We catch up with some of the TV shows and films currently available on free VOD services in the UK. (For BBC TV reviews and round-ups, see our weekly Best on BBC iPlayer column.)
Girls with Autism (ITV Player)
“The most common misconception about autism is that girls don’t have it,” says one of the teachers at Limpsfield Grange in Surrey. ITV documentary’s about the only state-run boarding school in Britain that specialises in girls with autism, then, is full of revelations.
The one-off film follows the school kids (aged 11 to 16) through half a school year. There’s Abi, whose mother has been diagnosed with cancer, something that may or may not contribute to her decision never to speak at school – at home, she is bubbly, loud even. Teachers try to get her to voice her emotions, which mostly involve the words “worry” and “upset”. “Mummy may die!” she chirps, cheerfully, unaware of the impact her blunt summary has upon her tearful parent.
There’s also Katie, the eldest on screen, who is besotted with boys, but to an unhealthy extreme: 1,160 pictures of one guy she likes are discovered on her iPad, not individual photos but the same image duplicated over and over. (“He’s fit. He sounds cute,” she declares of another boy she has met only 20 seconds earlier, promptly declaring him her boyfriend.)
As the Christmas disco approaches, exam stress and the chance to snare a boyfriend have the girls going through the ups and downs of normal school life, a day-to-day familiarity that helps the audience relate to people that they would perhaps normally dismiss. Autism has sadly become associated with its own stereotypes, generalisations made based on portrayals in films and other cliches. ITV’s gentle, insightful piece is a welcome reminder that, just like ordinary people, every human with Asperger’s Syndrome is different, with their own set of symptoms and problems. Unlike Abi’s mum’s cancer, it cannot be cured, and these girls are well aware of that – even though many may not be. Isolation and anxiety? They can be managed. Watching these girls do so is myth-busting at its most moving.
Photo: Laurence Cendrowicz / ITV
Not Safe for Work, Episode 2 (Channel 4 / All 4)
If the first part of Channel 4’s comedy was abrasive, the second positively chafes. After suggesting that everyone in Katherine’s civil servant office was not safe for work, the show goes on to prove it without a doubt. Hard drugs become even more part of the daily routine day for Danny (the amusingly clueless Sacha Dhawan), something that makes his false claim to be a Muslim even more obvious. But the revelation that Katherine’s former boss has been relocated to streamline the department is more of a concern for the team, as people hope not to get fired. With a night out producing the kind of painful scenarios you’d expect, the script manages the tricky task of being entertaining as well as awkward, mostly thanks to Zawe Ashton’s performance – she’s as messed up and cruel as the rest of them, but she makes for a likeable lead, something emphasised by the arrival of a poignant birthday from her past. It’s not the most subtle way to generate sympathy; that comes from Ashton’s tiny acts of kindness to her employees, helping out Danny in spite of her own moments of malice. Compared to the shallow bag of stereotypes this could be, it’s surprising just how much substance is on display.
Humans, Episode 5 (Channel 4 / All 4)
“What’s it like to be you?” “I have no frame of reference. No one does.” Humans continues to mine the rewarding – and narrowing – gulf between man and machine, as our blonde killer goes under cover with William Hurt’s ever-crafty engineer. Once a source of gentle pathos, he’s emerging as a central driver of the plot, thanks to his connection with the advanced Synths’ creator. Leo, meanwhile, increasingly seems like the key to their origin – the somehow resurrected son of their maker. Meanwhile, the repercussions of Anita’s owner sleeping with her prove the most intriguing examination of human behaviour. Does it count as cheating on his wife? Or is she merely, as the teenage friends of his son think, a sophisticated sex toy? Many shows would stumble trying to draw such strands and ideas together, but Humans’ script is becoming a tightly-knit programme of crossed wires, while its provocative questions are explicitly raised, yet smartly left unanswered. What, lest we forget, is up with Neil Maskell’s partner? A marvellously conceived piece of sci-fi.
Photo: Colin Hutton / Kudos
Child Genius (Channel 4 / All 4)
“What’s life like at home?” ask the makers of Channel 4’s Child Genius, back for a third season of quizzing kids like a reality TV version of Mastermind. “It’s like a jail,” comes the reply from one of the contestants. There’s something uncomfortably cruel about putting young 11 year olds through such a contest, just for parents to prove how intelligent their offspring are. That applies equally to making a light entertainment programme out of it. But the series is, of course, about the pushy parents as much as it is the quirky array of intellectuals – the moments of potential domestic tension are as revealing, and morbidly intriguing, as the bits where the children are pleased to do their parents’ proud. Memorising the entire road map of the UK in under a few hours? That’s a tall order, but it’s arguably better to celebrate and challenge brainiacs than gawk chubby kids and people on benefits.
Inside the Ku Klux Klan (Channel 4 / All 4)
There is a certain type of TV show that tells you all you need to know about them from their title. Inside the Ku Klux Klan is a perfect example. An unusual subject treated with polite respect – and an implied criticism – it’s the kind of thing you expect to be made by Louis Theroux. There is a Louis-like Theroux lightness of touch that is crucial to the film’s success – a swerving tone that moves quickly between humour and shock. One moment, we see them burning a cross; the next, holding a raffle for a homemade KKK Barbie. The concurrent events in Ferguson add an important point of discussion to the documentary. How can these people say they’re not racist, but still be a proud part of this organisation? Is membership really rocketing? And does the paradox of human nature change when their details are leaked online, putting them in danger of death threats? There’s a lack of serious confrontation or debate that some might wish for, but Inside the Ku Klux Man is exactly the quirky, unsettling and challenging humanisation of a cruel movement that you expect from the title. That’s no bad thing.
Photo: Alexander Ayer / Channel 4 Television
Best movies on Freeview VOD
The Princess Bride – Demand 5
Need a charming, clever, funny adventure that appeals to boys and girls alike? As you wish.
Available until: 28th August
Drag Me to Hell – Demand 5
Sam Raimi’s horror about a young girl who is cursed by a gypsy woman is full of the cheesy, over-the-top and practical effects that first made the director’s name. A refreshingly old-fashioned piece of scary silliness.
Available until: 9th August
The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – Demand 5
Werner Herzog’s remake of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 cop thriller follows a drug-addled detective in New Orleans, whose corrupt debts make for a darkly hilarious, disturbing and compelling watch. Nic Cage is so out of it he’s practically horizontal.
Available until: 17th August
Harry Brown – Demand 5
A pensioner turns vigilante against the troublesome youths on his council estate. Michael Caine brings gravitas to the role.
Available until: 12th August
Bachelorette – ITV Player
Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher and Lizz Caplan star in this comedy about three friends who reunite for a wedding.
Available until: 21st July