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: Inside the Secret World of Incels
It’s been five years since Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured 14 more in Santa Barbara as ‘revenge’ for his sexual and social rejection. In that time, he’s become something of a hero to the ‘incel’ (involuntary celibate) community, who bond online over their lack of sex and hatred for women. This documentary manages to get three ‘incels’ to talk to them about what motivates them.
‘Catfishman’ remains masked up throughout his interviews, in which he boasts about faking personas on dating sites to meet up with women, who he then verbally abuses while taking videos of the encounters to share online. Matt, in New York, insists you can be an incel without being a women-hater, but admits it’s a small step to finding viciously misogynistic online content. James, in Northern Ireland, claims to have repented his incel ways and now has a successful YouTube channel where he talks about mental health – although, as it has to be pointed out to him that lyrics he wrote celebrating Elliot Rodger might be hurtful to the bereaved families, one has to wonder at the value of his expertise.
Dr Kaitlyn Regehr, a researcher of online misogyny at the university of Kent, who is credited as development consultant for the documentary, points out that this is the age of the hate crime, with hatred bubbling over in many online communities, helping normalise real life violence. It’s always a sobering experience to be reminded of how much men can hate women, and although the documentary is something of a sickening watch, it does its job in reflecting what’s happening in the darker corners of the web, and in warning of the ways in which it can spill out into offline behaviour.
Extinction Rebellion: Last Chance to Save the World?
In his new documentary, Ben Zand meets some of the people behind Extinction Rebellion, the protest group who are seeking to highlight the dangers of climate change through civil disobedience. He charts the four months leading up to their mass protest in April, where they managed to cause disruption to central London for eleven days.
Zand first meets up with them in January, as they’re planning the actions, including a nationwide school strike. After interviewing co-founder Roger Hallam, he speaks to some of the young activists. 16-year-old Dani is extremely committed to the movement, but her mum worries that she’ll neglect her education for it, while 22-year old Sam faces a stint in jail after gluing his hands to the door of an oil company. Hallam accepts that the group is less about providing solutions and more about raising awareness, so when Sam gets to speak to MP Claire Perry at the end of the documentary, the whole things seems rather fruitless, as no actual action will be taken.
The documentary itself is quite light on detail. There are no questions about funding, for example, or about the ‘whitewashing’ controversy surrounding the movement. Zand does question whether the long-term consequences of having a criminal record have been thought through by the participants, but the focus is on the impressive clear-sightedness of the young people involved, who are trying to do what they can for their own future and that of the planet.
This three-part box set, filmed over seven months, introduces us to some of the North East’s constabulary and the community they police. It focuses on the old ‘pit villages’ of Horden (a “crime hotspot”, apparently), Peterlee and Seaham, as the Durham cops do their neighbourhood rounds.
The programme has an oddly upbeat tone, with a jaunty voiceover and charismatic petty criminals. One of the cops seems to think he’s in Michael Mann’s Heat – “Us cops and robbers have more in common than we like to think” – and much of the first couple of episodes centre on one or two repeat offenders, who are taken to the station while their premises are searched, generally turning up nothing. If it’s a game of cat and mouse, it’s more Tom and Jerry than Manhunter.
In between all the banter at the station, though, there are some more serious crimes being committed – a masked robbery of a bookies (a young, vulnerable worker is threatened with a hammer) and a serious assault at a pub. In the third episode, which looks at addiction-based crime, things get really dark, as the officers have to deal with a fatal overdose.
In among all this are chats about the history of the area at the local tattoo parlour, discussions about deprivation, mental health issues and recidivism. It’s something of a never-ending cycle for many of the people involved in the documentary, with very little hope for a better life. But it’s presented as cheery slice-of-life stuff which never quite gets to the heart of any issue it looks at.
This one-off drama, by the team behind BAFTA-winners Murdered by My Father and Killed by My Debt, charts the rise of right wing radicalisation. Sion Daniel Young plays Gethin, who lives in his sister’s shed and barely gets by on a zero hours contract at a chicken shop. Just as his family are about to be made homeless, a Muslim family moves in to the council house next door Gethin had his eye on. Despite forming a friendship with one of the new neighbours, Yasmin (Amy-Leigh Hickman), Gethin finds himself being sucked into increasing Islamophobic rhetoric spouted at housing meetings and among his group of friends. None of this ends well.
There are a number of problems with the programme. Although the makers conferred with organisations specialising in the rise of the far right and extremism, Gethin’s journey from a gentle young family man to hate crime perpetrator seems like a leap. The focus is not on the victim – unless you count Gethin as the victim, which seems problematic. Indeed, the person who is killed in the drama is given very little screen time and next to no lines. The peripheral roles seem like mouthpieces for racism and xenophobia rather than fully rounded characters. Although the actors do what they can, they are ultimately let down by a script that jettisons character development in favour of plot-points, and the whole things lacks emotional punch.
This brilliant strand of Storyville documentaries has been curated especially for the BBC Three audience. It includes three new films: Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl is an intimate look at the singer’s life as she attempts to resurrect her career in LA, sues her manager for stealing her money, auditions for GLOW, and crowdfunds her new album, all accompanied by her beloved dog, Stella. A High School Rape Goes Viral: Roll Red Roll takes a look at how the Steubenville rape scandal broke, via a determined blogger’s investigation of social media posts. The flagship documentary, Oscar-nominated Minding the Gap, is an incredibly moving piece of filmmaking, following the lives of childhood skater buddies in Rockford, Illinois, as they navigate their way into adulthood, directed by one of the gang, Bing Lai. These new films are joined by the recently-screened Avicii documentary, and Believer, in which Imagine Dragons’ frontman looks at the Mormon Church’s attitude to the LGBTQ community. Lauren Greenfield’s award-winning 2012 film The Queen of Versailles completes the roster, charting a doomed project to recreate the Palace of Versailles in Orlando, Florida. It’s a line-up of important, engaging, accessible films which will hopefully inspire a new generation of documentary fans.
This six-part box set follows journalist Mobeen Azhar as he returns to his home town of Birkby, Huddersfield, to investigate the death of Mohammed Yassar Yaqub, who was shot by police in his car in 2017, provoking a ‘Justice 4 Yassar’ campaign. Starting off as a trip down memory lane as Mobeen visits the place he grew up in – and bumps into the people he went to school with – he finds that people are unwilling to talk openly about the circumstances surrounding Yassar’s death.
He soon discovers that things have changed quite dramatically in the 20-odd years since he’s been there. Weapons now proliferate and young men are turning to drug dealing. There’s a potted history here of first generation immigrants, and a look at how life has shifted, as Mobeen speaks to people whose lives have been impacted by drugs and violence. There is also a look at the impact of Islamophobia and bigotry, and the ways in which it can silence a community.
This is an occasionally uncomfortable watch – at times, it feels like victim blaming, as Yassar’s involvement in the drugs trade is investigated and Yassar’s dad quickly stops speaking to Mobeen. But it’s also an honest look at a subject that is difficult to broach, and feels it can only – or best – be done by someone like Mobeen, who grew up in the community and can bring a clarity that might otherwise be obfuscated.
A new series fronted by Hayley Pearce, in which she investigates everything from body building to veganism by immersing herself in each culture. First off, she’s decided to go sober for for weeks. After having one last blow-out, so that the viewer can see drunk Hayley in her full glory, she ditches the booze she’s been binge-drinking on since she was 14.
Discovering that a third of people under 25 don’t drink at all, she’s initially suspicious that she can have a non-boring life, as she feels she needs to drink in order to have confidence. But as she meets with a sober blogger, goes to a hypnotherapist to confront her relationship with drink, heads out with street pastors, and meets a woman who had to spend five months in hospital at death’s door, thanks to a period in her life when she was drinking three bottles of wine a day, Hayley’s eyes are opened to the danger of drink. As she gets her liver checked, the extent of the damage she could do to her body is spelled out to her – and to the viewer. She finally goes to a sober rave, where she finds out you can have just as much – if not more – fun without alcohol.
The other programmes in this six part series follow a similar format, as Hayley investigates growing old, tattoo culture, getting offline, and pregnancy. It’s not likely to reveal much you don’t already know about each subject – it’s more of a taster into different lifestyles, presented with verve and panache.
In this hour-long documentary, Tiffany Sweeney takes a look behind the scenes of the websites set up to introduce “sugar daddies” to prospective “sugar babies” – which is to say, affluent, middle-aged people to younger folk looking for some cash and gifts in return for what is euphemistically termed “companionship”.
Although the websites deny that money is changing hands – and include such a condition in their terms of service – most first dates described in the programme are on a “pay-per-meet” basis. This can lead to a more regular arrangement, which involves a monthly allowance and expensive gifts. Most of the “daddies” are over 40, and we’re told that the average “sugar baby” can make 3 grand per month – tempting for young people with student debts, struggling to keep their heads above water. Sweeney hears the stories directly from the young men and women who sign up to the websites, some who are happy with their arrangements and others who feel they were scammed, or tricked into sex work. Then, she’s off to Las Vegas to meet the founder of one such enterprise, ensconced in his multi-million pound home with his very own sugar baby. The documentary ends as Sweeney poses on one of the websites as an 18-year-old student and eventually goes to see – with a hidden camera – a ‘date’ who wants to meet her directly in a hotel room, even though she has no idea what he looks like.
It’s an interesting programme, filled with first-hand testimonial, although it may make you despair of a society which is so able and willing to exploit the increasingly precarious situation of young people today.
Comedy duo Natasia Demetriou (previously seen in What we do in the Shadows and Stath Lets Flats – written by and starring her younger brother, Jamie) and Ellie White (The Windsors, Timewasters and Murder in Successville) have been uploading their joint work to YouTube for a while – a parody of a pop reunion programme was a highlight – while also performing in live shows. Here, they pilot their sketches on BBC Three for the first time.
The programme opens with joggers kitted out in the jogging gear who can’t run for the bus successfully – other skits include middle aged vloggers calling themselves “Mum’s the Word”, who demonstrate quite obscenely how to stuff a chicken, while keeping up a stream of banal chat about “girls’ nights” and their “hubbies”. Trustafarians who can’t pass a busker or wait at traffic lights without busting out some moves also get their treatment, as do over-enthusiastic camera-hungry daytime TV presenters, who are investigating ‘Britain’s Smelliest Smell’. There’s a riff on a lo-fi video ad for Eastern European beauticians, and the heavily-trailed creepy pop-up shop proprietors, who whisper riddles in an ASMR style. There’s also a frankly pretty disturbing homage to Ariana Grande.
As with most sketch shows, this is hit and miss, but where they excel most is in parodying specific formats. And while there’s nothing too original here, you can expect to be seeing a lot more of the pair in the future.
This documentary very much does what it says on the tin, as we’re invited to have a look inside a Luton hostel for young mums. The hostel’s longest-running resident Talamika, a 22-year-old mother of a two-year-old, narrates, introduces us to some of her housemates, and tells us her own story in the process. With about 10 rooms in the building, she finds herself being housed with people she doesn’t know, but the documentary demonstrates the support networks that build among the residents.
The young women tell their stories of how they ended up in the hostel – becoming pregnant at a young age, with little or no support from their family or the fathers of their babies. Lives are hard and tiring – one mum, Katie, is a 19-year-old juggling 3-year-old twins with trying to get a childcare qualification. It’s a never-ending grind, and she finds herself falling asleep in class due to sheer exhaustion. Talamika has been there for three years, and has to pay off some debt she owes before being able to move out, so finds herself watching on as the young women she shares with are given housing. The documentary shows how difficult it is to survive – and hope for a better future – with so many cards stacked against you, but it also shows how necessary such hostels are in helping young homeless mums get on their feet and able to live an independent life, and will hopefully play a small part in busting the stigma surrounding hostel-dwellers.
An Antiques Roadshow for millennials, this programme targets a new generation of bargain hunters. Collectors and car boot sale aficionados show their best bargains to presenters Fiona and Youth, explaining how they came to own their prized possessions, with the option of putting them up for auction at the end. Pop culture memorabilia featured includes first edition Pokemon cards, film posters, an original White Album by The Beatles and a signed Harry Potter book. For the fashionistas, meanwhile, there’s vintage Moschino and a charity shop Vivienne Westwood bag, a pristine collection of limited edition trainers, and a very special dress bought at a market in rural France, which may or may not belong to Supremes legend Mary Wilson.
In among all this are tips for car boot sales, how to get handbags authenticated, and sustainable fashion advice. If you think you’ve got something tucked away at the back of your wardrobe which might be worth a few quid, or just want some tips on how to spot a bargain at a car boot sale, you could do worse than give the programme a go.
The pilot for this new dating show was aired during BBC3’s Housing Week, and was a bit of welcome light relief amidst a plethora of programmes highlighting the housing crisis. Thankfully, it’s lost none of its verve and energy now that it’s been extended to a full series box set. Hosted by Yung Filly, who brings an approachable manic energy to the proceedings, the concept could be described as Blind Date meets How Clean is Your House. Filly meets up with hopeful singles in different British cities and helps them whittle down potential suitors, basically by rifling through their rooms and judging them based on their clothes and belongings. The person doing the picking is then introduced to the friends of two of their would-be dates, before making their final decision.
As with the pilot, what’s really amazing is the state of some of the rooms, and the fact the people allowed a camera crew in without even tidying up. All sorts of things are uncovered during the course of the show, from dusty dildos to mouldy dishes. Filly has fun trying on wigs, getting lessons in kink, and having poppers explained to him, and the rapport he builds with the people taking part provides plenty of giggles. On the whole, this is great fun and the format is a lot fresher than most of the musty drawers that the contestants are invited to ransack.
Just over a year ago, the horrific content of a Facebook group chat between male students at Warwick University first came to light. The men involved talked about the women on the campus in dehumanising terms, sharing rape fantasies and sexually violent messages. It led to a public scandal, an investigation, the eventual suspension and expulsion of the participants, and widespread criticism of the way the university handled the case.
In this half-hour documentary, “Anna” (not her real name) discusses being the one to find and report the messages, and the effect it, and the subsequent inquiry, had on her life. Also interviewed is one of the other young women being discussed in the Facebook chat, as well as a student representative, the editor of the university’s student newspaper, and an expert on violence against women.
While the messages themselves are deeply shocking, the film also shows university investigation and appeals process let the victims down time and time again, leading to angry campus protests and tutors and departments having to put their weight against their own employer in support of the women. Since the Warwick story broke, similar cases have been reported on other UK campuses, and this documentary, you feel, is a small piece of a wider, ongoing problem, the extent of which is just beginning to come to light.
In Wales, we’re told at the start of this box set, only about 25% of the million under 30s living in Wales hold any kind of religious faith. This series promises to look at the variety of religions those young people follow.
Sadly, it’s all a bit of a mish-mash, jumping from one person to another with no underlying sense of continuity. We go from a Muslim woman skydiving to a Hare Krishna describing his daily routine, via spirituality and meditation, with alarming speed. Some interesting strands – for example, examining the rise of religious intolerance and hate crime – are included, but not lingered on. One interviewee explains she got into activism after Boris Johnson compared women wearing the niqab to “letterboxes”, and, as the programme makers are interviewing her, a passer-by sees fit to abuse her on the street. It’s a startling demonstration of exactly the kind of toxic behaviour she’s explaining, yet we’re quickly back at the Hare Krishna’s house, as his parents explain that he’s always been a slightly obsessive boy. Likewise, we’re given a quick explanation of the Shabbat by the Jewish contributor who goes on to speak about rising anti semitism in British society, yet jump from that to straight edge ‘raves’ and celibacy before marriage. A segment on a Muslim fashion designer seems to be taken from another show altogether.
It’s a pot-luck of a programme, giving small tasters of the different religions making up not just Wales but the whole of the UK, but ultimately it leaves the viewer feeling rather undernourished.
This rather confused (and confusing) programme follows five female grime artists who are making a podcast together, which you can listen to independently of the programme, on BBC Sounds. Pre Wavy, C Cane, Laughta, Cassie Rytz and Madders Tiff allow cameras to follow them as they meet friends for coffee, go shopping and hang out at the snooker hall, talking about their personal lives, their families, their music – but mainly about the upcoming podcast.
The young women all have their own problems, be they difficult break-ups or strained family relationships, but the kind of structured reality framework deployed here is one we’re all familiar with and savvy to by now, and none of it feels in any way spontaneous. The first episode is very much an introductory episode for the five participants – one in which they are filmed separately, talking about their impressions of the others – so perhaps things will loosen up when they finally all get together. But at the moment the programme resembles an extended promotional shoot for the radio show – which doesn’t, thus far, make for great TV.
This documentary tells the story of three British Army soldiers who took their lives last year following lengthy battles with PTSD. Through video diaries and voice notes made while they were alive, they speak to us directly of their struggles.
Kevin Williams lost one of his best friends while he was on tour in Iraq, and turned to recreational drug use on his return. John Paul Finnegan had lifelong hearing problems after a bomb burst his eardrums while deployed, and instead of returning to the battlefield, he was tasked with chauffeuring bereaved army families around, after their loved ones lost their lives. Kevin Holt – who had been interviewed by BBC Three back in 2012 to talk about his experiences in the army – spent 7 months in Afghanistan before an IED killed five of his troop, leaving him to pick up their body parts. He was redeployed and later consumed with guilt, after he gave a young girl a bottle of water and she was hanged because she accepted it.
As they came back, the tales are of broken marriages, fits of inexplicable violence, depression, paranoia, and the inability to talk about their feelings, having been so immersed in such a ‘macho’ environment. Holt’s sister talks about her brother’s confusion – when he was over there, he felt he was a better person, because he wanted peace, yet when he came back, he only wanted to fight. She speaks of her numbness following his suicide, due in no small part to the feeling she had lost her brother long before. (”My brother didn’t come back from Iraq. He went, but he didn’t come back,” she says.)
It’s a quietly devastating documentary that talks of the lasting impact of the battlefield, the invisible wounds you return with and the lack of support in dealing with the trauma.
In August 2010, Gemma Hayter’s body was found on a disused railway track in Rugby, Warwickshire. Gemma was a 27 year old with learning disabilities, and had been tortured over a period of time before being murdered. With crimes against disabled people rising, this documentary speaks to her family and friends, looking at her life and the events leading up to her death in an effort to understand how she could have been so let down by the authorities who should have been able to support and protect her.
Her mother, sister, niece, and friends are interviewed, and paint the picture of a generous, trusting person who was looking for friendship and acceptance. Given no diagnosis throughout her school years, she was signed out of the system at 24, and was then put into council housing, where she met the people who would take advantage of her, before eventually killing her. Without any supported living, Gemma fell into the company of those who would use her generous nature against her, storing drugs in her flat, which they passed off as surprise ‘presents’ for people, and accompanying her to pick up her benefits, which they would get her to spend on them.
The series of failures in Gemma’s care, even as her family were crying out for someone to help her, is highlighted. Although she wanted to be independent, Gemma herself knew that she needed support, and two years before she died, she wrote a letter to social services asking for help. Had these requests been heeded, say her family, her murder could have been avoided. It’s a horrifying story of a person let down by society, which led almost inevitably to her fate.
It should surprise no one who finds their own personal workout slightly boring that watching other people exercising is even more so. This box set follows three personal trainers as they get to know their clients and help them get fit, eat well, and basically have confidence in themselves. Which is all very nice. It just doesn’t make for particularly great TV.
The trainers – Esmee, Kelechi, and Jay – all have their own specific personal histories that led them to become trainers. Struggles with physical and mental health means they are adept at understanding and motivating the people who come to them for help. Their first client, Lyndon, has an artificial leg – just like Jay – and, although Lyndon lacks the confidence that Jay has, they clearly bond over their situation. Charlotte, meanwhile, has had breast cancer and wants to get in shape for an upcoming operation – Esmee can relate, because she became paralysed as a teenager after an allergic reaction to anaesthesia, which led her, eventually, to her career in helping others through physical fitness.
Other specific problems are addressed, including Eli, a trans man who wants help in making his physique more masculine, and Sarah, who has Tourettes and finds it embarrassing to work out in a shared gym, because of her tics. There are the more general issues too, such as Lauren, who has just broken up with her partner and wants to show them what they’re missing, and Matt, whose uni life means he’s drinking too much. Lee’s unhealthy lifestyle is a reaction to a bereavement, while Cassie has had three kids and feels her body is no longer her own.
If you’re looking for inspiration to get fit, it’s doubtless here in abundance, and the trainers tailor the workouts to deal with each situation. But as a TV show, it’s probably not going to set the airwaves on fire.
On paper, this probably didn’t seem like too bad an idea. Billed as a ‘social experiment’, it gives five mothers of teenage daughters the chance to ‘go undercover’ as 21 year olds so they can overcome some of their bafflement at the younger generation. Taking on issues like modern day dating, veganism, political and social activism, botox and fillers, zero hour contracts and the very modern concept of the social media influencer, depression and anxiety, and gender and sexuality, the daughters are hoping that their mums’ eyes and minds can be opened with regard to how difficult and different life is for them today compared with how it was a mere 20 years ago.
It all starts out quite promisingly. The already young-looking mums are given makeovers and kitted out with the latest fashions. They sign up to Tinder, where they are appalled by the kind of messages they receive. They go on dates with men 20 years younger than them. One mum – who despairs of her daughter’s work ethic – is put to work on a zero hours contract, doing late-night food delivery, and finds out just how difficult (and underpaid) such jobs can be. While some segments are quite well done, though, the overall impression is of a bloated series – overlong and unfocussed, and probably of interest only to the friends and family of the participants.
This is a strange little programme. Bex is a 31 year old cam girl and she’s interested in what people think about her. To find out, she’s invited three men she knows through work, but who don’t know each other, to sit around a table and talk about the industry. They’re unaware it’s Bex who has asked them to be there, and they don’t know each other’s connection to her. Matt is a subscriber to her site, Olly is a manager who has known her for years, and Joseph is a cam site owner. Bex sets them questions and watches on in secret as they discuss all things cam girl.
Bex is clearly hoping to catch them in the act of some sort of hypocrisy. As it happens, Matt is placid and open about why he uses such services – he’s not in a relationship at the moment, and he finds interacting with an actual human more satisfying than with anonymous porn. Olly describes himself as a feminist, has a girlfriend, and clearly respects women. Joseph is on another level altogether – introducing himself with “I love two things in life – women and money”, he’s a fan of Margaret Thatcher – though that seems to be where his admiration for women ends. “Every women has a cash point between their legs”, he says, though he wouldn’t want a “fatty”.
Thankfully, Olly puts him in his place on numerous occasions and Joseph just shows himself up. By the time Bex makes her appearance, to ‘surprise’ the men who have been discussing her choice of work, it’s all pretty much over, and she has nothing to add except to say that she considers herself a “fatty” and yet Joseph still hosts her on his site. It’s all completely pointless, seeming to promise confrontation yet ending more with a fizzle than a bang.
While there’s something of a tradition in TV land to go all out with voyeuristic, headline grabbing ‘sex’ shows, fear not, because Sex on the Couch is actually a thoughtful and intimate look at the inner workings of peoples’ relationships, in and out of the bedroom. Each episode follows two couples as they attend three appointments with one of the four sex therapists working out of a purpose-built clinic. Most of them have very specific problems they want to discuss – from maintaining a connection within a long-distance relationship to figuring out how to keep a sex life alive despite a neurological disorder. Each couple is given homework assignments – practical solutions such as building ‘mood boards’ or giving their partner a massage. Many of these homework assignments are specific bans on sex, trying to build up intimacy through foreplay or just hugging for a full minute twice a day.
Much of the time, what presents as a stalled sex life reveals a much deeper relationship problem. Trust issues are uncovered, festering resentments are dissected and much of the time the intimacy focussed on is less sexual and more emotional. It’s a strangely compelling series that really makes you root for the couples involved.
Ellie Flynn is back, this time to ‘uncover’ the secrets behind ‘multi-level marketing’ – essentially pyramid schemes that conceal their true nature by presenting as benign cosmetics brands. She looks at two in particular, Younique and Tru Nature, speaking to people who have been sucked into working for them by their insidious lifestyle brand marketing.
It turns out that these companies are less about selling makeup than they are about recruiting other marketers – the more people you have in your ‘team’, the more money you can make. But hardly anyone is actually making anything from selling the makeup. In fact, when a person signs up, they are actually spending money on start-up kits, updating their products, and on various subscriptions, brochures and tickets to training events.
Flynn blows the lid off the whole scam by donning disguises to make herself look like a ‘normal person’ to video chat with various recruiters, and she shells out £45 to go to a massive conference for Younique, which is more like a rock concert. It’s a full, eight-hour day of inspirational speeches on ‘network marketing’ and a message from CEO Derek Maxfield, who is greeted with something akin to religious fervour. Flynn comments on the ‘cult’-like nature of the whole enterprise, and she finishes by travelling to Utah to doorstep the CEOs at their HQ’s, while also effectively pointing the finger at Mormonism rather than capitalism. It’s an interesting enough subject, but it’s undermined somewhat by the sensationalised nature of Flynn’s presentation.
Before Tim Bergling’s terrible and untimely death in 2018, director Levan Tsikurishvili spent four years documenting the highs and lows of the superstar DJ otherwise known as Avicii. This documentary – completed before Bergling’s suicide – charts his career just as it was taking off into the stratosphere, and the mixed emotions his phenomenal success elicited.
It paints the picture of a hard-working, passionate and conscientious musician, who, by his very nature, was not cut out for the pressures of constant touring. Having lived a quiet life up until the age of 19, within the same 5 blocks of his Stockholm neighbourhood, he initially embraced the success he garnered. But while the first half of the documentary shows Bergling flying high, including interviews with DJs such as Tiësto and David Guetta, who sing his praises, and footage of him working with Niles Rogers and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, we all know how this ends. His ambitious and street-smart manager, Ash, who was with him from the start, says in his office: “Tim is going to die. With all the interviews, radio tours and everything, he’ll drop dead.” Everything starts to fall apart with his failing health and his hospitalisations. Footage from his bedside show doctors enthusiastically prescribing him Percocet and other addictive painkillers, despite his protests, and there is footage of him as he leaves the hospital, dosed up to the eyeballs while being spirited away to his upcoming shows. He talks about his constant physical pain, but also about his anxiety surrounding touring, and the way he combats that with drinking before he goes on stage.
The film closes hopefully, with Bergling quitting touring and quietly making music on a beach in Madagascar, having shed the unhealthy parts of his life. It’s certainly how we’d like the story to end.
This new comedy takes the tradition for flawed female characters trying to make their way in life and turns it up to 11. Daisy Haggard (who also co-wrote the series with Laura Solon) plays Miri, who is returning to her childhood home on the Kent coast after 18 years spent in prison. Getting used to how things have changed in the time she’s been inside. Her bafflement at everyone’s obsession with phones and the posters on the walls of her old bedroom – George Michael, Prince, David Bowie and Jamie Oliver (“last man standing”, as her mother [Geraldine James] calls him) – is the least of her worries. She is also returning to a hostile community who still bear a grudge for her crime and are out to make her life as difficult as possible.
The series follows Miri as she gets a job at a chippie and starts a tentative new relationship, while reconciling the ghosts of her past, and discovering what led to the incident that put her in jail. A great supporting cast, including Richard Durden as her compost-obsessed father, Adeel Akhtar as the next door neighbour who befriends her, Liam Williams as her new boss, and Christine Bottomley as her old schoolfriend, bring life to their characters, although there are a couple of subplots that don’t add much and take the focus away from the main meat of the programme. While Back to Life has been compared to Fleabag, with good reason – the programmes share the same producers, debuted on BBC Three, and takes the ‘dysfunctional heroine’ to new extremes – it is unlikely to catch the same zeitgeist, although the melancholic humour and the first rate acting will surely act as great calling cards.
Chanell’s brother Daniel was stabbed to death in 2006, when she was 11 years old. Now, 13 years later, as the man responsible is due his parole hearing, she must write an impact statement – but first she needs to find out exactly what happened that night, and why.
Sheltered from the stark facts at the time, due to her age, this is an affecting journey that takes her back to Nottingham, where Daniel was killed metres from his front door. She speaks to her mum and friends of Daniel, a journalist who was working on the story at the time, and the detective in charge of the case. When it all becomes overwhelming – she keeps having to take time out from filming, such is the emotion it brings up in her – she also meets up with her old grief counsellor.
It would take a heart of stone not to be moved by this documentary, or not to share the anger in the pit of your stomach as Chanell finds out the extent of the pre-meditation involved in the murder. Chanell’s mum talks about the lifelong effect Daniel’s pointless death has had on the whole family, the grief and the ruined childhood, and the impact of the loss of a child and brother. It’s not only an extremely personal documentary with real heart and soul, but an insight into the enduring pain that knife violence brings to families.
This high concept, almost anti-dating show, posits the question of whether you’d leave your partner after spending ‘just one night’ with the person of your dreams, almost as though the Ashley Madison dating website has come to life. Bonnie and Stevie have been together for four years, having met on Tinder. Bonnie wants them to move in together, but Stevie’s not so sure.
Helpfully, BBC Three set them both up with their ultimate ‘type’ (for Stevie, this means a blonde with big boobs). Shannon and Moses are selected to go on a date with the couple – separately, though in the same restaurant, metres from each other – to see if they can’t tempt them away from their partner.
Shannon’s a veritable honey-trap, pretty much throwing herself at Stevie, while Moses is just the tonic Bonnie seems to need, trying to big her up and give her some helpful advice about her own worth and what kind of behaviour she should or shouldn’t settle for. It feels pretty touch and go for our intrepid couple, although we won’t spoil the ending. It’s a strange programme and one which you can’t imagine will be beating off applicants to appear on it.
Sketch shows are a kind of ever-constant on British TV, although we haven’t seen a really successful one for a few years now. It’s odd, because the format seems perfect for the Twitter age, where short skits form the kind of content made to go viral. Step in Famalam, which is back for a second four-part season, after rave reviews for its first.
Producer Akemnji Ndifornyen (previously of the Javone Prince Show) and director Tom Marshall, whose work includes Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum, are wise enough not to change a winning formula, bringing back many of the characters viewers have already taken to their hearts. The African Aunties continue their wars, competing over whose grandson is doing best, while Detective Moses Mountree returns with a new partner, straight out of Miami Vice – though can the home counties cope with “two diversities in one village”? There’s some very touching feedback from rival graffiti gangs, a mother makes an appeal for her son, who has become a policeman (“I just want my little boy back”), and a new character, Peter, who makes his family’s life hell with his addiction to Instagram.
Unlike many sketch shows, this one critiques the modern black experience with a sharpness of humour – featuring a Hunger Games competition to win the part of ‘token black friend’, while in the Nollywood Love Island, all the men are fighting over the lone white girl. The opening sketch is a good insight into what to expect, as slaves organise an uprising, only to be questioned on their chants of “slaves lives matter” (“Don’t all lives matter?”). There’s a chaotic energy about the whole enterprise, but its silliness belies a pointedness that skews the stereotypes of its traditional format.
This box set of three short films looks at the work a South London church does to combat gang crime. SPAC Nation’s following includes people hoping to get out of gangs, and its weekly services involves a weapons amnesty at the door, with a high security presence enforcing it, searching bags for knives and separating rival gang members on the floor.
We’re introduced in the first episode to Pastor Tobi Adegboyega. Apparently, Tobi made millions in property deals and thinks the answer to street gangs is to turn members into entrepreneurs. To this end, SPAC Nation has funded various businesses within the congregation and hopes capitalism can end the violence on the streets, by jettisoning one kind of income for another. With a weekly congregation of 2,000, they receive over £800,000 in donations from church members each year, according to official figures, so they’re not short of a bob or two.
Some of the people the church has helped are interviewed, including Kevin, who they funded to the tune of £30,000 for his chauffeuring business and Junior, who has been living in a hostel since he got out of jail, has a long rap sheet, and sees no future for himself as no one will give him a job, making him consider getting back into the gang life – a cycle that is repeated throughout the documentary.
What the people here have in common is their realisation that they’re on a hiding to nothing with their current lifestyles, and the need to change before they wind up dead or in prison. SPAC Nation offers them an alternative, should they be willing to grasp it. Having said that, the documentary never really gets past the bravado of any of the people taking part – those in the gangs or in the church. No really difficult questions are asked, not least of SPAC Nation itself. It’s a superficial documentary, which may whet your interest in the church, but you’ll have to do your own independent research to answer any lingering doubts.
Everyone’s favourite Small Heath posse is back for a second season – just as news has been announced that a third has been commissioned. The welcome return picks up from where it left off, as reformed gangster Mobeen (played by co-creator and writer Guz Khan) tries to balance his role as guardian of little sister Aks (Duaa Karim) with the everyday trials of his own life and that of his two friends, Eight (Tez Ilyas) and Nate (Tolu Ogunmefun), all struggling to navigate a world full of British Muslim stereotypes.
Opening with trip to get his beard trimmed, which leads to police involvement as barbershop rivalries spill out onto the street, it’s a high energy, genuinely witty programme that is unafraid of looking at big issues through a satirical – and extremely funny – lens. Its subject matter, on paper, is extremely dark – buying a prom dress for Aks results in a discussion about child labour, young men produce large knives at the school prom, there are jokes about the taliban and even some sideswipes about what white people will think about Asian men hanging around with schoolgirls. Episode 2 takes place in an A+E ward and provokes discussion about NHS funding, immigration and Brexit. Put like that, it all sounds rather worthy, but it’s a genuinely joyful experience, done with a lightness of touch that belies the ‘controversial’ topics. Some of the rough edges of the first season have been smoothed out – the writing has settled into its own pace and the characters bounce off each other effortlessly. But, most importantly, it’s properly, laugh out loud, funny. A genuine delight of a programme.
The vast majority if viewers did indeed seem to Pls Like the first season of BBC Three’s short-form comedy, so Liam Williams is back for second helpings. This time round, though, things are slightly darker, mirroring the world of vlogging the series so successfully satirises. Agent James, having been disgraced by the end of Season 1, is back after a short retreat to a treatment centre in Panama, and trying to rebuild his company’s reputation – and the reputation of vloggers more generally. This is made increasingly difficult as the vloggers have got much, much worse. Now, instead of handling failing fauxmances, he’s trying to firefight for new client ‘Dump Ghost’, who physically resembles Logan Paul and who has been ‘cancelled’ by viewers after an anti-Muslim ‘joke’, which he then doubles down on by wearing a Nazi uniform and being increasingly racist.
While being rounded upon by left wing vlogger Dina Discourse, Dump Ghost has an ally in Padlock Planet – a free speech advocate who critiques feminism and shills brain pills on his channel, and a clear spoof of Paul Joseph Watson, aka. Prison Planet. The ‘Likeys’ awards bookend the season – the first episode covers the nominations announcement, while the awards ceremony itself is the highlight of the last episode. They’re also backgrounded by Liam Williams, who explores each category for each episode – a way in which he can skewer ‘clean eating’ vloggers, ASMR, the pre-teen market, and an anti-violence campaign that rails against toxic masculinity called “Let’s Punch Violence in the Head and Break its Jaw”.
In amongst this, little ‘facts’ appear onscreen – “Algorithms are named after Al Gore, who invented them in a bid to halt climate change. It didn’t work.” – mimicking the kind of ‘information’ peddled on YouTube. This is a rich area for satire and while there are some strands that work less well than others, it’s the on-the-nail look at the culture wars and the real life inspirations that make this such an effective and cleverly topical programme.
Fans of the bite-sized portions of ‘Eating with my Ex’ – which racked up almost 20 million views when screened last year in short episodes – will be delighted it has now been made into a more fulfilling half hour course. It’s an irresistible concept – more ‘Last Dates’ than First Dates – which sees two people who have broken up get together to discuss why their relationship went wrong, and to (possibly) give it another shot.
In the first episode, three couples are brought kicking and screaming back to each other. Steph and Scearcia had an intense – perhaps too intense – six-month affair, and Steph is reluctant to let go. Jodie and Jason were together for 18 months, and broke up after tensions arose surrounding her perceived poshness and his rapping alter-ego. Niall and Chloe were childhood sweethearts whose relationship ended for good, after Chloe slept with one of Niall’s friends.
The fact that, clearly, each couple doesn’t know why their ex is there (to apologise, to have an argument, to woo them back?) lends real tension to the proceedings. After a first few awkward moments of small-talk, they get stuck into the big questions, which each has an opportunity to set to the other. The extended format gives us a little more time with each couple as they talk through their feelings about their upcoming dates with friends and family. But the nitty-gritty is the same, and it’s a tense ride for both the participants and the viewer.
This short series of three 20-minute documentaries follows three young men in Nottinghamshire, who have been released from prison but ordered to wear ankle tags. The tags help police maintain curfews, ensuring people are effectively under house arrest overnight, until they either come back to court to face trial or their period of punishment is over.
Sam was approved for early release halfway through his sentence and is now staying with his mum and his sister in a place he’s never lived before. Trying to stay off drink and drugs – and thereby stay out of trouble – he finds the boredom and lack of a social life difficult. Reece and Christian, meanwhile, are staying at the same hostel – if Reece, a dad-to-be, gets kicked out, there are few options available to him other than going back to prison, yet he continues to flaunt the rules. Christian, who has already been in prison 17 times in his short life, is awaiting sentencing, having being accused of burglary. Popular at the hostel, he reignites a relationship with his ex-partner, but the stress of his upcoming judgement leads him to act out in other ways.
It’s a series that charts a small sliver of chaotic lives. The wider questions of what support repeat offenders are given as an alternative to incarceration is alluded to only at the very end, when there’s a nasty jolt, as we find out what has happened since filming ended.
This documentary looks at the relationship between a mother and daughter who are struggling to communicate effectively. 23-year-old Dammy suffers from anxiety, and her mum, keen to help and offer support, finds herself being shut out – while Dammy needs space, her mother wants more closeness. Because Dammy feels unable to express how she feels for fear of being babied and/or upsetting her mum, they seek help from a family therapist, Hannah Sherbersky. In doing so, they delve into the mother’s childhood and find the similarities – and differences – they have experienced go some way to explaining the impasse they’ve reached in their own relationship. It’s quite a basic premise, but ultimately, it’s reasonably heartwarming and affirmative. It’s helped by the fact that the mother is an extremely warm human being whose love for her daughter is clear from the outset, and just a few minor behavioural tweaks seem to improve their relationship immeasurably.
BBC Three seems obsessed with what’s on other peoples’ phones. First, the channel introduced ‘Family Phone Swap’ and ‘Co-Worker Phone Swap’, to test how much you know people around you by looking through their data, then ‘Couples Phone Swap’, which presumably saw the ending of a few relationships. Now, they’re giving us ‘First Dates Phone Swap’, where a couple of people get to meet three potential dates and have to choose which one they’ll go out with by looking through their phone.
Shaquille is the first to choose between three potential paramours. Talking each other through the content of their apps, his first date comes to a swift halt when she says she wants to be a Conservative MP. Another says she’s a vegan because she wants to be “ethnical”. It’s quite heartwarming that after having to sift through ‘shag lists’, Shaquille ends up bonding with his third date over their shared love of musical theatre. The second ‘eligible’ is Dani, who has to sit through quite a bit of negging, a ‘ratings system’, and a shopping list, before she finds her perfect phone match.
As a concept, it doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of BBC Three’s other recent dating show, where the woman looking for love was able to go to the houses of her suitors to rifle through their drawers and inspect their bedsheets before meeting them. And, at this stage, we’re just left to wonder how much more BBC content can be ripped from this already fairly tired concept.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
The Naked Truth
Last year, BBC Three released a 10-minute documentary titled “The Naked Truth about Obesity”, in which five people were filmed talking about their relationship with their body, while naked. It was viewed a million times in its first week on Facebook, so the channel have commissioned this second season of four short films, based on the same format. In the first, a group of people who have lost weight talk about how they feel about their loose flesh, while naked. In the second, five men talk about male body image, while naked. In the third, titled ‘Bionic Men’, people talk about their prosthetic limbs, while naked. And finally, tattoo fans talk about their various tattoos, while naked. Towards the end of each programme, a couple of the people being interviewed get to have a conversation with each other, while naked.
You get used to the nakedness fairly quickly, and it’s the first episode that seems the most voyeuristic, as people hold up arms and cup their stomach to demonstrate which parts of their bodies they’re most unhappy with. But the issues discussed in the programmes feel like they’re not breaking any new ground, and have been gone over before – just not necessarily while naked.
Kurupt FM goes from strength to strength with every new season of BBC Three’s laugh-out-loud mockumentary. Except, of course, Season 5 picks up as the pirate radio station is far from strength of any kind, as the station’s HQ has been raided, leaving the boys with no way to broadcast. And so they turn to a last resort: a car boot sale. It’s an old-fashioned sight in a modern age, but it’s perfectly fitting for BBC Three’s comedy, as the whole thing becomes an opportunity for Chabuddy (Asim Chaudry, stealing every scene he’s in) to use his equally old-school entrepreneur skills to bag them the best stall possible – while Steves (Steve Stamp) is hilarious as he attempts to use his very limited number of brain cells to outsmart the people running the event. It’s testament to the show’s depth of talent that both supporting characters can step into the spotlight so effectively, without taking away from our leads Grindah (Allan Mustafa) and Beats (Hugo Chegwin). With each one at their understated, tragically sincere best, the opportunity to catch up with Kurupt FM one more time is an absolute treat. What a shame it is that this final season is our last chance to do so. Words: Ivan Radford
This six-episode box set sees magician Ryan Tricks visit various London community projects, where he learns a little about what they do before blowing their minds with his magic and mind-reading. First up is a Brixton soup kitchen, set up over 5 years ago by the charismatic Solomon Smith, who, with his crew, provides food and clothes to people in need. Tricks does a trick that demonstrates ‘the power of belief’ by turning a tin of baked beans into jelly beans.
Then he’s off to South London to visit an organisation that provides work experience and support to people with learning disabilities, before heading East to delight participants of ‘Cracked It’, which helps young people get skills to start their own businesses to help them stay on the straight and narrow. A trip to the National Army Museum, then to St Joseph’s Hospice, where people who are terminally ill socialise and are cared for, is topped off by Tricks joining a group of mums who are having a picnic in the park. While Tricks’ trick aren’t particularly flashy, as a journey around London to see what people are doing to help their communities it’s fairly interesting – magic with a social conscience, if you will.
September saw a new influx of students coming to university for the first time, and all that this rite-of-passage entailed. BBC Three gave seven young people the opportunity to document their own freshers week, and this half-hour programme is the result of their iPhone footage. While the students are all going to different universities to study different subjects, their experiences prove to be very similar. Excitement about moving out and going to a new big city mixes with trepidation about making friends, acceptance, and being away from their family for the first time.
They join societies, settle into their new digs, and get to grips with cooking for themselves, from preparing instant mac and cheese to the difficulties of coordinating their potato smiley faces to come out the oven at the same time as their chicken. Problems range from finding someone to play Dungeons and Dragons with to the ethics of stealing milk after their own has gone off. One of our motley crew has to phone their dad to talk them through opening a bottle with a corkscrew.
There are, too, more serious problems, including one student who wants to embrace their true gender identity but finds themselves dead-named on their student ID. In between the drinking parties and the hangovers, there are poignant moments of homesickness and loneliness.
Because of the short running time and the amount of people to pack in, not much time is spent on each, making it slightly hard to get a grip on who is going through what. But as a cumulative experience, it’s an effective way to convey the chaos, the mixed emotions, and the excitement of starting this new chapter in life.
This series follows young activists as they try to bring awareness to their various causes, self-filmed over the summer. First up is Brexit, as staunch Brexiteer and young careerist Steven Edgington documents his summer’s activities – creating an income for himself via his YouTube politics channel while visiting ‘enemy territory’ at the protest against Donald Trump. He shares the episode’s running time with Madeleina, whose alter-ego is ‘EU Supergirl’. She says she was turned into an activist overnight, thanks to the Brexit result, and now travels up and down the country – and further afield – wearing her costume while singing self-penned protest songs at pro-Europe rallies.
Climate change is covered in the second episode, which follows Robin, who quit university to campaign full-time. Concentrating his efforts on the Heathrow expansion, he is arrested for chalk-spraying a pavement, before starting a hunger strike and storming parliament. Animal rights is up next, with our youngest activist, 15-year-old Bella Lack, visiting Thailand to expose cruelty to elephants, while 26-year-old Phoebe tries to convert meat eaters to veganism through various protests. The fourth episode follows Fox and Owl, a non-binary couple who spend their days raising awareness and policy advising, before coming home to fire-fight the rising transphobia witnessed through the hate messages they receive. The series is a bit hit-and-miss, a problem doubtless stemming from asking the subjects themselves to document their activities and having no crew to really probe them, resulting in a somewhat superficial look at the various issues.
The I-95, which travels up America’s east coast from Florida to Maine, gives cartels easy entry to major cities, leaving devastation in their wake. The influx of the cheap synthetic drugs – far more powerful than heroin – has seen the US death rate soar. This sobering documentary is a follow-up to a 2016 programme, which took the BBC crew on the road to investigate the growing epidemic.
We’re told at the start of the film that every 11 minutes, someone in the US dies of an opioid overdose, with overdoses now the leading cause of death for people under 50. The film looks at the people behind these statistics. Anna in Baltimore is fresh out of a two-week stint in prison, after being caught doing sex work. She’s still with her boyfriend David and doesn’t see much of a future for herself. In Florida, they meet up with Brittney, who completed a successful rehab at an addiction recovery centre, but had a horrific relapse soon after having her baby, and who now realises how much she has to risk. We’re shown round the Kensington neighbourhood of Philadelphia, which has been declared a disaster zone, and where people stumble about or take shelter in tents. There, the crew meets up again with Alex, who has been using heroin for 20 years and who has to score six times a day just to function. One of the last stops is in Manchester, New Hampshire, the state where more people have died of fentanyl ODs per capita than anywhere else in the US.
In among this all are disturbing 911 calls and footage of the fire department, as they attempt to revive people. The personal stories of these addicts and the people who are trying to help them are depressingly similar, bound together in hopelessness and the grief at so many wasted lives.
In this moving HBO documentary, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds confronts his deeply-held faith’s attitude towards the LGBTQ community. Raised a Mormon and serving time as a missionary before beginning his musical career, he was able to compartmentalise the church’s hardline on gay relationships until the suicide rate of young people in Utah started skyrocketing.
Last year, he teamed up with Tyler Glenn of the band Neon Trees – who was also raised in the faith before coming out in his late 20s – to organise an LGBTQ-inclusive festival in the heart of Mormon country. This documentary covers the lead-up to LoveLoud, but it also delves deep into the deeply damaging stance of the church and the effect it has on its young congregation.
Reynolds speaks to psychologist excommunicated after doing an LGBTQ supportive Ted Talk, to young gay Mormons, and to the parents of a teenager who committed suicide after coming out to his Mormon community. While Dan hopes he can change the church, he’s also set for the long road. It’s an emotional journey but LoveLoud – and this film – seems like a first step in showing love and acceptance for young people who have been long encouraged to repress parts of themselves in order to be accepted into their religion.
“You’re brilliant. Just don’t tell them everything, or you’ll sound like a nutter.” That’s the advice given to Eve (Sandra Oh) early on in Killing Eve, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s twistedly brilliant and brilliantly twisted new series. Part serial killer thriller and part buddy comedy, it’s one of the best shows of the year.
Based on the ebooks and later novella by British author Luke Jennnings, the series introduces us to Villanelle (Jodie Comer), an assassin with a penchant for disguise, silk drapes and watching the last vestiges of life seep from her victims’ eyes. As her body count begins to rise around the world, though, it catches the eye of Eve, an MI5 operative with a penchant for serial killers. When her theory about Villanelle begins to border on the fanatic, and the interviewing of a possible witness goes awry, she’s fired from her job – but fortunately, an off-the-books branch of the secret service is keen to make use of her particular taste in homicides. Dark, violent, and endlessly witty, the result is a funny, female-led treat. Words: Ivan Radford
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