BBC Three: Which Box Sets are available to watch online on iPlayer?
James R | On 21, Feb 2017
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.)
But what makes BBC Three online special is that the channel also offers a range of older shows to stream from the Beeb’s digital archives – box sets of everything from The Mighty Boosh to People Just Do Nothing. These will be added and removed over time and we’ll be here to keep you up to date with what’s available to stream and when.
Here are the BBC Three box sets currently available to watch online on BBC iPlayer:
American High School
This six-part series shows us the realities of life in a predominately African American US high school. We join charismatic new principal Dr Stephen Peters in Orangeburg-Wilkinson (O-W) High School, South Carolina, as he oversees one year in the life of his students.
The show mixes footage with straight-to-camera interviews to get to the heart of the realities for the students, and the first episode ends with a football match which is straight out of Friday Night Lights, even down to the overlaid commentary, inspirational pep talks, and last-minute touchdowns. This is a beautifully shot and wonderfully directed documentary, which also examines the problems faced by young black America, in which one high school and its articulate and engaging students act as a microcosm for the US as a whole.
Asian Provocateur: Season 2
Having seen Romesh Ranganathan and his mum Shanthi travel to Sri Lanka in a humorous bid to find out where his parents came from, the pair return to our screens for a second season, this time heading west. In the first episode, Mum’s American Dream, they’re in Tampa, Florida, where Romesh’s cousin Pretheep sets up a spicy food competition, a frat party initiation and a monster truck experience, while Romesh shows his mum around an upscale retirement village in an effort to get her out of his hair so he can enjoy himself.
Much of the appeal of Season 1 lay in the clash of cultures between first and second generation immigrants and the country they came from. Here, the clash of culture is in the generational differences between mother and son and their expectations of what America has to offer, although Romesh, too, voices his discomfort as some of the “rednecks” who drive their monster trucks for him try to make him partake of some shooting practice with their automatic weapons. After giving Romesh a piece of wood that has been splintered by gunfire as a souvenir of his time with them, Romesh reminds the viewer of the sort of attitudes bubbling under the surface, a constant underlying subtext which could rear its head at any moment. It is asides like these which raise this programme from any of the ‘idiot abroad’ shows that take up so much of our TV schedules, by creating humour from uncomfortable, authentic truth.
Nothing says “feel-good” like the words “sporting drama”. Unless, that is, you’re talking about Barracuda. The Australian swimming series follows a young prodigy in the pool, who’s destined for great things – but it soon becomes apparent that he’s destined to make a splash in all the wrong kind of ways. Eddie the Eagle, this ain’t.
That, in itself, is reason to dip your toes into Barracuda’s depths – this mini-series swims against the current to navigate fresh oceans. Danny (Elias Anton) is a poor kid, from a background worlds away from the prestigious Blackstone College, to where he’s won a scholarship on the back of his strokes. And so he finds himself the subject of abuse from the rest of the team, led by Martin Taylor (Ben Kindon), the team captain and his closest rival. Danny’s nickname, “Barracuda”, on account of how fast he moves, feels like a big deal in Episode 1. His friendship with Martin, meanwhile, blossoms, as Elias Anton and Ben Kindon’s chemistry sparks a subtle, loyal bond. But Danny’s college days soon fade away – a shift in scale that elevates Christos Tsiolkas’ story to something deeper and more profound than your run-of-the-mill school programme. Each episode is another chapter in Danny’s life, taking us from 1996 to 2000. That lends events a suitably novelistic tone, one that’s more akin to a four-hour movie than a TV series. Over this epic journey, Danny’s blinkered approach to his swimming contrasts with the show’s gradual zooming out to show us the relationships around him being impacted by, and impacting upon, his unwavering focus. The result is superb study of desire, both personal and professional, creating an immersive world of submerged passion. Dive right in – and don’t come up for breath. Read our full review
Toby Whithouse’s supernatural drama is one BBC Three’s most successful original programmes. First broadcast way back in 2008, the show follows a group of friends who also happen to be vampires and werewolves, as they move into a house together – only to find that it’s haunted by ghosts of people who have been killed under strange circumstances. The result is a blend of coming-of-age, horror and mystery telly, brought to life by an impressive cast of Annie Sawyer, Russell Tovey, George Sands, Guy Flanagan and (in later seasons) Aidan Turner and Lenora Crichlow. Never seen it? Here’s your chance to catch up with Season 1 as a box set.
Buffy meets Doctor Who in this entertaining spin-off from young adult author Patrick Ness. Set in contemporary London, it follows a gang of teenagers at Coal Hill School, who become unwitting defenders of the planet against a crack in time and space. For more on the show, head this way to read our review of Episode 1 and 2.
Photo: BBC / Simon Ridgeway
Cuckoo: Season 3
BBC Three’s comedy series depicts every parent’s worst nightmare – having to put up with a slacker full of outlandish, New Age ideas living under your roof. After Andy Samberg played the role of Rachel’s American hippy husband, Dale, in Season 1 (much to the shock of Greg Davies and Helen Baxendale’s shocked parents), Season 3 sees the titular cuckoo role inherited by Taylor Lautner as the handsome, mysterious Dale, who claims to be the other Dale’s son. Davies continues to delight and appall in equal measure as the hapless Ken, strangely popular with the neighbourhood’s yummy mummies – to the dismay of his wife. And Lautner gives a winning performance as the naive and good-natured Dale Junior.
Drugs Map of Britain
BBC Three’s seven-part series forms a thoughtful conversation about the modern drugs scene in Britain. One instalment takes us to Scotland, where Valium, in the form of diazepam and other such tranquillisers, are involved in 76 per cent of drug-related deaths. It’s an unflinching look at the effects of not only drugs, but deprivation and poverty, in an area where young men see very little hope for their future.
Another follows Liam, a 27-year-old homeless man who uses Mamba, a terrifyingly addictive and damaging legal high, which is easily available on the high streets of the city. According to both users and addiction specialists, Mamba is more dangerous than class A drugs, due to the lack of any kind of standard – and each package can contain different combinations of chemicals, making it difficult to treat effectively.
In the fourth episode, Poppy Begum meets the people who use cannabis in various forms to alleviate health problems. While the UK government maintains that it has no therapeutic value, many disagree, taking the law into their own hands by ordering in from the Internet to combat their illnesses. It’s the human insights into the effect of drug laws that makes this documentary – and the whole season – affecting.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s six-part comedy, which started its life as a play at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, already has people asking whether she’s Britain’s answer to Lena Dunham. It’s easy to see why – this shares with Girls a willingness to explore the darker aspects of what it is to navigate life as a single female in the city. The characters portrayed share, too, a willingness to (ahem) experiment, and a certain type of knowing narcissism, mixed with self-loathing.
Waller-Bridge stars as the character known only as Fleabag, newly single since her boyfriend dumped her for masturbating to a speech on democracy by Barak Obama. By day, Fleabag struggles to run a cafe on her own, gets thrown out of meetings with her bank manager for accidentally flashing him, and picks up men on the bus; by night, she attends lectures with her sister, where they embarrass themselves by being bad feminists, goes on dates with men with bad teeth, overshares in taxis, and turns up at her father’s house unannounced. All this is done with self-aware, fourth-wall-busting, straight-to-camera asides, and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny moments.
This box set of three half hour documentaries features Hayley Pearce, former tea lady from BBC Three’s The Call Centre, looking at topics as far-ranging as plastic surgery, finding love online, and getting drunk in Benidorm. That it’s not exactly a groundbreaking series is something of an understatement.
In the first episode, My Perfect Body, she speaks to Jordan James Park, the guy who has spent somewhere in the region of £130,000 on surgery to make him look more like Kim Kardashian, and who has already featured quite extensively in the pages of The Daily Mail and various women’s magazines. He speaks about his disaster with lip filler, and, sadly, that’s not the only filler you’ll find in the documentary. Hayley observes an hour-and-a-half breast implant operation, which she describes as “90 minutes which could change a life”, although it’s not clear how exactly it could be described as a life-changer, and then swiftly cuts to her describing how her own boob job didn’t change her life at all, and how she wishes she’d saved her money and not bothered with it. Moving swiftly on, there’s an interview with a woman who went to Thailand for a discount botched tummy tuck, before Hayley meets up with the original surgery addict, Alicia Duvall, a woman who’s told her story more times than she’s been under the knife.
This is a curiously uninsightful and old-fashioned documentary, which covers ground that has already been well trampled on. It’s not clear why exactly it was made, other than perhaps to launch Hayley Pearce’s career. We won’t spoil whether she decides to get lip fillers at the end of it, mainly because you won’t be bothered to keep watching until then.
Kayode Ewumi’s comedy creation RS, (short for Roll Safe; real name Reece), first came to the attention of the internet in the latter part of 2015. The short Vines Ewumi created with his longtime friend and collaborator, Tyrell Williams, were pretty much an instant hit as ‘triple threat’ RS, with his trademark lisp, his black leather jacket worn over a bare chest, and his large gold medallion in the shape of Africa hanging from his neck, is followed around mockumentary style, going about his business in the ‘hood’.
Fans of the character include Skepta and Stormzy, who bigged up RS’s Fire in the Booth video, filmed with Charlie Sloth on Radio 1 Extra, which now has almost 6 million views. So it’s safe to say many were left bereft after the comedy duo decided to take a ‘hiatus’, after releasing only three YouTube episodes.
It is therefore something of a cause for celebration that BBC3 commissioned six original short films catching up with RS, in the form of #hooddocumentary. These are shorter episodes than the YouTube ones, with less in the way of social commentary, focussing instead on a character, who is, like all great comedy creations, instantly recognisable and completely delusional. It’s something of a calling card for Ewumi and Williams, and on this evidence, we’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the future.
Josh: Season 2
BBC Three’s flatmate sitcom, starring Josh Widdecombe and directed by David Schneider, returns for a second season. Josh is still sharing a flat with Kate (Beattie Edmondson) and Owen (Elis James), and Jack Dee’s landlord Geoff remains a constant presence in their lives. Tamzin Outhwaite guest stars in the opening episode as the innuendo-loving, sex-mad cougar Valerie, whom Josh has been set up with after being dumped by his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Kate tries to cheer Geoff up after accidentally sending him an insulting email about energy-saving light bulbs by taking him to the cinema and feeding him wasabi peas. Misunderstandings ensue.
This programme is never going to set the world on fire. Its ground is so well-trodden that that the only surprise is that sitcoms like this are still being made. It seems unlikely that Season 2 of Josh will change the mind of the many critics of the first.
The Ladventures of Thomas Gray
Lads, eh? Lads and their bantz! You all thought you’d had enough of that sort of thing, and yet here we are, on the cusp of 2017, with BBC Three launching a new boxset devoted to, well, LADdventures. Fortunately, Thomas Gray isn’t really your Dapper Laughs kind of lad, and this programme, while being quite affectionate towards its subjects, is simultaneously sending them up. As Gray travels to Essex then Newcastle, he finds groups of young men (lads) who enjoy such diverse activities as boxing, weightlifting, going to clubs and drinking, playing football, pulling pranks, going to pubs and drinking, hanging out with their friends, playing charades, and, sometimes, staying in and drinking.
Clearly, just going to different cities and drinking with different groups of young men (lads) was turning out to be a little repetitive, though, so in Episode 3, things switch up, and Gray investigates grime music, and in the final programme, he speaks to somewhat creepy pick up artists, who give him tips on how to talk to women, with varying results.
It’s all quite good natured, even the foray into the kind of gross and unpleasant world of the pick up artist, and Gray is an entertaining host, who can subtly take the mickey out of the people he’s with, without completely humiliating them. It’s a fine line, but he pulls it off with aplomb, and this is a box set which, while a little pointless, is nonetheless relatively inoffensive. High praise, indeed!
Life and Death Row: Season 1 and 2
BBC Three’s BAFTA-winning series explores capital punishment through the eyes of young people. From a man accused of beating eight members of his family of death to two of the youngest men on death row in Texas, the unprecedented access and sensitive approach to the subject make for powerful, gripping, insightful viewing.
Making a Slave
It’s estimated that there are almost 46 million slaves in the world today, of which 13,000 live in the UK, although experts believe the true number is far greater. It’s a staggering figure, and this half-hour documentary, cut into three 10 minute chunks, seeks to get behind the numbers to look at what the means for the individuals concerned.
The programme has the hallmarks of something weirdly exploitative – the concept is that four volunteers experience what it is to live like a slave for a day. But as it’s cut with first-hand testimony from a Polish man who was tricked into coming to the UK with the promise of a better life, and with experts who further inform us of the reality of what it is to be controlled by organised gangs, it becomes something both informative and genuinely distressing.
The volunteers are sent out to strawberry fields for a day’s backbreaking work, then come ’home’ only to be screamed at, given some cold sausage meat, and sent out again to work until all hours scrubbing a restaurant kitchen. In reality, we are told, they would be subject to beatings and serious sexual assaults. Both the volunteers and the viewer get an idea of the never-ending misery, the feelings of helplessness, the crushed spirits and the long-lasting scars which are left on the people who must endure day after day of such brutality.
Murder in Successville: Season 2
Nick Knowles is dead. There aren’t many TV shows that can begin with such a revelation, least of all DIY SOS. But this isn’t your average TV show: this is Murder in Successville. And BBC Three’s comedy isn’t afraid to bump anyone off.
How did they get Knowles to agree to be a corpse in the show? That’s the first inspired part: they didn’t. The show, which solves a different mystery every week, stuffs Successville with a host of famous people, all of whom are impersonated, and all of whom barely resemble their real life counterparts.
The investigator? Tom Davis as DI Sleet, who growls hs way through the cliched script like Raymond Chandler on a bad day. “I brush my teeth with crime,” he declares, in a wonderfully absurd voice-over, before meeting his new sidekick.
That’s the show’s second inspired idea: recruiting actual celebrities to guest star in each episode. We’re in an age where celebrities on TV tend to be talking on chat shows or panel shows, but by dumping them out of their comfort zone, Murder in Successville actually manages that rare thing: to show us the real person behind the persona. With no direction and increasingly ridiculous scenarios facing them, this is bad but good telly; trashy but smart, high-concept but lowbrow. One of the most unique things on TV at the moment.
People Just Do Nothing: Season 3
Several years after it was first a BBC Comedy Feed pilot, People Just Do Nothing returns for a third season following the vaguely inept owners of pirate station Kurupt FM. (They’re very big in the Brentford area.)
Co-created by and starring Allan Mustafa as MC Grindah and co-starring Hugo Chegwin as DJ Beats, what started as a YouTube series has been nurtured by the Beeb into a comedy staple – becoming the first BBC Three show to premiere on iPlayer along the way. There’s a hint of Alan Partridge to the mockumentary – “How far does Kurupt reach?” asked our filmmakers on a balcony overlooking a council estate in Season 1. “As far as the eye can see,” comes the proud reply. “But not that bit on the left.” – but the setting, characters and knowingly bad music has its own rhythm, which the cast stick to with engaging chemistry and sympathy. Asim Chaudhry as their friend, who runs a string of incompetent and illegal businesses, is always a treat.
Photo: Roughcut / Jack Barnes
The Refugee Diaries
This terrific little three-episode series of 10-minute films introduces us to Thaer, a Syrian who hopes for the chance of a new life in England after air strikes target his home in Idleb. We first meet him in 2015, as he says goodbye to his family to begin his journey across the Mediterranean, spending three months in the camp in Calais before smuggling himself over the Channel. But the bulk of the series covers what happens when he gets to England. After getting out of a detention centre, he’s punted around from city to city, ending up in Newcastle, where he has an interminable wait for the Home Office to decide whether to grant him asylum, set against the backdrop of a divisive Brexit campaign. From there, he moves to London, where he tries to put down roots with the odds stacked against him – all the while watching news from Syria, and trying to keep in touch with his family and friends who are still there. Thaer is an articulate, intelligent, and sympathetic guide to the obstacles refugees and asylum seekers face in their effort to make a life for themselves away from their war-torn countries. This is a moving snapshot into their lives, and the kind of programme the BBC was designed for.
The Revolution Will Be Televised
Before they brought us Brexageddon and Revolting, Jolyon Rubinstein and Heydon Prowse gave the world this BBC Three satirical comedy, tackling corruption, greed and hypocrisy in the world.
Sex, Drugs & Murder: Life in the Red Light Zone
This rather luridly titled box set of short documentaries explores the Holbeck area of Leeds, where, in October 2014, a pioneering pilot scheme was set up, allowing sex workers to work in a managed red light zone. Up to 30 women work the streets between 7pm and 7am, completely decriminalised, but it has proved controversial from the outset. The documentary makers speak to the women who work there, and residents and businesses based in the area, to find out what impact it’s had on their lives.
While some people object to it, others see it as something of a necessary evil. Hannah Lewis, a youth worker who lives in Holbeck, feels it’s better to work with the sex workers rather than against them. But the bulk of this documentary focuses on what it means to be working the streets, interviewing some of the women who work there, who describe their lives with gritty forthrightness. Later episodes provide a welcome update on the women at the front line – likeable, engaging people who are courageously open about the problems they face, yet who fear for their personal safety every time they go to work – building up to a Christmas episode. An examination less of sex work and more of what people have to put themselves through in order to feed their addictions, with each episode, the regular viewer is just happy that nothing too horrific has happened to its subjects.
This six-part, 40-minute spoof series introduces us to “televisionary” Christoph Spinelli, a documentarian who specialises in true crime documentaries and miscarriages of justice. Spinelli, played by The Mighty Boosh’s Rich Fulcher, is a legend in his own mind, although ratings are more important to him than getting to the truth of a case.
In Sexy Murder, he investigates the ‘disappearance’ of Polly Worcester and the subsequent witch-hunt of neighbour and cat-lover Tom Jessop, a man whose assumed guilt rests on the fact he enjoys video games, lives alone, and doesn’t have a girlfriend.
While Spinelli and the documentary team attempt to prove Jessop’s innocence (“78 per cent of people we surveyed said Tom had innocent eyes”), they are nonetheless integral in getting him wrongfully accused in the first place. As they reconstruct a crime they don’t know happened, in order to prove someone who hasn’t been accused of it couldn’t have done it, they lead police straight to the door of the “loner”.
Featuring turns from Shaun Williamson and Maggie O’Neill as Tom’s bemused parents, this is a gently amusing and highly ridiculous take on our obsession with popular real-life crime series like Making a Murderer, The Jinx, and the podcast Serial. The cast is universally excellent, but for our money, Mick Mohammed steals the show as Jessop’s inept lawyer.
Stand-up comedian Dane Baptiste, who was nominated for a Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Newcomer in 2014, brings his sitcom-with-a-twist to BBC Three, after a successful pilot. Living at home with his parents and twin sister, and stuck in a boring 9 to 5 job, Dane’s inner life is spiced with pop cultural references. In the first episode, it’s his dad’s birthday, and the whole family are round for a surprise party, which ends with Dane drinking too much rum in the conservatory and making a bit of a fool of himself.
The programme is full of talent, from Rising Damp’s Don Warrington as Dane’s dad, to Broadchurch’s Gbemi Ikumelo as his sister, and has a lot of potential, mixing an old-fashioned format – the suburban sitcom – with a young take. Straight-to-camera monologues are mixed with fantasy rap videos and Dawson’s Creek theme tune interludes; one skit involves his family reimagined as the Kar-Dane-Shians. It does, though, suffer somewhat from being slightly too self-aware; just as the viewer is getting used to Dane’s cousin, Christian, being the personification of Carlton Banks of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Dane refers to him as “the pound shop Carlton Banks”. It’s all a bit obvious, as if the show thinks the viewer can’t do the work for themselves. It is, though, things like the fantasy rap videos, the juxtaposition between Dane’s dull reality and his technicolour fantasy world, that elevate Sunny D from your usual genre TV to something newer and fresher.
It’s never easy making drama from real-life tragedies – sensitivity is often overlooked in favour of sensationalisation. Following the cases of Joseph Fritzl and Ariel Castro (among others), who imprisoned their victims for years before being discovered, and the fictional book-made-film Room (for which Brie Larson won an Oscar), BBC Three brings us Thirteen.
Billed as the online channel’s flagship programme, it tells the story of Ivy, kidnapped at the age of 13, who manages to escape her captor 13 years later. The first episode deals with the effect her return has on her family, exploring Ivy’s arrested development as she returns home expecting everything to be exactly the way it was when she was taken all those years ago – her bedroom is as she remembered it, and she tries to reconnect with the boy she loved as a young teen, while her parents and younger sister try to ease her back to a normal life. This is gripping, thought-provoking drama dealing with a complex situation.
Photo: BBC / Sophie Mutevelian
Uncle: Season 1 to 3
BBC Three’s award-winning Uncle returned this year for a final, third season. It’s been four years since man-child Andy (Nick Helm) forged an unlikely alliance with nerdy nephew Errol (Elliot Speller-Gillott). Suicidal and irresponsible, Andy cared only about having lost his girlfriend, and only looked after Errol after being blackmailed into it by chaotic sister Sam (Daisy Haggard). But a lot’s changed since then – find out what’s happened over the course of their relationship with the first two seasons available as box sets.
Unsolved: The Boy Who Disappeared
On November the 2nd, 1996, 16-year-old Damien Nettles vanished after a night out on the Isle of Wight, leaving behind friends and family searching for answers and a community awash with rumours. No body has ever been found, and no one has been charged with his murder. In this series of eight 15-minute short films, with accompanying material, we follow journalists Bronagh Munro and Alys Harte, as they rent an out-of-season holiday let by the sea and spend three months investigating the case.
Billed as BBC Three’s take on Serial, or Making a Murderer, this is ultimately rather disappointing. There is the sense that the journalists haven’t uncovered anything new, and are just retelling the story. In an early episode, a “lead” takes them a wooded area where it is claimed that Damien’s body might be buried; towards the end of the series, we find out that Damien’s family and friends were aware of this, and have been digging there for the past five years. Similarly, when they introduce a new suspect late on, it’s hard not to feel manipulated. The journalists complain about others withholding evidence, yet it seems that they themselves are guilty of the same thing, keeping back vital details from the viewer until it suits them.
While it is genuinely moving to hear Damien’s mother and brother talk about the effect the disappearance has had in their lives, the anger and the loss that they cannot escape, this overall seems like a pointless and rather contrived exercise.
BBC Three’s sitcom stars Kerry Howard and Zoe Boyle as Leanne and Rhona, odd couple-style flatmates who are put in witness protection after witnessing a gangland murder on their way home from the pub one night. Leanne is somewhat thrilled by this development – “You’ve come to the right person for this. I’ve got a BTEC in performance art, so I know all about creating character.” – but Rhona, who had been planning on moving into her own place to get away from her theatrical housemate, is less pleased. The pair are pursued by juvenile hitmen who self-identify as “DJ Sound as F***” (Nicholas Fruin) and “Appraisal’”(Tom Cawte). The result is a wonderful balance of absurdity and excitement, and that’s not an easy balance to pull off. Read our full Season 2 review.
Photo: BBC/Objective Productions/Chris Brock