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.)
Parks and Recreation Season 4 – Dave / UKTV Play
Parks and Recreation Season 4 finally arrives on UK screens, thanks to a new deal with Dave, which means that Leslie Knope fans can delve into the wonderfully ridiculous world of Pawnee for free on UKTV Play every week following their Monday broadcast. Season 4 sees the show continue to drop the fake vox pops in favour of mockumentary observation, which gives us more chance to enjoy the interaction between the seasoned cast members. Amy Poehler, Aziz Ansari, Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza have never been more comfortable in their roles, with the prospect of Andy becoming Leslie’s assistant as she runs from council already paying off dividends in genuine laughs. The fact that their is still genuine sympathy for each of these characters too remains Parks and Rec’s most inspired achievement, creating an ensemble that you want to root for as well as laugh at; the holy grail of TV comedy. Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson, meanwhile, is one of the most sublime (and sublimely macho) supporting characters ever created.
Available until: 3rd August (Episodes 1 and 2)
Photo: Ron Tom/NBC
Lookalikes – Channel 4 / All 4
What’s it like to be a celebrity lookalike? Someone who defines themselves by being a pale imitation of someone else? It’s a potentially fascinating question, but one that Channel 4’s reality TV show seems to ignore.
Taking the semi-real approach of The Only Way Is Essex, Made in Chelsea and their countless copycats, it follows a lookalike agency as it struggles to deal with the up-and-down nature of showbiz. There’s the Mr. Bean impersonator. A Captain Sparrow copier. And, at the head of it all, Andy Harmer, an agent who lives as a double for David Beckham. It’s a versatile enough bunch for some wry moments of comedy: Gordon Ramsay’s lookalike, for example, is ironically terrible at cooking, while one scene that sees a Rolf Harris doppleganger fired (“It’s too on the wrong side of wrong…”) has the potential for an entire sitcom.
But like the characters themselves, there’s only ever the appearance of substance here: this 30-minute episode gives almost no depth to the people it portrays, with a David Brent impersonator apparently never dropping character, much to the irritation of everyone. Do these people have lives of their own? Or they are trapped by their appearance trying to be another person? The programme makers don’t care. Situations such as the pitch for celebrity sperm donor service (Fame Fertile), meanwhile, feel too staged to convince, only adding to the feel of superficial artifice. The result is less a TV programme and more a pale imitation of one.
Available until: 19th August
Taskmaster – Dave / UKTV Play
How much watermelon can you eat in a minute? That’s the kind of cerebral question you can expect to be answered on Taskmaster, Dave’s new comedy panel show. The premise is simple: round up some comedians and give them stupid challenges to complete within an arbitrary time limit.
Episode 1 sees Roisin Conaty, Romesh Ranganathan, Frank Skinner, Josh Widdicombe and Tim Key compete to empty bathtubs and escape tents before the others can. They watch their attempts back in a studio, with Greg Davies overseeing them as the grumpy head teacher, a set-up that creates an inadvertent air of smugness between the participants, as the clique laugh at their own amusing behaviour and – you can almost hear someone behind the camera whisper it – witty banter. The pure silliness of it all (and Davies’ death-staring sarcasm) will keep some viewers smiling.
Available until: 27th August (Episode 1)
Photo: Pete Dadds / Avalon / UKTV
Best movies on Freeview VOD
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
James and the Giant Peach – 11th August
This stop-motion take on Roald Dahl’s book captures the magical fantasy of a young boy escaping from his aunts (by travelling in a giant fuzzy fruit with a team of talking insects) with wit and magic.
Available until: 11tn 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
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
Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds star in this adaptation of the Bronte classic, which sees the young Jane become governess at Thornfield Hallf – only to fall for the mysterious Mr. Rochester.
Available until: 18th August
Nic Cage and Nicole Kidman are held captive in their own home in this enjoyably stupid thriller.
Available until: 25th August
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