Every week we pick out the best TV series and films on BBC iPlayer.
When BBC announced they were planning to switch BBC Three to an online-only channel and cut its funding, viewers took to the Internet to voice their displeasure at the thought of losing Family Guy and other TV shows. The biggest worry, though, was that BBC Three would cease to do what it does best: provide a showcase for new talent, particularly comedy.
The latest batch of eight Comedy Feeds, then, which showcase new talent exclusively on BBC iPlayer, is a promising sign for the future. We take a look at the first four.
Stand-up Josh Widdicombe gets his own sitcom as a twenty-something trying to get through life in a rented flat. From a toilet viewable to passers-by to a friend (Kate) who’s mostly concerned with whether she’ll get a text back from a man, it’s by-the-books stuff. Jack Dee brings a healthy slice of deadpan as his landlord, although even then, the jokes are awkwardly familiar. But if the characters do not always stand out, Widdicombe’s stand-up charisma is consistently evident. When Rose Robinson pops up as a barmaid he fancies, the comedy really hits its stride, the 16 minutes building up to a surprisingly amusing pay-off.
Nobody wants to work in fast food. Fried isn’t about to change that. Following the antics of the staff at Specially Fried Chicken, the sitcom is full of sidekicks and supporting roles that we have all met before, either in other comedy shows or in real life at fast food restaurants. Angry older woman? Check. Rude-talking sex-mad boy? Check. Shallow new girl? Check. Nervous lead who fancies the new girl? Check.
But the programme has two secret weapons hidden in its deep fat fryer. Firstly, Katy Wix as manager Mary. Struggling to regain her employees’ respect after they are robbed by a knife-wielding, nugget-demanding hood, Wix’s turn as the insecure boss is both embarrassingly earnest and perfectly timed. Her screams alone are worth watching for. Secondly? Chicken Payback as its theme tune. Because who wouldn’t want to have that stuck in their head every week?
The only show in the 2014 batch to have a hashtag for a title, Parents’ Evening may appear cutting edge but (as is perhaps revealed by its incorrect punctuation of said hashtags) is actually an old-school concept: a sketch show in which one man plays multiple characters.
Fortunately, that man is Kayvan Novak, aka. The Best Thing in Cuban Fury. He throws himself into the role, portraying teachers, parents and (in one scene) a student. As is inevitable with the format, it is a hit and miss affair. Unfortunately, most are misses – the aforementioned student moment – but there are occasional hits, including a kleptomaniac teacher and a former bullying pupil who has changed his ways. With a full 27 minutes put on tape (compared to the other 15-minute pilots), you can imagine this being very close to commissioned by BBC Three for a full run, which is the only time one would be able to judge it fairly. Indeed, the programme describes itself as a sitcom, which suggests that the characters could lead into running plots with some progression, a la The League of Gentlemen. On the basis on this pilot, though, Parents’ Evening shows some promise, but must try harder.
Flat TV sees Tom Rosenthal and Naz Osmanoglu play two flatmates failing to get through the everyday realities of life. While that might sound unoriginal, the concept is anything but: the sitcom presents its situations through spoof moments of TV, be it a news report or game show. The result is an enjoyable bout of surreal, self-aware silliness, which manages to make stock supporting characters – the hot neighbour, the annoying building manager – feel fresh and funny. A pilot based on an Internet series, this is the kind of thing that BBC Three should be commissioning, using BBC iPlayer to give emerging voices a leg up.
What happens next? Well, the Comedy Feeds is part of the BBC Comedy and BBC Academy initiative, which has already led to two new series on BBC Three: Impractical Jokers and People Just Do Nothing, which were in the 2012 batch of pilots. Another from last year – Nick Helm’s Heavy Entertainment – is on the way soon.
Shane Allen, Controller, Comedy Commissioning, writes on the scheme’s site: “This wide range of shows and new talents cement BBC Three’s place as the key channel for emerging comedy stars. The Comedy Feeds show serious commitment to finding the next best voices and faces of British comedy.”
If that commitment can continue as BBC Three goes online, the first half of this year’s Comedy Feeds suggests that the future is still promising for upcoming talent. Why no have a quick watch of some of them on BBC iPlayer to show the Beeb that people are still interested?