BBC Three TV reviews: What’s new on the online channel and what’s worth watching?
Helen Archer | On 21, Apr 2018
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: Famalam
Sometimes, it feels as though the sketch show has been done to death. From its ubiquity until 10 or so years ago – with Little Britain, The Fast Show, French and Saunders, The Catherine Tate Show, et al. – it’s somewhat fallen out of fashion. So it’s with a little trepidation when a new one is commissioned.
Thankfully, Famalam breathes new life into the genre. Featuring an all-black cast, it sends up everything from the whiteness of British detective shows to superhero films, and yet there’s a distinct lack of preaching in what it lampoons. A Luther-type cop character is obsessed with his mobile phone, cutting the tension of gun stand-offs with YouTube kitten clips. A wingman doesn’t get the message that he’s no longer needed now his friend is in a long-term relationship, turning up uninvited on Valentine’s Day, the wedding, and even the delivery room to try to get his man back in the game. There’s a morning TV show send-up, as things get heated live on-air, when a chef demonstrates how to knead pizza dough. A recurring music video is being made, the bling of the lifestyle portrayed on the green screen undercut by the building sites and suburban front drives it’s actually being filmed on. A real Nigerian Prince can’t understand why no one wants to take the money he’s generously doling out. And there’s a short Nollywood version of Game of Thrones, which frankly should be made into a feature length film. As should Midsomer Motherfuckin’ Murders, in which Detective Moses Mountree, a Shaft-like blaxploitation character (played by BAFTA nominee Samson Kayo), is planted in the home counties to investigate vicars and make sweet love to bored housewives.
The programme rarely misses a beat. It’s a thing of great joy, whether you get the influences or not. Our only grumble is there are only four episodes.
Pick of the Week: Miranda Barbour: Serial Killer or Liar?
The people in the small town of Sunbury, Pennsylvania were stunned when a local man, Troy LaFerrara, was brutally killed in November 2013. Police investigating soon tracked down Miranda Barbour, the last person he had been texting before he was found stabbed to death. When they brought the petite 18-year-old mother-of-one in for questioning, they were initially impressed by her good manners and her innocent aspect. Yet Miranda and her husband Elytte soon admitted responsibility for the killing. Presented by the media as two demons out killing for kicks, they were swiftly sentenced. And when Miranda requested to see a journalist in prison, she also confessed to numerous other murders.
But was Miranda telling the truth about all her other victims? And if not, why would she say such things?
This documentary interviews the police, journalists and investigative reporters who looked into the case. It also has audio from Miranda and Ellyte themselves. What transpires is a story of abuse spanning generations, mental health problems, and how Miranda’s life was set on a path of destruction because of her childhood experiences. While never losing sight of the pain of the victim’s family, it does, however, effectively take us behind the garish headlines to examine the underlying conditions that led the young couple on their course.
Sadly not a re-run of the short-lived Alan Cummings comedy set aboard Air Scotia, this is an hour-long Australian drama that looks at the onset of bipolar disorder. Odessa Young plays 17 year old Genevieve Barrett, a talented and clever high school student, who finds her life slipping out of control as her mental health deteriorates. What at first seems the sort of normal teenage high-jinks (an ice cream fight, obsessing over a teacher’s praise, falling out with schoolmates, flashing at a gardener) soon becomes more troublesome, as she disrupts art openings and roams the streets at night. The glitches and hallucinations she experiences as she becomes manic are well-drawn, taking the viewer inside her mind. It also looks at the effect her behaviour has on her worried friends and family, who are trying to make sense of what’s happening.
With mental health campaigner Stephen Fry as executive producer, it’s all done with a certain verve and flair, and the actors are excellent, but it still can’t shake off the feeling of an educational public broadcast.
Love and Drugs on the Street: Season 2
Love and Drugs on the Street returns for its second season, with a new set of subjects who each have their own specific set of circumstances that led to them becoming homeless. The first episode introduces us to Kelly, Charlotte and Lance, and Diana and Greg, among others. Kelly went into care at the age of six, after being picked up by social services from school and taken to a new home without even being able to say goodbye to her mother. She’s now 18 and has been homeless since leaving the system a year and a half ago. Greg and Diana are from Latvia, have lived in the UK for 13 years, and are now camping out in the woods with their cat, Rudolph, after being evicted because of arrears. Charlotte and Lance were made homeless after the council took back the place they were staying in from the dodgy landlord they were renting from.
We get some back story for each of them as the three-part series progresses. Other people are introduced – Steph and Ernie, who are living in some sort of disused pub; Ocean, who is attempting to get a passport to start an apprenticeship in France; Zoe, a vulnerable woman made homeless after a relationship breakdown; and Caroline, who is temporarily holed up in a disused pier-front building.
Mirroring the lives of its subjects, it’s a rather chaotic and meandering programme, following the day to day lives of people struggling under precarious circumstances. But it does serve to humanise the people many of us walk past every day without a second thought, contextualising their fraught and dangerous existences.
Unsolved: The Man with no Alibi
This second season of BBC Three’s true crime mini-series, following Unsolved: The Boy Who Disappeared, sees its presenter Bronagh Munro go to the seaside resort town of Bournemouth (and, later, to Italy) to investigate the death of Jong Ok Shin in 2002, and the subsequent imprisonment of Omar Benguit for her murder.
Omar’s sister has, apparently, approached Munro to try to prove his innocence, saying that she has evidence pointing to the real murderer and intimating that the police framed her brother. Munro initially acts as though she is circumspect about these allegations, looking at Omar’s previous convictions and accusing his sister of not being entirely honest. Yet, as the series progresses, these objections seem less like an objective journalist seeking the truth and more a cynical way to amp up tension.
It transpires – as anyone with access to Google could find out – that far from the kind of real-life investigating that made Making a Murderer and the Serial podcast so successful, this is a case that has been gone over in forensic detail before. Books have been written about the circumstances surrounding the murder, with killer Danilo Restivo being linked, convincingly, to the crime. As the series continues, the disingenuousness of Munro purporting to be discovering things for the first time becomes more and more infuriating, as she glides by on the coattails of people who have already done the work – without crediting any of it. The format becomes like a gimmick, a cheap ploy to forefront the presenter, and the viewer feels increasingly duped.
In the final episode, Omar’s brother points out that ‘at the end of the day a woman was murdered, let’s not forget about that’. It only serves to underline the way in which the victim has been used as a tool in this sensationalised series.
R Kelly: Sex, Girls and Videotape
For many of those familiar with the allegations against R Kelly, there will be little of surprise in this documentary, presented by Ben Zand. It does, however, expose the depth and scale of the alleged abuse and predation, and, according to this programme, the shock that he is still able to get away with it – escalate it, even – because of his fame, money, and the power they bring.
Allegations against Kelly span decades, from his abusive ‘sex tape’ with his 14 year old goddaughter, to his marriage to the late singer Aaliyah when she was just 15. Last year, the family of Jocelyn Savage held a press conference outside the singer’s house, accusing him of holding her against her will.
According to the people he worked with, interviewed in this film, Kelly’s attraction to young girls was common knowledge within the industry. They tell Zand how he used his celebrity to lure his prey, utilising out of court settlements and non-disclosure agreements to silence victims. Kelly’s brother, Carey, has been estranged from him since he spoke out about Kelly’s predilections, after the singer allegedly attempted to bribe Carey into taking the rap for his sex tape. Zand scores an interview with Carey and some of Kelly’s cousins, but they become reticent about answering questions, preferring to talk about their own musical ambitions and how they still hope Kelly will help them in the industry.
It’s an insight into the power the singer still wields, and the way in which he wields it. Yet as more and more of his victims – including Kitty, who Zand speaks to towards the end of the film – speak out about the abuse suffered at his hands, it feels as though it may finally be time for R Kelly to face the reckoning he so evidently deserves.
Life and Death Row: In Cold Blood
This new instalment of BBC Three’s ongoing documentary series is, like the Truman Capote book it references in its title, a nuanced and thought-provoking work. We join John Henry Ramirez, a former US marine, seven days away from his execution for the 2004 murder of convenience store worker Pablo Castro. Having evaded capture for a number of years by fleeing to Mexico, where he fathered a son whom he now wants to reconnect with, Ramirez is appealing for leniency, while also preparing for the worst.
The crime itself was an appalling and incomprehensible one, which the documentary looks at forensically for much of its first half. Its impact on Castro’s family is examined, as two of his sons relate their love and their regrets, and the difficulties they’ve had since his murder. Ramirez complains that he didn’t get a fair trial, and to the casual viewer it seems that this is, as the prosecution asserts, a cut-and-dried case. Yet the second half of the film delves into his past and the mitigating childhood circumstances that led him on his path, and things become less clear. It’s all extremely harrowing and yet – typical to this strand of programming – the documentary makers handle it with great sensitivity and deep-seated compassion.
Just Boys IRL
In the first few minutes of this short series, it’s unclear whether it’s real or parody (“I want to go to the Eiffel Tower. We’d get so much pussy if we went to the Eiffel Tower” is the opening gambit). But fairly quickly, it becomes apparent that this documentary – which follows a group of teenage males on a 15 day inter-rail trip – is, in fact, serious.
Owen, Jack, Stan, Sam and Cam met virtually via gaming and forged a bond because of their difficulties – depression, anxiety, and, in one case, a psychotic episode induced by smoking weed. Despite having never met in real life, they decide to spend 24 hours a day with each other on trains and in hostels across Europe.
Inevitably, things don’t do entirely smoothly. There are missed trains, text break-ups, and the inevitable running out of money. It concludes with an epic night out in Budapest, when arguments break out, everyone becomes separated, and Owen gets lost, eventually returning to the place they are staying covered in blood and with blisters so bad he can barely walk.
Sadly, much of the action is not captured on video, leaving it to the boys to relate (confusedly) what happened. The night is something of a microcosm of this chaotic trip – and series – in which much is undocumented, and not many life lessons are learned.
All 6 episodes are available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
This six-episode series, created by, written and starring Eline Van der Velden, is a kind of take-off of Ladette to Lady, with some cultural misunderstandings added to the mix. Van der Velden’s character, Miss Holland, has come to the UK “to find out what makes Britain so great, learn to be British and find a husband” – so, of course, her first stop is a beauticians with Chloe from Love Island. As Chloe looks on and sadly opines “This is a bad case of vaginal hair”, Miss Holland gets most of her body waxed. Then, it’s the spray tan and dating tips (you like their photos, then slide into their DMs), and a reassurance that men should pay for the date, because, after all, the women have to pay for the spray tans, the depilation and the false eyelashes. With a lot less body hair, in Episode 2 Miss Holland meets William and Kate’s former royal butler. They shares tea and scones as he schools her on etiquette – and on the British class system. The third episode promises to include a British citizen test, as “my plan is to stay here forever, but will the Brekshit let me?” Van der Velden is likeable enough, but there aren’t many laughs to be had and it all feels somewhat throwback and derivative.
Episode available weekly on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Truth or Mare?
You may not have heard of Antonella Brollini, aka Antonella the Uncensored Reviewer. Until last year, she was a doctor’s receptionist, when she uploaded a review of Charlotte Crosby’s exercise video to YouTube. It got her a total of 90 million views and now, a little spot on BBC Three’s channel. Truth or Mare celebrates her “common sense opinion” on all manner of things, from whether goats make yoga more fun to whether pole fitness should become and Olympic sport.
She taste does a blind taste test (served by a topless waiter, for no discernible reason) to give a verdict on whether ‘fake meat’ tastes as good as ‘real meat’, and she spiralises courgettes and butternut squash in an effort to find out if they can conceivably replace spaghetti. She washes her hair with porridge to see if ‘no poo shampoo’ is as effective as the real thing, and, in one expletive-heavy episode, she comes face to face with rats in a bid to find out whether virtual reality exposure therapy can treat phobias.
There’s a lot of moaning and negativity, and a somewhat reactionary feel to it all, dressed up as “plain speaking”. Whether you warm to this will probably depend on whether you warm to Antonella – if you don’t, the series will be rather more mare than truth.
Episode available weekly on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Tiredness, Tears and Tantrums: Diary of a New Mum
Annie Price – previously seen on BBC Three in hour-long documentaries looking at the caravan fire that left her with severe burns as a baby, and at the botox industry in South Korea – returns with a film about becoming a new mum. We join her as she’s six weeks away from giving birth. Her partner, Sam, points out that the new baby will be the first blood relative she’s ever known (she was fostered and adopted after the blaze), and Annie shares her concerns about the possibility of post-natal depression after finding out her birth mum suffered from it. She also has to have extra scans, because she knows nothing about her genetic history.
She has a surprise baby shower, birthing classes, and a 19-hour labour (which – thankfully – we are not privy to). She charts the exhaustion, occasional panic, and sheer monotony of being a mum, and goes to a breastfeeding counsellor, after struggling to get the baby to feed. She talks, too, about the pressure of having to pretend everything’s perfect and she meets other mums who have been through post natal depression. The sheer tedium of the first few months of having a baby is mirrored somewhat in the programme, which is too long and fairly unfocussed, and probably won’t be of much interest to those of us not in the same situation.
Britain’s Most Offended
While ‘Britain’s Most Offended’ sounds like something a right wing pundit would say to sneeringly dismiss the very panelists on this show as ‘special snowflakes’ and ‘social justice warriors’, the provocative title belies the content.
BBC Three’s web series is something of an antidote to news panels that involve middle-aged men sitting around discussing what they perceive to be the issues of the day. Gathering a more youthful and diverse line-up, including Shon Faye, Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, Adam Elliot Cooper, Jeremiah Emmanuel and Chardine Stone (among others), we watch as they talk about the #metoo movement, race, veganism, the Daily Mail’s impact on marginalised groups, and white terrorism in relation to the Florida school shooting.
At some stages it’s almost like a twitter beef gone 3D – which is not a criticism. As usual with these small BBC Three discussion segments, it’s cut fast and not left to dwell on issues for very long, so a lot of nuance is lost. It’s also accompanied by annoyingly upbeat music. But the minutes fly by, great points are raised, and it’s a lot more interesting that your generic chat show.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Ellie Undercover: The Botox Bust / Rent for Sex
Undercover journalism is a bit of an ethical minefield, not least when it involves the covert filming of unsuspecting people. This new two-part series, featuring undercover journalist Ellie Flynn, is no exception. Amping up the danger aspect, she hoards a collection of burner phones and numerous wigs to investigate rent for sex and dodgy botox practitioners.
The wannabe landlords looking for sexual favours in lieu of rent are horribly seedy and serve as an illustration of how desperate some young women are for housing, and of the bottom-feeders all too ready to exploit their situations. But the debriefs in the back of cars in dimly lit car parks after the meetings in crowded pubs rather undermine it by presenting it as some sort of Watergate conspiracy.
In the second episode, Ellie takes us deep into the lion’s den of the dangerous world of Botox clinics, where she discovers that some people are not going through the legal channels to inject poison into unsuspecting patients’ foreheads. Spooked when she’s told there’s CCTV on at one of the clinics she attends, she speeds away in a car to get out of the area, as though some homicidal beautician is going to chase after her to wreak a bloody revenge. Ultimately, she gets right to the Mr. Big of the whole operation, who incriminates himself unwittingly by his thoughtless boasting.
While these are, of course, serious topics and well worthy of investigative journalism, the cynical sensationalism rather undermines the point. While it can make for thrilling viewing, much of that thrill derives from its over-the-top packaging.
This Country: Season 1 and 2
DAisy May and Charlie Cooper are gently side-splitting in this low-key mockumentary, which explores the lives of young people in modern rural Britain. Read our full review. Words: Ivan Radford
Life and Death Row: Mass Execution
BBC Three’s ongoing documentary series Life and Death Row has brought us tales of terrible crimes and talked to the men responsible for them. In this hauntingly sad four-parter, we head to Arkansas, where, in April 2017, as a lethal injection drug neared its expiry date, the state – which previously hadn’t performed an execution for 12 years – scheduled eight men to die over 11 days.
This rush to execute, with drugs that have question marks over their efficiency, led to a country-wide conversation about the ethics of the death penalty. The series follows as the media descend on Arkansas and protesters gather outside the prison – with speakers including Damien Echols of the Memphis 3 and Johnny Depp – and we are slowly introduced to the families of both victims and perpetrators. There are last-minute clemency hearings. Some of the men will be granted a stay of execution at the last moment. For the others, it’s last meetings with families, as last photos are taken, last meals eaten, and last words are spoken.
This is a long and slow series. The feel of it is elegiac – not only for the men whose crimes led them to their fate, but for their victims and the families of their victims. It takes its time in introducing us to its subjects and the pain they have suffered and created, pain which is evident and all-encompassing, pain which has infected lives for decades. Pain which, one can’t help but feel, won’t stop with the beating heart of the men who caused it.
Available on BBC iPlayer.
Climaxed: Season 2
Season 2 of the dialogue between people who have just had sex is now available in full on BBC Three. The six short episodes look at post-coital conversations detail everything from the too-quick “I love you” to the awkwardness of losing your virginity at a house party.
It’s a bit of a mixed bag. Episode 4, Calum and Nia, is baffling in its take on one partner in a relationship watching porn without the other one, although it does make a revelation which is shocking – that Calum masturbates to Nia’s friend’s Instagram – instant breaking-up material, which is swiftly glossed over as they agree to never talk about wanking again. It’s followed by probably the best episode, as Cara and Bella have break-up sex, leading to a discussion that veers from affectionate to bitter as they discuss (and point-score) where they are on their journey to getting over the relationship.
The first episode – about the dangers of having sex after cooking with chilli and without washing your hands – is, frankly, enough to put you off intercourse for life. The female character ends up sitting in a clothes hamper filled with water to try to take the burning sensation away, as her partner pours rancid milk on her vagina. Yet the real danger is still to come, as he directs a hairdryer plugged into the wall at her as she sits in the tubful of water. Please, kids, do not try this sure-fire electrocution method at home.
Inside Britain’s Moped Crime Gangs
After exploring topics including the ways in which people smuggle contraband into prison and girl gangs, Livvy Haydock is back, this time getting the lowdown on how mopeds are used for crime in inner city London. She talks to people with pseudonyms such as Topkat and Mr X (interviewed while wearing masks, so subtitles are necessary), who tell her about their methods.
From snatching mobile phones from unsuspecting pedestrians to jewellery shop robberies, the mopeds are used as quick and easy getaway vehicles.
Helpfully for wannabe criminals, the people Haydock interview are full of handy tips on who to target and how to make a sharp exit and evade the police. Her questioning (‘don’t you think that’s quite a scummy thing to do?’) gives her interviewees a chance to opine over the lack of jobs or opportunities on offer, so as a solution, Haydock takes one of them to do some psychometric testing to see if he could be a racing driver – although she does point out that Lewis Hamilton’s dad had to take three jobs to put him through his training, just one of the barriers Mr X will surely face.
There is an interesting digression to talk to delivery drivers who are the main targets of moped thefts and face dangers such as acid in the face or knife crime as they go about their business. Haydock joins them as they have a meeting in an effort to set up a union to financially help drivers who have lost their main income after a bike theft – but it’s not long before she’s back in a car with Topkat, as he scopes out a jewellery shop.
It’s another of Haydock’s completely unfocussed, confused and unrevealing 40 minutes which glamorises the criminals and barely touches the surface of the topic.
BBC Three loves a vox pop. Whether it’s small children discussing topical issues for laughs, or, in this case, an insight into the minds of teenagers, it’s a format the channel can’t seem to get enough of. Here, groups of teens sit on sofas facing the camera, and are given issues to discuss. From what to do when a friend suffers from body odour to whether social media is making us vain, it’s all accompanied by some really annoying background music that sounds like we’re inside a circus.
There aren’t really a great deal of revelations here (other than the consensus that you should apparently delete a photo if it gets fewer than 100 likes), but it’s harmless enough. The less ‘teenagey’ the conversation, the more interesting it is (there are no surprises from the fact you probably shouldn’t include your parents in your WhatsApp conversations, but a revelation in the opinion that cat people are more well endowed than dog people). In fact the first episode, cat people versus dog people, is probably the most entertaining, with the truths flying loose and free. Dog people mainly don’t have dogs, says one subject, while another points out that dogs are more loyal, as evidenced by the fact that everyone loses their cat but you rarely lose a dog. And, of course, the ultimate teenage truth – “dogs need constant attention and so do I”. These are bite-sized chunks of cheap, filler TV which won’t set the world on fire but which perfectly cater to that attention-grabbing demographic.
Cece McDonald, a transgender woman of colour, was walking with friends on 5th June 2011, when a group of white people started shouting racist and homophobic slurs at them. A fight broke out, CeCe had a glass smashed into her face, and Dean Schmitz – a man with a violent background and a swastika tattooed to his chest – ended up dead.
Cece eventually accepted a plea bargain for second degree manslaughter for stabbing Schmitz with a pair of scissors as he came after her. She gained a great deal of international support from the LGBTQ community as the victim of a hate crime acting in self-defence, although the criminal justice system – and the media – never presented it as such. Consistently deadnaming and misgendering her, the prosecutors sought to keep the broader context out of her story. Imprisoned in a man’s jail, and in solitary confinement for three months, but with high-profile supporters like Angela Davis and Laverne Cox, CeCe also opened a conversation about the prison system’s treatment of trans prisoners.
This begins like much of BBC Three’s crime documentary output – going over the events that led CeCe to be imprisoned, complete with video of police interviews, the perspective of lawyers (both prosecution and defence) and questions of the bias within the American judicial system. But it transforms – much as our protagonist does – into something much more joyous, politically aware, and inspirational. Over the course of the film, CeCe emerges a serious trans advocate and an inspirational woman. This documentary is an exemplar of activist filmmaking.
While the first two seasons of The Break highlighted emerging BAME voices, its third volume of shorts gives the same opportunity to up-and-coming Scottish writers. The monologues veer from the lighthearted to the serious, as topics such as the bigotry inherent in Old Firm matches share space with the tribulations of a socially awkward young woman doing everything she can to snare her crush at a house party. Franny Wong, the title character of the opening episode, is the woman in question, and with chat-up lines including “eczema loves a sweaty crevice”, you can imagine how successful she is.
Episode 5, Soul Journey, tackles the subject of being a gay Muslim, and the bid for acceptance, which acts as something of a companion piece to the fourth episode, A Vocal Minority, in which a gay Rangers supporter wants his dad to meet his new partner – the problem here is not that the partner is a man, but that he is a Celtic supporter. In the third episode, You Really Got Me, a young man doing take-away deliveries is propositioned by an older woman, ultimately begging the question of who needs the relationship – and the company – more. Gloss, the second episode, is a more serious, and fairly sinister, look at the age-gap issue, as a teacher talks us through her relationship with one of her pupils, after he goes missing.
Character-driven televisual monologues are few and far between. Made famous by Alan Bennett, they remain one of the real tests of a writer, and it’s really great to see them somewhat resurrected here, succinctly tackling large subjects in refreshing and new ways.
The Young Offenders
“We’re kinda like that Robin Hood fella. We rob bikes from the rich, and sell ‘em back to the rich.” That’s the sound of your two new favourite TV heroes, Conor McPherson (Alex Murphy) and Jock (Chris Walley), who run riot south of the border in Cork, with little regard for the law and even less regard for knowledge and common sense. The amusingly dim duo were first introduced to us in The Young Offenders (currently available on Netflix UK), but now, BBC Three has ordered a whole run of small-screen outings for the pair. TV spin-offs from movies tend to be for big name franchises, but from the first episode of this series, it’s immediately clear why this small Irish comedy was snapped up: it’s absolutely hilarious. Read our full review Words: Ivan Radford
Stacey Dooley Investigates… Face to Face with ISIS
Stacey Dooley continues to give voice to the voiceless in her new documentaries. In the first, hour-long one, she goes to Russia, where, as of last year, certain forms of domestic abuse were decriminalised, leaving hundreds of thousands of vulnerable women at the mercy of their abusive husbands. She finds a society in which women’s choices are limited not only by regressive patriarchal attitudes, but also by poverty, addiction and a seemingly never-ending cycle of violence and abuse, where an estimated 10,000 women a year are being killed in incidents of domestic violence. The deadly relaxing of domestic violence laws, she finds out, are symbolic of wider attitude towards women in Russia.
Stacey Dooley Investigates… Russia’s War on Women
In the other new addition to the series, Stacey accompanies Shireen, a 23 year old Yazidi woman, who was imprisoned as a ‘sex slave’ for two and a half years by Isis, as she returns to Mosul, the place of her captivity. They go to the house in which she was kept and abused, before meeting a former member of Isis, who speaks of killing 900 people and of raping 250 women and girls. As something of closure for Shireen – though with her sister and father still missing, she remains in a terrible limbo – it’s a personal look at the horrors inflicted by Isis. But, with the same thing happening to thousands of Yazidis, the documentary also acts as a powerful voice for all of them.
Witless Season 3 (Box Set)
This criminally funny sitcom about two flatmates under witness protection bids a surprising moving farewell with its final season. Read our full review Words: Ivan Radford
Plastic Surgery Capital of the World
In the previous documentary Annie Price made for BBC Three, she proved herself to be an eminently likeable and charismatic presenter. That film, Out of the Ashes, focussed on her search for the truth about her past, about what happened the night of the caravan fire that left her severely burned and fighting for her life, as well her search for her birth mother and an investigation into the travelling community. So it’s easy to see why she would be commissioned to make further documentaries, although this one doesn’t have quite the same narrative drive. Here, she travels to Seoul, South Korea, where plastic surgery is so normalised that 60 per cent of people in their 20s have gone under the knife, and TV shows offer it as a prize to the most ‘deserving’ person. Annie’s hoping to get an operation on her nose and gets consultations from surgeons, as well as a ‘face reader’, but she also speaks to a lawyer who represent clients who had botched surgery – leaving them, in some cases, in a persistent vegetative state – and to people who have suffered life changing injuries as a result of operations which have gone wrong. She sits in on a woman getting an eyelid tuck, to make her eyes look wider and more westernised. In a place where you must attach a photo of yourself to your CV, this apparently helps people get jobs. She then accompanies a woman getting more extensive facial cosmetic surgery, but has to leave halfway through when the operation gets too gruesome. It’s an interesting documentary and many great points are raised, but while Annie herself is as engaging as ever, in places it’s rather unfocused and overlong.
Stacey Dooley Investigates: Second Chance Sex Offenders
In previous documentaries, Stacey Dooley has spent time with the victims of child abuse – at one stage, she was even involved in a sting operation to catch paedophiles as they attempted to buy time with children. Here, she’s spending time with some of the perpetrators, as she travels to Florida to investigate the laws in place in the hope of keeping predators from re-offending. Beginning by outlining the lifelong restrictions offenders face, and witnessing the state-sanctioned 5-foot signs planted outside residences in order to warn people who live nearby of who their neighbours are, Stacey seems initially fairly dumbstruck by the lack of hope for rehabilitation. Indeed, she exposes some loopholes in the laws that were brought about largely by a father and daughter team who have gone through abuse in their own past, at the hands of the daughter’s nanny. These laws mean that many released offenders are left homeless and spending their nights in tents, yet able to return to their homes during the day.
But Stacey’s empathy is truly tested as she visits ‘Miracle Village’, a place where predators are able to live together in a community, away from children – although, as she finds out, kids are living in the village perfectly legally. While initially fairly sympathetic to some of the men she meets there, as she finds their stories unravelling and they admit to more and more abuse, her patience decreases and her concern (and anger) increases. It’s another interesting yet troubling documentary from Dooley, who, as usual, manages to mirror the viewers’ reactions, from mild annoyance to growing horror.
A Tattoo to Change Your Life
This box set of short documentaries examines some of the many reasons people get tattoos. Until the final episode, we’re looking at the work of Poppy, a Brighton-based tattoo artist, and get to meet some of her clients. 18 year old Victoria wants a lily of the valley (which symbolises the coming for happiness) etched over the self-harm scars, to close a chapter of her life marked by depression. Ash wants to cover the acne marks on his chest with an outstretched owl tattoo, while Maia seeks to cover her mastectomy, which is a constant reminder of the cancer she suffered, in order to take ownership of her body again. Tulsi, meanwhile, survived the plane crash that killed her parents and her young brother, and gets a tiger tattoo in memory of them. For the final episode, we’re in Chichester, where tattoo artist Leah works on Ivan, a former member of the EDL, now ashamed of his involvement with them, who wants to make a break with a symbolic tattoo. He talks through his journey from lonely man sitting on Facebook and finding a community built on anger with the far right group, where he felt a sense of belonging, to getting to know the people he was demonising and having an about-turn in his philosophy. His new inking, with the words ‘we have far more in common than which divides us’, acts as a balance to the one on his other arm, which celebrates his place in the EDL. It’s an interesting series, an optimistic look at the way people can recover from trauma, leaving something permanent to mark their progress through life.
Love and Hate Crime
This new documentary series hopes to shine a light on hate crime in the United States, and begins with a look at the murder of 17 year old Mercedes Williamson, who was brutally killed by her boyfriend, Josh Vallum, in 2015. The filmmakers have startling access, and we watch as Vallum pleads guilty to her murder and as he gets checked in to prison – but it takes its time in revealing the full story.
As Josh asserts that “I killed Mercedes and she’s in hell”, he attempts to convince us of his remorse, yet it’s clear that he’s not being entirely honest. Victim blaming even as he contemplates the heinous murder (“I was deceived and lied to”), and reading select passages from the Bible, which seem to convince him that what he did was somehow justified, it’s a relief when the filmmakers take the camera off him to interview police, a journalist, and – importantly – Mercedes’ best friend, who are able to fill us in on what really happened. What Vallum describes as a crime of passion instead turns out to be something entirely different.
This is a beautifully shot documentary that exposes a truly malign ugliness – a horrific crime that ended the short and tragic life of a young woman who only wanted acceptance and love.
Into the Forest
Adapted from a novel by Jean Hegland, Into the Forest is a wonderfully atmospheric film telling the story of two sisters, Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) and Nell (Ellen Page), as they try to survive in the near future, after a total power outage. Directed by Patricia Rozema, the film briefly shows their life before the power went – living with their father in a beautiful cabin in the woods, the only nod to futurism are the massive flat screen TVs and the voice controlled lights. When the power goes down, the effect is not immediate – they can cope for a while with candles and torches and wood-burning fires. But as communication with the outside world ends – no channels on their transistor radio, never mind any information from the Internet – they become increasingly isolated. A trip into a nearby town turns creepy, as they find many of the locals have descended into savagery with startling speed.
As time goes on, it becomes a survivalist tale, but it’s also about the relationship between Nell and Eve, and about the importance of family and the bonds which bind us. It loses its way slightly in the third act, but Into the Forest is still a memorable and thoughtful look at how a life we take for granted can quickly be taken away, and the ways in which we would cope.
Acid Attack: My Story
This documentary is an in-depth look at the acid attack that scarred Naomi Oni for life in 2012. At the age of 20, she was returning home from work the day before Christmas Eve, when an unknown assailant sprayed acid over her face, leaving her with horrific injuries. The film charts her journey in dealing not just with the life-changing event, but also with finding out who the perpetrator was. Oni makes for an articulate and eminently likeable subject. It’s clearly harrowing reliving the attack – she recounts that her eyelids and eyebrows were burnt off, and that the doctors at the time didn’t expect her to get her sight back – but having grown up with a mother with albinism, it had always been instilled in her that it’s the person you are that counts, rather than what you look like on the outside.
Police work on the case is described as slow – a lack of any witnesses hindered investigation – but when Oni went public, doing an interview with This Morning, it was brought to the attention of the homicide division of Scotland Yard. They were able to dissect CCTV footage to identify the person responsible, but not before the press got its hands on a line of inquiry that Oni had done it to herself, in order to gain fame, adding insult to injury.
When police finally discovered who was responsible, it was yet another betrayal. The strength and grace Oni has displayed in the face of all this is nothing less than remarkable, and this documentary is a testament to her spirit.
On Trial with the Gran Jury
Comedian Nathan Caton brings us this new series, in which he introduces us (and some unsuspecting members of the public) to his Gran, or as he calls her, Gan Gan. She’s a formidable force, a no-nonsense kind of person with an excellent tooth-sucking technique and a habit of putting Nathan and his friends firmly in their place.
Nathan puts her to good use by getting her to give advice to young folks who are desperately in need of it. First up, it’s the boys with no game, two guys who are desperately trying to get girlfriends yet who are clueless in the art of chatting up. Listening in to their lame approaches, Gan Gan quickly hones in on their mistakes, advises them to start asking women questions about themselves and to stop showing off – basically, respect them and to try to be friends with them first. The pay-off is immediate, and their luck turns.
Next up is a Callie, a young vlogger (or flogger, as Gan Gan says it), who is addicted to taking videos and selfies of herself, putting strain on her real life relationships. Gan Gan has a stern word with her (“STOP WITH YOUR FLOGGING”), and Callie, to her credit, seems to take on the advice with good grace.
It’s all very wholesome stuff, really, as Gan Gan aggressively reminds millennials about good, old-fashioned values.
This series of shorts – in which a production crew encourage couples and friends to swap phones and have a root around their contents while they film the reactions – seems like something of a recipe for disaster. Indeed, the most cringeworthy of the first episode features a woman who is clearly less then impressed with the number of women her husband has been making online ‘friends’ with. The camera keeps rolling even as he’s fidgeting and trying to get away from the situation, as she is immersed in her scrolling.
The rest of the participants don’t quite live up to this outstandingly awkward start. One woman finds a picture of her partner wearing one of his bras, and he’s comfortable enough to admit he likes playing around with more feminine clothing, leading them (hopefully) to a greater understanding of each other. The others are an assortment of dick pics and grinder and tinder messages and sexts, about which the owners are unapologetic. It probably just shows that if you’ve really got something to hide, you’re not going to let a loved one get anywhere near your phone. Unless you’re an idiot.
Man Like Mobeen (Box Set)
After a successful pilot among last year’s Comedy Feeds, Gus Khan and Andy Milligan’s Man Like Mobeen has been made into a blazingly funny four-episode series, now available in full as a box set.
It’s a look at contemporary life as an Asian Muslim living in inner city Birmingham. Family – and law enforcement – cast a wide shadow. The series gets straight in there with something of a high octane stand-off between Mobeen, his two best friends and comedy foils Nate (Tolu Ogunmefun) and Eight (Tez Ilyas), and armed police. The trigger-happy cop is Shahid (Antonio Aakeel), an old acquaintance from school, hell-bent on making their lives a misery, thereby violating the rule that Mobeen holds dear, which is that you don’t snitch on your own.
This rule is tested in his role as guardian of his teenage sister Aqsa (Dual Karim), as his pride at her standing up to authority and defending her friends is mixed with an overwhelming worry that any wrong step might result in her being removed from his guardianship. As he braids her hair and flirts with the idea of an arranged marriage in order to provide her with a female role model, she keeps him on his toes, by holding him to account for his actions and decisions.
The final episode of the series is also perhaps the most salient, as Mobeen gets stuck in the back of a police van with the leader of a far right party. While Mobeen attempts to deflect Islamophobic rhetoric with humour, it’s a reminder of the serious undercurrents running throughout the programme.
It’s all done with a great deal of charm, and it’s genuinely funny. There’s a great, contemporary soundtrack and the performances are top notch. The only quibble is that the series is too short: these four episodes leave you wanting more.
What Makes You Tic?
Lewis Nickell was 16 when Tourette’s took hold, and, at first, nobody knew what was happening. After his diagnosis, he refused to leave the house for four months because he was embarrassed. But, hoping to turn things around, he put a video on Facebook in an attempt to ‘own’ his condition. When the feedback to this was positive, he turned to social media, where he gained a large following. He’s now parlayed that into a job as an interviewer – his USP is that he’s the first talk show host with Tourette’s – and here, he meets Nadine Coyle and The Vamps.
He’s an appealing young man, and his enthusiasm and joie de vivre shines through in the interviews. Not that he gleans too much information from his interviewees; seemingly starstruck, he comes across as more of a fan who has somehow won a competition to meet his idols. But it’s a refreshing antidote to the usual irony-based interviews on our screens, and the Tourette’s isn’t treated as a big issue, helping to normalise a condition that affects one in 100 in the UK, in one form or another.
Male Rape: Breaking the Silence
In the wake of recent revelations regarding the crimes of men in Hollywood and elsewhere, and prompted by the #metoo hashtag, more and more women are coming forward to share their experiences of sexual assaults and rapes. Yet as the title of this documentary suggests, male survivors still find it incredibly difficult to talk about their experiences. And this silence is damaging in all sorts of ways.
This film focusses on three young men who have been raped. Each of them describe (in fairly harrowing detail) the attacks and the aftermath. Tanaka talks about feeling suicidal, while Neil became angry and lashed out at others, turning to drugs and drink to suppress what happened to him. Alex, when he finally got up the courage to phone a helpline in an effort to get some support after the violent stranger rape he suffered, was told that the services were only for women, and was left, without even a referral, to deal with his trauma alone.
We follow these three men, as they gather the courage to speak about their experiences to other survivors, in meetings, on walks to raise awareness, and in their creative pursuits. It’s a hard watch, especially one anonymous meeting where older men talk emotionally about keeping their attacks a secret over decades, (one horrific statistic shared during the course of the documentary is that it takes and average of 26 years for a man to speak out) but the courage and will to overcome horrific experiences, in a bid not to let it define and overwhelm their lives and relationships, is pretty awe-inspiring. Hopefully, this documentary will help others overcome the internal – and external – barriers to the important work of breaking their silence.
Comedy Slice: The Celebrity Voicemail Show
Following two radio series in which Kayvan Novak imagined the voicemail messages of various famous folk (everyone from Paul Hollywood to Benedict Cumberbatch), he’s now trying the sketch show out on TV. With the aid of prosthetics and latex masks, he embodies the many different people who are trying to contact George Lucas while he’s in Tunisia filming Star Wars in 1976. So we have Alec Guiness’s agent complaining about the measly fee of 1% of all future earnings from the film, and Harrison Ford trying to get his head round the language of the script, as Carrie Fisher reclines on a bed in the background.
More prosaic calls include the security offices at Elstree and the hair and make-up department leaving a message, while simultaneously giving Chewbacca a trim. In the highlight of the programme, the studio calls, pushing a ‘space funk’ band for the soundtrack, which segues into a psychedelic music video from the hopeful band.
Many of the messages are punctuated with annoying interruptions, which takes the viewer out of the moment, serving only to irritate. And while the show as a whole works rather brilliantly on radio – a medium it’s seemingly made for – not much is brought to it with the visuals. It will help bring Novak’s work to a wider audience, though, and he’s doubtless someone to keep an eye on.
Comedy Slice: Hailmakers
Hailmakers stars Akemnji Ndifornyen as Saz and Samson Kayo as Sol, two wannabe entrepreneurs who, by the looks of this pilot episode, have more than a little Delboy and Rodney about them, although sadly without the any of the wit of Only Fools and Horses’ script. It’s a rather strange synchronicity that Hailmakers shares much with Enterprice, another of BBC Three’s Comedy Slices battling it out for commission. Both feature a duo of friends trying, without much success, to make a buck in an indifferent marketplace. And both have rather baffling business plans. In Hailmakers, it’s hard to make any sense at all of the commercial viability of a scheme to use football stickers to scam a church, but what’s more important is that there are very few laughs in it for the audience, as everything goes inevitably pear shaped. By the end of the episode, both football fans and the congregation is furious with Saz and Sol, and Saz’s romantic interest wants nothing more to do with him.
The performances are fine, but it’s let down by a script which is both hard to follow and lacking in any humour. By this evidence, it’s doubtful that we’ll see any more of the wacky adventures of these millennial entrepreneurs.
Comedy Slice: Chinese Burn
Tis the season for new comedy pilots on BBC Three. After Enterprice comes Chinese Burn, with something of a traditional sitcom set up, lurking underneath a concept that seeks to “kick the stereotypes in the ball bag”.
Our three main characters are flatmates Elizabeth (Shin-Fei Chen), Jackie (Yennis Cheung) and Fufu (Yuyu Rau), living in London and trying to follow their dreams, with limited success. Elizabeth hopes to become a sommelier, but in the meantime, is handing out flyers for a bubble tea shop; Jackie is an actress who auditions for limited roles; and Fufu is some sort of Buddhist princess, who produces wads of money out of nowhere and is looking forward to discovering the delights of London.
They encounter ignorant stereotypes around every corner, whether it’s Jackie being asked to do martial arts while playing a Chinese prostitute or their landlady (Felicity Montagu, best known for playing Alan Partridge’s assistant, Lynn), who can’t tell the flatmates apart, and is clearly worried they have plans to eat her pet dog.
Whether Chen and Cheung, who wrote the script, also perpetuate the stereotypes, is another question – there are jokes about Chinese men (or DAGs, short for Desperate Asian Guys) having small penises, amongst other things. But it exhibits an unmistakable verve and energy, and the three characters have been introduced with grace, making it one of the better pilots of the season.
Crack Alley, the first of this new four-part series, sets out its stall fairly quickly. We join two undercover policemen, as they sit in their darkened car watching dealers take baseball bats to unwanted clientele. Wearing wooly hats and trainers, the police are indistinguishable from the people they are trailing, and the camera films them from behind, watching them as they scope out their targets.
We’re in Bristol, at one end of Hepburn Road, which joins the popular Stoke’s Croft area of the city – where people go for nights out and take drugs recreationally – to St Pauls, where there’s a more problematic use of Class As. Rife with dealers, it’s the big wigs that the police are looking to catch. But this takes rather more groundwork and patience than just busting a couple of drugs dens. There are scenes of dark, dingy areas being searched only with the light of a torch, of people being arrested in the pouring rain, one man thrown to the ground and filmed as he tries to swallow the drugs he has on him.
This is an observational documentary – there is no voiceover, just people speaking for themselves. There’s also barely any introduction to our ‘characters’ – we join them as they go about their business, whether they’re weighing and wrapping crack, shooting up heroin in disused warehouses, or heading meetings at the police station. It’s gritty, yet the way it’s filmed is very polished, almost glamorous – all drum and bass and overhead shots of Bristol motorways with the car headlights making pretty patterns in the night. It’s pretty compelling, a kind of fly-on-the-wall documentary of the 21st century, and the areas of Bristol that are focussed on are reminiscent of David Simon’s Hamsterdam, with West Country accents rather than Baltimore slang.
Comedy Slice: Sticky
When news broke that Tom Hardy would be starring in a new BBC3 comedy, it’s safe to say that interest was piqued. But sadly, Sticky is animated, and sadder still, it’s pretty bad. Hardy joins his real life wife Charlotte Riley, along with Pavone Prince and Kayvan Novak, to voice the characters of four flatmates living on Smallcock Street in Shatford. In the pilot episode, they – along with the rest of the world – are traumatised to find that the Internet has disappeared. We follow their mission as they try to find out what happened to it, which leads them on an epic adventure to a mountain lair complete with Bond-like supervillains. Written by Ed Tracy, co-creator of Fonejacker, the humour is laddishly bawdy and immature (yet ‘adult themed’), which has provoked some comparisons to South Park. But the animation is ugly and the script relies on jokes about blow jobs and old people wearing crotchless pants to engage in online sex. It’s got a mean streak a mile wide and, worst of all, it’s not remotely funny. Hopefully Hardy et al. will find a better vehicle for their talents.
Death on Campus: Our Stories
According to a report cited in this documentary, the number of students who have taken their own lives has nearly doubled in the past eight years. Death on Campus focusses on three such cases, interviewing the families and friends who have lost their loved ones.
Andrew Kirkman had secured himself a place at Oxford University, studying Physics and Philosophy, but by the end of his first year, he was struggling with the pressure and unable to talk to anyone, other than his girlfriend, about his anxiety. Prescribed antidepressants by the GP he was sent to by a concerned tutor, he was advised by the university to take a year’s medical leave. Just a couple of days later, his body was found in a meadow and it was left to his mother to tell his brothers that he had killed himself.
Stefan Osgood studied Maths at Aberystwyth. To all intents and purposes, he seemed happy, revelling in university life, with a good circle of friends and in a committed relationship. Yet he, too, was hiding his depression, uncertainty, and fear of failure, and after a seemingly normal evening, during which he ordered Chinese food and Skyped his girlfriend as they watched House, he took his own life. Lucy de Oliveira was 22 and studying nursing at Liverpool John Moores University, as well as working two jobs in order to pay for her study, when she split up with her boyfriend and things got on top of her. After spending an afternoon socialising with friends, she left them and committed suicide.
What this documentary effectively does is to demonstrate the stresses young people – even those who, from the outside, look like they have it all; healthy fulfilling lives, bright futures, good relationships – go through privately. It also shows the people they leave behind, the grief, the regrets and the what-ifs that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Comedy Slice: Enterprice
This new comedy is brought to us by Kayode Ewumi, the co-creator of successful meme-generator #HoodDocumentary. Here, he’s back as Kazim, one half of a baffling home delivery service ‘Speedi-Kazz’, which he runs with somewhat reluctant business partner Jeremiah (Daniel Ezra). While Kaz has the enthusiasm (the inspirational photos on his walls include Alan Sugar and Mark Zuckerberg), Jeremiah has the brains. He’s also a big hit with the ladies.
The first episode sees the pair in a struggle for the copyright of the business name, as Speedi Kazz is apparently already an online hit for some record-breaking porn. This leads them to a meeting with adult film producer Jamie, who has his own set of photos, which include Tupac, Biggie, and Jeremy Corbyn.
Misunderstandings ensue, as Jamie believes the business partners to be auditioning to star in one of his films.
As a sitcom, it’s an excellent concept – by doing all sorts of deliveries, we can follow Kaz and Jeremiah straight into the houses, and lives, of the Londoners they cater for. The first episode is a little patchy, with not many laugh-out-loud moments, but the goodwill given to Ewumi for his much-loved previous comedy should give him time to get over the teething pains.
Love and Drugs on the Street: Girls Sleeping Rough
Rough sleeping has more than doubled in England since 2010, and around one in eight people homeless people are women. This documentary takes us to Brighton to meet some of them.
Paige has been homeless on and off for seven years, and we catch her as she sleeps in a tent in a cemetery, which she prefers to the streets because it’s quiet. She’s in a relationship with JP, who has a bed in a hostel, although she’s not allowed to visit him there. She also has a daughter she tries to see, but is worried that when she gets put up for adoption, all contact will end. Suzie is a bit older and reminisces fondly about her time in prison, when she had her own room, hot food, and a schedule. She’s trying to mentor Jo-Jo, who is fresh off that train from Southampton, off her face on Spice, and getting into trouble with the other members of the homeless community. Tanya, meanwhile, is seven months pregnant and has been told that when the baby is born, it will be addicted to her meds and will immediately be taken into care.
The nature of the programme is chaotic, as people drift in and out of view, disappearing and reappearing, mirroring the chaotic lives of the women it is following. As you can imagine, it’s all extremely depressing, with addictions, bad relationship, loss and traumas. But so far, it’s a sadly fairly superficial look at people with complex problems and the way in which they have been failed by society.
Junior Doctors: Blood, Sweat and Tears
You hear a lot about the long hours and terrible stress junior doctors are under, so when this series popped up on BBC iPlayer, we were prepared for something fairly gritty. Promising to follow seven junior doctors in New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton – although by the second episode, we’ve only met four of them – this is, in fact, a very affectionate look at young practitioners learning their trade.
At 23, Anna is one of the youngest junior doctors at the hospital, and the respiratory ward is her first placement. First year Osama, who graduated six months ago, hopes to become a surgeon, and is working obs and gynae, though admits being a little squeamish about touching other peoples’ private parts. 24 year old Emeka – rarely seen without a huge smile on his face – is in general surgery, but refuses to take the nurses’ advice not to wear his best clothes. He keeps awake during night shifts by dancing and charming the nurses. We’re also introduced to 26 year old Jin, whose wry sense of humour helps relieve the tension of the job.
It’s a strangely life-affirming series, even as Anna gets upset at one of her patients dying on the ward, or Emeka gets called away from his flirting to perform an ultimately unsuccessful CPR. The passion and love for what they’re learning is ever-present, and the connections they make with their patients is genuine. That three out of the four are refugees or immigrants is also telling of a wider story, although this series seems to swerve politics discussions to focus more on the day-to-dayness of their work, which is a frankly very refreshing approach. The programme is just really entertaining, as we get to know these supremely likeable people whose enthusiasm for improving peoples’ lives is incredibly touching.
It’s been a while since George Lamb graced our airwaves, something he addresses at the outset of this half-hour documentary. Just as his career was soaring, and he was reaping the rewards, he reveals, he was so affected by the inequality evidenced by the London riots that it triggered something of a “meltdown”. So he took a few years off to try to recalibrate.
He’s back with this programme, travelling up and down the country to talk to the kind of young people whose voices are regularly ignored and unrepresented in much of the mainstream media. He meets various people – Darren, a young housing activist in London, where the lack of affordable homes with the simultaneous building of fancy new apartments means locals will be driven out of their own communities; Leigham, a young guy who works in Tesco and considers himself lucky to have a job he likes, yet frustrated at the lack of things for him to do, and politically apathetic; Iona, who lives in the Faslane peace camp, protesting nuclear weapons; and Claire, a young nursery nurse with a partner and a young baby who despairs of ever being able to afford their own house. Before he heads back to London, he goes to Hull, 2017’s City of Culture, where he chats to young homeless people who complain about how immigrants are taking all the jobs (it wouldn’t be a 2017 documentary without including this sort of thing, it seems). In among all this are vox pops of various young people, presented on a split screen, as they talk about the barriers of race, gender, class, age and sexuality.
Lamb leaves us with a little ray of hope when he speaks to Ella, a working class journalist who is hopeful that more young people are waking up to the power of politics as a tool for change, and that we can learn from the mistakes of previous generations. As a documentary, it’s not particularly earth shattering, yet it does try to tackle some of the barriers young people are up against in the 21st century.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Hot on the heels of the excellent – yet harrowing – The Detectives on BBC Two, which followed real murder investigations in Manchester, this series looks at the South Wales Police’s attempts to combat crime. It’s a much lighter prospect than The Detectives – the offences aren’t quite so serious, although they do, of course, have serious consequences – and there is a certain, perhaps guilty, humour surrounding it.
In the Valleys, it seems, everyone knows everyone else – the close-knitted nature of the community is really rammed home. It’s also a place where there’s a lot of poverty, unemployment and drug problems. The first episode deals with a Post Office robbery, and a suspect being arrested at a house party, which has been going on for two weeks. The second episode deals with a home intruder, who, although disguised with a hood, is nonetheless (falsely) identified because of his large nose, when CCTV footage goes up on Facebook. “Pinocchio” is the prime suspect. Vigilantes are on the prowl.
Everyone here has nicknames. There’s Juggy Jones and his son, Little Juggy, Jason ‘Skitzo’ Morris, and another Jones, Shakesy (possibly related to the Juggys, as it’s pointed out here that such is the size of the place that police officers are often arresting their extended family – “it’s a bit awkward”, says one). There are, too, roadside interviews that are often interrupted halfway through by abuse being shouted at – or by – the interviewee. It leaves the viewer with an uneasy feeling of being amused by what seem to be, in many cases, lives of quiet desperation.
This brave web series is a compelling, thought-provoking and honest study of eating disorders. Read our full review.
3 Kids on Three
This new series of shorts is rather reminiscent of the rather delightful kids’ specials of Gogglebox, which manage to get to the crux of the matter without any of the grown-ups’ cynicism. Here, three children are filmed each week talking about the big issues of the day. First up in a bitesize chunk is their reaction to ‘clean eating’ and veganism (“clean eating is rubbish”; “they eat cardboard”). Next we have the gender divide, in which it is revealed that instinctive dislike of the President of America knows no age barrier, as one boy asserts: “Nobody’s the best person in the world, nobody’s the worst person in the world. Actually, apart from Donald Trump”. But – fittingly – it’s the little girl here who steals the show. First with her declaration that boys are “annoying” and “not cool”, then with her affirmation: “You’re both wrong! Everyone is perfect! You’re the same amount of perfect!” Once they’ve sorted that out, it’s on to more serious issues, as the Trump-hater muses: “There’s also something else I don’t think is fair – that people can’t have pet pigs.” At just over two minutes, the episodes hardly overstay their welcome, and nothing quite cuts through societal stupidity like a kid’s clear-eyed view of the world.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Haven’t heard of diabulimia? You’re not alone. Despite it being probably the most dangerous eating disorder to suffer from, it’s also one of the least well-known. It manifests in people with type 1 diabetes, who have to have regular insulin injections, otherwise they face doing permanent damage to their bodies. When this converges with an eating disorder, the temptation is to limit or omit your insulin, meaning you can eat whatever you want and lose weight – but it’s potentially lethal.
Fighting an eating disorder and a chronic illness at the same time is challenging, and help is scarce for sufferers. This documentary follows young women at different stages of the disease. 21-year-old Nabeelah is starting to accept she has a problem, and seeking help. 29-year-old Becky is in recovery, but has done permanent damage to her bones and now walks with crutches. Gemma, meanwhile, is waiting to get help at one of the few inpatient facilities with the knowledges and expertise needed to deal with the illness.
The value in the documentary is demonstrated as Nabeelah talks to her parents about it. Still coming to terms with the fact their daughter is diabetic, their dawning realisation that there is something else to worry about it very moving, as they learn about what she is going through and attempt to offer their ongoing support. It’s clear that the more people know about this secretive illness, the better.
Britain’s Teenage Drug Runners
This documentary looks ‘county lines’ drug dealing, where city-dwelling drug gangs use young teenagers to run drugs to smaller towns in England. It opens with (by-now-familiar to regular BBC3 documentary viewers) footage of men in masks (in this case, gorilla ones) cooking up crack cocaine in anonymous residential kitchens before packaging it up and talking about how much money they can make from it. But what happens to the drugs after that is the real eye-opener.
Youths, who are paid a weekly wage regardless of how much they sell, are bought a train ticket and sent to places like Cambridge, where they go to a flat which has been ‘cuckoo-ed’ – taken over by the drugs ring to use as their base. They stay there a week or two, until they’ve sold all the drugs they’ve been given, before returning to London to ‘re-up’ and then start the process all over again.
Social workers, police, and community activists are interviewed, all expressing some degree of helplessness over the situation, able only to offer support but no real solutions to young people with very little in the way of opportunity or hope. The fact that services are being cut left, right and centre doesn’t bode well either. As someone points out, what we’re witnessing is like something from The Wire, as young kids are used as throwaway pawns in a much larger game. It’s an interesting documentary on a social problem which seems likely only to get worse.
The Gap Year Paedophile
Richard Huckle, dubbed ‘Britain’s worst paedophile’, last year plead guilty to at least 71 child sex offences and received 22 life sentences. His hunting ground for victims included Malaysia, Cambodia and India, where he would do voluntary work and teach English to the poorest and most vulnerable of children who he then abused without, it seems, much impunity. He was eventually tracked down, due to his incessant boasting about his crimes on the dark web, where he shared images of his abuse with other paedophiles, and even wrote a how-to manual.
This documentary follows in his footsteps, and asks how he was able to get away with it for so long. Journalist Bronagh Munro (previously seen on BBC3’s Unsolved miniseries) questions the pastors, politicians, gap year organisers, and parents in the countries he targeted.
Munro’s somewhat aggressively confrontational style makes for uncomfortable viewing, as she tries to get to the bottom of who knew what in the communities Huckle targeted. Doubtless some people are guilty of turning a blind eye to abuse going on in front of them, but there are, too, larger questions about ‘voluntourism’ to be asked here, about inequality and the ethics of having well-off westerners work in schools and orphanages abroad. Yet Munro seems determined to make it specifically about what onus should be shouldered by the officials in the places Huckle targeted. Watching a western journalist seeking to apportion blame to those in exploited and impoverished countries, when it was a western man who was committing these crimes, makes for pretty grim viewing, and it’s unclear what the point is.
Josh: Season 3
And so Josh returns for a third season, the full box set of which is now on BBC Three, and the only reaction this provokes is complete bafflement. A sitcom so completely devoid of humour, charm, wit or personality may have had a limited audience on BBC Two at 8pm back in the day when there were four channels and a dearth of choice, but even then, this would surely have been last-resort viewing. Now on a digital channel, it is lost in an ocean of TV on-demand, so much so that one almost feels sorry for it.
Not much seems to change in Josh-land. In Episode 1, Josh has been dumped in an embarrassing manner, and his landlord (Jack Dee) tries to amateur psychoanalyse him out of his slight funk, which only leads to more slight embarrassment. His flatmate, Kate, takes her mum, played by Jennifer Saunders, to an ‘immersive theatre’ experience, leading to their own slight embarrassment. The other flatmate, Owen, has his driving test, where he bonds will his examiner, a fellow Swansea City fan, before slight embarrassment tragically befalls him as well.
There are another five episodes of this, although it’s unclear how desperate you’d have to be to actively seek them out. The astounding thing – other than this show’s continued existence – is that it shares the same channel as genuinely funny and innovative comedies, such as Fleabag and People Just Do Nothing. Give one of them a shot instead.
My Mental Health in VR
Following James Young’s documentary Can Robots Love Us, which was screened earlier this month and touched on the issue of using technology as therapy, BBC Three are delving deeper with this series of shorts. My Mental Health in VR films people as they talk about their specific symptoms, while intercutting it with the subject using Google’s virtual reality tilt brush to illustrate their state of mind.
First, we have Katy, who has borderline personality disorder, which means she wakes up feeling she’s a blank slate every morning, and has to reconstruct her personality daily. It’s a condition that affects over two in a hundred people in the UK, and, as she explains what it means, she’s also drawing out what goes on inside her mind. Next is James, who suffers from anorexia and bulimia and uses the tool to illustrate the overwhelming order of his brain, where it’s all about ticks and crosses for ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food, and drawings of how he sees himself. It’s a new and interesting way to tackle the subject of mental health, while also demonstrating how virtual realities can help human realities.
Eating with my Ex (Box Set)
Premiering on BBC Three’s YouTube channel last year with some introductory episodes, the full first season of Eating with my Ex is now available on iPlayer as a box set. It’s a great concept – two exes get together over dinner and talk about where their relationship went wrong, like First Dates in reverse. For some, it’s an opportunity to put the final full stop on unhealthy couplings, while it’s clear that others are hoping to get back together, providing tension and not a few awkward moments.
It implicitly looks at all the ways in which relationships can go awry, as the participants talk about issues including jealousy, lack of communication, possessiveness, infidelity, distance, and mental health issues. It also hints at the effect a bad relationship can have on the rest of your dating life. Some couples end up deleting each other’s phone numbers while sitting opposite each other, others will walk off hand-in-hand to begin afresh. It’s pretty compulsive viewing.
Drugs Map of Britain: Fentanyl
BBC Three’s Drugs Map of Britain series has been quietly ambling along. In the newest episode, we’re in Hull, to look at Fentanyl users. Like heroin, but 10 times stronger, the drug is blamed for a glut of drugs deaths in the US – recently, there was a similar spike in OD cases in the UK, the majority of which were in Yorkshire and the Humber. The addicts, medical health professionals and police here describe the reasons for its popularity – if you are a long-term heroin addict, the hit you get from Fentanyl mimics that of when you first started. Yet it’s that hit which makes it so easy to OD, as it slows down your respiratory system so dramatically that it’s pretty much life or death each time you use it.
Some of the addicts describe that as being part of the allure. The nihilism with which they describe life not being worth living, almost hoping to slip away permanently when they use, is alarming. So, too, is the look into lives we generally don’t get to see – people living in tents, shooting up in squats, unable to access health care or housing. It’s not exactly light viewing, but it shines a light onto lives that seem otherwise forgotten – or wilfully ignored.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For more on the UK’s only online TV channel, check out our BBC Three TV Guide – what’s new, what’s coming soon and what box sets are available.