Every week we pick out the best TV series and films on BBC iPlayer.
At the start of June, the BBC released a group of original comedy shorts that are exclusive to BBC iPlayer. The collection, cunningly titled iPlayer Original Comedy Shorts, marks another step in the broadcaster’s increasing embrace of online content.
Goldie’s tour of the Tate’s Matisse Cut Outs exhibition, interviews with First World War veterans and – of course – Doctor Who mini-sode The Night Of The Doctor and Sherlock skit Many Happy Returns have all been released exclusively on-demand in recent months, while a growing number of TV series are premiering on iPlayer before their traditional broadcast.
A previous anthology of Original Drama Shorts has now led to this compendium of comic talent, an opportunity for comedians to create something new without boundaries. That’s one of the more exciting things about VOD: away from linear schedules and requirements, online video content can be any length and cover any subject. So do these tiny films represent a big step for British comedy or a small step towards the Beeb’s plans to turn BBC Three into an online-only channel?
We review the BBC iPlayer Original Comedy Shorts:
What would happen if impressionist Morgana Robinson got her own TV channel? Something a lot like a sketch show on any other channel. Produced by Bob Mortimer, this mini-showcase sees Robinson break out a range of impressions and skits, from the posh people on Gogglebox to Miley Cyrus. A spoof programme Benefits Cul-de-Sac is a highlight, but the rest is as hit and miss as the old-school format would suggest. If you find people twerking and sticking their tongue out amusing, this is for you.
The weakest of the six shorts, Micky Flanagan’s Foxageddon (also produced by Bob Mortimer) relies a lot upon whether you find Micky Flanagan funny. Playing himself, he ends up in an altercation with a fox, which causes outrage in the media. The nationwide reaction is a neat satirical touch, but if you don’t like Micky, you won’t like this.
The Case of the High Foot
Reece Shearsmith stars in this faux-period comedy about a woman with one foot higher than the other. Written by Bob Mortimer, the black-and-white back-and-forth between Reece and Smack the Pony and Alan Partridge veteran Sally Phillips is full of nonsense wordplay and over-the-top expressions. Silly? Yes. Subtle? No. Fun? Absolutely.
Frankie Boyle and Bob Mortimer’s Cookery Show
Bob Mortimer goes in front of the camera for this fake cookery show with Frankie Boyle. Monitored throughout in terms of social media engagement, lightbulbs go off to signal whether their banter is warm, informative or fun. Boyle is a fitting negative contrast to Bob’s smiley presenter, the friction between them a sharp dig at the modern TV industry. “It’s like we’re talking to a dead culture,” laments Boyle. Entertainingly bitter stuff.
The Lone Wolf
The Lone Wolf is a wildlife documentary narrated by Matt Berry. Your reaction to that sentence will determine whether you enjoy it: after his turns in The IT Crowd and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, there’s little doubt that Matt Berry has the funniest voice in television today. Cussing and saying words like “elk” in his signature vocals, this is a plummy, sweary antidote to David Attenborough that makes love to your ears like, well, a wildlife documentary narrated by Matt Berry. Written by Bob Mortimer, with a hint of the Prince hunting sketch from Shooting Stars’ heyday, this is the most-watched of all the shorts (no doubt helped by a Twitter shout-out from Armando Ianucci). In short? Matt Berry should do the voiceover for everything.
One of the few shorts not produced or written by Bob Mortimer, Meera Syal’s Playback is like a twisted episode of Newsnight that sees a famous Bollywood actress face off against her ghost singer. A introduction from Syal explains her personal influences in coming up with the sketch, but it’s her performance that really sells it: not only can she sing well, she knows exactly the balance between nice and nasty and clearly enjoys tipping between the two. The best of all the sketches, this is a dark little delight.
An inevitably mixed – but mostly promising – bag, the iPlayer Original Comedy Shorts are an enjoyable demonstration of the potential for BBC iPlayer to commission new and unique material. With so many of the films produced and written by Bob Mortimer, the compilation could be seen as a missed opportunity to showcase brand new voices. What it does show, though, is that 25 years after he first arrived on TV with Vic Reeves, the Shooting Stars veteran has lost none of his versatility, wit or influence – and that between Meera Syal, Matt Berry and Reece Shearsmith, the UK is teeming with talent.
Here’s hoping that when BBC Three moves online, BBC iPlayer can do exactly the same for younger comedians.
The BBC iPlayer Original Comedy Shorts are available to stream here for the foreseeable future.