeff has a conversation with a woman terrified she has made her father’s cancer worse and it’s heartbreaking. Later, she interviews a hospital consultant who has run trials in cannabis treatment for MS and pain relief, who tells her there’s a huge amount of evidence that it does work, and calls for more research to be done.
It is the human insights into the effect of drug laws that makes this documentary affecting, but there’s also a contained anger about it. Begum’s interviewees are people going through terrible times, yet whose lives are made more difficult by draconian laws and an uncaring bureaucracy. This is another thoughtful addition to BBC Three’s ongoing drugs conversation.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
For the past few weeks, BBC Three has been screening comedy shorts under the banner of Top Tens. Canadian comedian Mae Martin lists the top 10 things she finds attractive about a person, regardless of their gender, though one has the suspicion, which she herself fans the flames of, that she may just be talking about one person after all – an athletic and long-limbed blonde called Katie Anderson who she met at an impressionable age and whom she seems never to have gotten over the sight of driving a speedboat.
Nish Kumar, meanwhile, describes his top 10 weird conspiracy theories, including the one where the dinosaurs built the pyramids, the one where Hilter lives on the moon (“That’s right, we’re talking space Nazis”), and the one where the Earth is hollow, “like a kinder surprise without the surprise”.
Comedy duo the Lazy Susans, meanwhile, here performing as Paul and Ella (Paella for short), give us tips on improvising your make up, which include the liberal use of Tipp-Ex, bin juice and a stapler. (Do not try this at home, kids).
There are too many others to mention, each one slightly more surreal than the last. These are fun, entertaining skits which rely on the charisma of the presenters, but are also a wry take on the often nonsensical top ten obsession.
Introducing – Taking the Humza
YouTube star Humza Arshad, best known for his Diary of a Badman web show, now takes to BBC Three with this new series of comedy shorts. Having being involved in activism, touring schools to give talks on anti-extremism, assimilation and discrimination, here, he examines similar themes for laughs.
Introducing the show straight to camera, with his crew in the background, Arshad takes jabs at the media for their lack of diversity, before cutting to a spoof show, Pak Nation. Here, he plays a “gentleman documentarian”, who is welcoming Bilal, recently arrived to the country, to Croydon, and asking “Why do we find it so hard to fit in?”
Bilal is introduced to market stall holders and shopkeepers, given a demonstration on how to make traditional British food (deep fat frying is involved) and asks a butcher awkward questions about the rumours he’s heard involving David Cameron’s love of pork. He is last seeing fleeing for his life after mistaking a pigeon for a drone.
Inventive, hilarious, near-necessary viewing.
Life and Death Row : Forgiveness
BBC3’s Life and Death Row strand delivers yet another heartbreaking dispatch. This half-hour documentary features TT Trottie, whose father killed his mother and her brother in cold blood 21 years ago, when TT was only 18 months old, and he must now witness the execution of his last remaining parent.
In 1993, after a campaign of domestic violence against her, Willie Tyrone Trottie burst into the house where TT’s mother was staying with her family. After shooting her in her bedroom, he killed her brother Titus in point blank range in his head, execution style, as Titus lay injured on the floor. Willie Tyrone then checked himself into hospital, where he was apprehended and jailed for his crimes.
Willie tells a different story, a garbled one where he shot either in self defence or heat of the moment, a crime of passion – unable, even in his last days, to take responsibility for the cold-blooded killings of defenceless people. It’s a story he’s been telling his son for years, and which has been a sticking point in TT’s relationship with his mother’s side of the family, who find it difficult to be supportive to him, because of his closeness to his father.
This is an restrained, seemingly simple documentary that asks big questions and lets the people involved speak their story for themselves, and is all the more moving and humane for it. TT is a gentle and wholly likeable young man. Watching him, as he is accompanied by his loving and supportive wife to see his father die, is deeply affecting.
Kayode Ewumi’s comedy creation RS, (short for Roll Safe; real name Reece), first came to the attention of the internet in the latter part of 2015. The short vines Ewumi created with his longtime friend and collaborator, Tyrell Williams, were pretty much an instant hit as ‘triple threat’ RS, with his trademark lisp, his black leather jacket worn over a bare chest, and his large gold medallion in the shape of Africa hanging from his neck, is followed around mockumentary style, going about his business in the ‘hood’.
Fans of the character include Skepta and Stormzy, who bigged up RS’s Fire in the Booth video, filmed with Charlie Sloth on Radio 1 Extra, which now has almost 6 million views. So it’s safe to say many were left bereft after the comedy duo decided to take a ‘hiatus’ after releasing only three YouTube episodes.
It is therefore something of a cause for celebration that BBC3 are now screening six original short films catching up with RS, in the form of #hooddocumentary. In the first, Happy Belated, RS has a date with his friend Rachel, while in the second, Family Business, his family get together to celebrate his aunt Deb’s promotion.
These are shorter episodes than the YouTube ones, with less in the way of social commentary, focussing instead on a character who is, like all great comedy creations, instantly recognisable and completely delusional. It’s something of a calling card for Ewumi and Williams, and on this evidence, we’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the future. Take it from RS: “Thoon, I’m going to have an empire like Thteve Jobth.”
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
I Carried Out My Own Abortion
With research suggesting that between 100 and 200 thousand women in Texas have carried out their own abortions since the 2013 House Bill 2 was passed, this short documentary sees India Rakusen follow 23-year-old Eliza, as she retraces her steps in a journey that took her from El Paso to Mexico to purchase a pill to induce her miscarriage.
Eliza was fortunate in that there were no lasting physical after-effects, but, without any medical attention, the risks women take to terminate unwanted pregnancies are huge. One doctor, interviewed anonymously and voiced by an actor because she fears repercussions, tells of the frustration she feels after having to perform a life-saving hysterectomy on a young woman whose uterus was ruptured after the abortion pill induced heavy bleeding.
An anti-abortion protester is also interviewed, and, though she adds little to the discussion, it provides a backdrop to the regressive attitudes the clinics face in this part of the world. This is a place where a pharmacy can override a doctors prescription and refuse to fill it if it goes against their beliefs, a place where many people fallaciously believe that abortion is illegal.
The impact of House Bill 2 saw the closure of almost half the abortion clinics in the state shutting down because they couldn’t afford to update their facilities to meet the conditions set out, and clinic workers voice their concern is that if the HB2 is upheld all the clinics will close. With the Supreme Court currently in session, deciding on whether to scrap it, this is a timely documentary, putting a human face on what can be an emotive subject.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Drugs Map of Britain: Scotland? Valium Crisis
The third instalment of BBC Three’s Drugs Map of Britain takes us to Scotland, where Valium, in the form of diazepam and other such tranquillisers, are involved in 76 per cent of drug-related deaths, compared to just 11 per cent in England and Wales. Filmmaker Josh Haddow speaks to users, doctors, drug workers and those who have lost loved ones in an effort to understand the popularity of the opiates, and to highlight the effect of a life lived on them.
One reason posited for their prevalence is their relative cheapness. Costing as little as 50p per pill, their effect lasts longer than the high you get with the more well-known drugs – although, as one’s body builds up a tolerance to them, the user must take more and more to achieve the high they’re looking for.
Levi, a Newcastle native who moved to Dundee, says the first thing he was asked when he got off the bus was “Do you want any Valium?” – given that he was first introduced to them in his own home by his mother as a young boy, the answer was, presumably, yes. Widely prescribed in the 1960s for anxiety and depression, “mother’s little helpers”, he says, became “Levi’s little helpers”, and the addiction was passed down from generation to generation.
Much of the documentary follows Levi as he cracks open the Kinder egg he keeps his little blue pills in and takes them until he is a gibbering mess, nodding off in the middle of sentences as Barrow tries to interview him. When mixed with other drugs, including alcohol and methadone, the pills can become lethal; Levi takes them in combination with legal highs. Barrow becomes increasingly worried about his wellbeing.
Levi says he wants to live a long life. He is a Christian who keeps a Bible and some Rosary beads in his flat, and speaks of the drugs as a woman – “she can be the god and she can be the devil”, he tells Barrow, over a fry up, the day after taking 100 of the pills.
This is an unflinching look at the effects of not only drugs, but deprivation and poverty, in an area where young men see very little hope for their future.
Comedian James Acaster, laid back to the point of comatose, hosts this show, in which he invites musicians into a bleached-out warehouse to sit atop a beanbag, eat pretzels, and play songs at random from their song list. The result is a lot of quite dodgy music and some fairly uninteresting anecdotes about what the songs ‘mean’ to them.
So far, Acaster’s been joined by Big Narstie (who waxed lyrical about Coldplay), the Mystery Jets (a long story about being in a school musical featuring the music of the Backstreet Boys ensued), Izzy Bizu (who had the coolest song choices yet), and Tom Parker from the Wanted, amongst others. This week, Shura shares her love of Celine Dion (I kid you not) while Acaster plays slow motion hopscotch (again, no word of a lie).
The strange cutaways as the music plays, to performers dressed in black polo necks, miming whatever is being talked about, like Costcutter Marcel Marceaus, adds to the general feel of barrels being scraped. On the bright side, the programmes are under 10 minutes long. But still.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Don’t Section Me
This 12-minute documentary, filmed over the course of a week, is a snapshot into the work of a mental health team as they work out of Birmingham’s Oleaster hospital. It covers each part of the process, from the street triage team, who are the first point of contact, as they are called out to assist and assess vulnerable people, to the psychiatrists, who must make the decision on whether or not they should be sectioned.
The focus is on two callouts from concerned members of the public reporting on suicidal behaviour – one man is preparing a noose for himself in a public park, while a female tries to throw herself off a motorway bridge. The film offers a brief glimpse into the work done by the mental health professionals, and into the world of people with mental health disorders.
Eating with my Ex
This new series, comprising of 10-minute programmes, could be seen as a kind of inverted First Dates – instead of meeting for the first time, the couples here are meeting for the last time, in order to examine their relationship and the ways in which it went wrong.
The first features Taylor Rae, a 22-year-old pageant director and 24-year-old singer Adam, who haven’t seen each other in four years, since splitting up, after a five-month relationship. After meeting on a pub crawl in Benidorm, and spending what must have been a fairly spectacular night together, Adam booked a one-way ticket to Taylor Rae’s native Northern Ireland and moved in with her before the two had even been on a date. It comes as no surprise that the relationship ended after squabbles about whether to paint their living room red or pink, and other such trifles.
While most of us have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we’ll bump into our exes and their glamorous new partners unexpectedly, while wearing our trackie bottoms and rummaging around Asda’s whoopsies section, Taylor Rae takes the opportunity afforded here to get herself glammed up to the nines, pouring herself into a figure hugging dress, and the couple flirt their way through the meal, answering the questions that never got answered in the heat of the break-up, and coming to some sort of peace with what was, after all, their shared first love, and all that entailed. This ends up being a rather sweet and nostalgic experience, as they chat about what they wanted back then and their expectations of a relationship now, putting to bed any questions or doubts they had about whether splitting up was for the best. Older, wiser, with a more mature outlook, they are able to look back on things objectively and with clarity on their first love, not in the heat of anger or lust. As Rachel from Friends would say: “And that, my friend, is what they call closure.”
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Rest in Pixels: Life after Digital Death
If this interesting documentary is anything to go by, Charlie Brooker may be some kind of seer. After his Black Mirror episode featuring a fictional Prime Minister getting intimate with a pig turned out to be possibly closer to reality than most of us could have wished for, another episode from the series, Be Right Back – in which a woman grieving for her boyfriend seeks out a company that promises to bring him back to some form of life, via his social networking history – appears to be less science fiction than it is science fact.
Rest in Pixels: Life after Digital Death takes a look at the ways advances in technology make a digital afterlife possible. With over 30 million Facebook accounts currently taken by people who have since passed away, and the claim that by 2020 there could be more dead people on Zuckerberg’s site than there are living ones, there are a mass of inheritances that no one seems to know quite what to do with. These ‘dead’ accounts can be of some comfort to the bereaved, leaving as they do a reminder of those who have departed, with videos, updates, photos and blogs as keepsakes and mementoes for loved ones to remember them by.
Yet tech companies are getting ever more creative, and have identified a gap in the market for people who want to keep their dearly departed alive through technology. This programme interviews both the developers and the people who are directly affected.
Lucy Watts, a 22-year-old suffering from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rare condition which could prove fatal at any moment, chooses to blog about her experiences and control her online legacy herself. She looks into the various options available to her after her death: companies such as Dead Social, a not-for-profit organisation set up in the UK by James Norris, which offers recorded messages to go out on ‘dead’ social channels after their users pass away; Liveson, which reads your tweets and other digital footprints and continues to tweet in your name after your death (“When your heart stops beating, we keep tweeting”); Eterni Me, which offers the chance for people in the future to speak to your digital alter-ego and learn about your life, via digital storage; and the Terasum Movement, based in Vermont, in which people record their memories and experiences directly onto a website in the form of ‘mind files’, so that in the future, artificial intelligence can reanimate the essence of who you are, even transferring files to new form – a hologram, avatar or robot. This final company has thought of everything – they offer the option of sending your digital files into space, should some terrible disaster happen on Earth.
All this is the stuff of futuristic novels, but the documentary also delves into the motivations of the people behind such advances. It turns out that losing loved ones, especially gradually, through diseases such as Alzheimer’s, provides the very human impetus for investigating ways to keep people alive. The fear of death and loss hangs over this documentary like an dark cloud; the terrible reality of losing those closest to us and never being able to reach them again, and how we cope with saying our final goodbyes.
Hack Me! The Girl with Magnetic fingers
This four-minute film tells the intriguing story of Lepht, a transhumanist “biohacker”, who experiments with her own body to improve the quality of life throughtechnology. Transhumanism is an intellectual movement that believes we should be developing and improving our bodies to make them more compatible with the modern world. What this means, in layman’s terms, is activists inserting things like microchips under their skin in order to circumvent the use of exterior machinery. Since 2007, Lepht has performed over 50 procedures on herself, including embedding magnets into her fingertips to “add an extra sense”.
We follow her as she upgrades the chip in her hand to make it synchronise with contactless payment machines, so she only has to wave her hand about for her bank account to be debited. Lepht says she chooses to “go through pain to get knowledge”, and collects data from her trials along the way. By experimenting on her own body, she bypasses research labs and corporate backing to collate data people can use in the future. This is an interesting, bite-sized look at a subject which will be new to many.
Drugs Map of Britain – Wolverhampton: Getting off Mamba
The half-hour documentary won’t do much for Wolverhampton’s tourist board, dealing as it does with the people who live there day-to-day, without money, a home, or much in the way of hope for a better future. The film follows Liam, a 27-year-old homeless man who uses Mamba, a terrifyingly addictive and damaging legal high, which is easily available on the high streets of the city. According to both users and addiction specialists, Mamba is more dangerous than class A drugs, due to the lack of any kind of standard – and each package can contain different combinations of chemicals, making it difficult to treat effectively. On the back of the packets, which can be purchased for £15 for two bags, is a stark warning: Not fit for human consumption.
Liam, who has been on the streets for 3 months, smokes it every day, all day, and is surrounded by a community of people who do the same thing. Liam, however, is the father of two children, and has the impetus to get off the drugs to try and make a better life for himself.
The programme follows Liam, as he meets friends in soup kitchens and derelict building sites littered with dirty needles, where they pitch their tents and huddle into dogs for warmth and comfort. He goes to SUIT, a local organisation which helps people affected by addiction, in an attempt to get clean, regain his mental health, and find some focus in his life.
This new series is like a cross between Watchdog and Candid Camera, and it makes for uncomfortable viewing. The first episode looks at letting agent John Sanderson, who is taking money from students in Lancaster for rent, but not passing it on to the landlords. A sting is organised, featuring 78-year-old Irena Mackow, who lets out her house through Sanderson, is owed thousands in unpaid rent, and has been chasing her money for months. She is sent to meet him with a hidden camera – he gets aggressive and dramatic, and the whole thing is worryingly tense. The crew from Rogue Traders set him up again, by pretending to be homeowners looking to lease their property, which leads to them chasing after him in the street, shouting “Where’s the money gone, John?” Quite what all this is meant to achieve is unclear. It turns out that Sanderson owes £2m to 87 different creditors. This is hands-over-your-eyes type viewing, and one can’t help but feel that sooner or later this gonzo-style confrontational TV is going to go terribly wrong.
Who Is the Slender man?
With a new HBO documentary about Slender Man premiering this month at SXSW, BBC Three takes the opportunity to fill us in on the internet urban legend. In 2014 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, two 12 year old schoolgirls stabbed their friend multiple times in bid to impress the fictional character. But where did this figure spring from, and why does he have such a hold on popular imagination? This film is sinister and creepy, and packs a lot of information into its three-minute running time.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Things I Can’t Unsee
This strand of short films looks at various aspects of modern urban life. While the first film focuses on inner city gang culture and knife violence, the second turns its attention on Bradford taxi drivers. Easy targets for crime, the drivers share their stories of the aggression they have to endure in their effort to make a living. At under four minutes long, the films are evocatively shot and scored, and offer illuminating snapshots into different life experiences.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
The Couple Who Were Sentenced to Death
This six-minute short tells the remarkable story of two people, Peter Pringle and Sunny Jacobs, who were sentenced to death for separate crimes they didn’t commit in Ireland and the US respectively. After spending 32 years on death row between them, before being released on appeals, they met to talk about their shared experience. They fell in love, set up home together in Ireland and now campaign to stop the death penalty and run a charity for other victims of wrongful convictions. The film is yet another fascinating addition to BBC Three’s Life and Death Row strand.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
The Man Who Witnessed 219 Executions
BBC Three’s coverage of the human implications of the death penalty, deal with so thoroughly in Life and Death Row, is expanded further in this 18-minute documentary featuring Larry Fitzgerald, who worked as spokesman for the Texas department of Criminal Justice for 10 years, during which time he witnessed every execution carried out in the state. He speaks matter-of-factly about the nights he wakes up, haunted by the people he saw die, the unique smell of death which permeated the death chamber, the clinical nature of the executions, the surprising speed of them. He talks, too, of individuals he got to know and befriend on death row, and his feelings of helplessness, as he watched men he felt could be rehabilitated die at the hands of the state.
Ben Hart talks some unsuspecting punters through some useful ‘life hacks’ – making a cracked egg whole and mending a broken phone – but all is not as it seems, as Hart is a magician and what he performs are optical illusions. As a showcase for his talent, this falls rather flat – only the dopiest would be duped into thinking the pranks were real, testing the viewer’s suspension of disbelief to an alarming extent. In a post-Dynamo landscape, the tricks themselves are rather unspectacular, especially for an increasingly sophisticated audience.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
The World According to Maxim Bady
YouTube phenomenon Maxim Bady graduates to the BBC with his winning takes on some of the more bizarre and just plain dumb corners of the internet. In his most recent segment, he attempts, in his own idiosyncratic way, to defend the fact that the Earth is round. Bady is hugely appealing, his enthusiasm and good humour is infectious, and the format is fresh and original – definitely worth six minutes of your time.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
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