Top 15 TV shows and films on BBC iPlayer
James R | On 28, Mar 2015
Ah, BBC iPlayer, a repository of great films, intriguing dramas, shocking documentaries and – every now and then – some of the best horror you can hope to find on the small screen.
From investigations into domestic abuse and examinations of celebrity to astronomy and CGI dragons, here are the top TV shows and films on BBC iPlayer this week.
Inside No.9: Season 2
Ever since The League of Gentlemen, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have been masters of chilling comedy. Here, they return with a second anthology of miniature plays, which combine horror and humour to darkly comic effect.
Episode 1 sees a group of colourful characters disturb each other on a sleeper train, much to the annoyance of one doctor (Shearsmith), keen to get to an interview on time. Fart jokes and sexual foreplay bring giggles from the perfectly pitched cast, while the cramped location only adds to the claustrophobic tension – something that will ring true with anyone who has found themselves faced with the awkward tightrope walk that is couchette etiquette. But it’s Shearsmith’s determination to reach his destination, regardless of the dark turns the journey takes, that really leaves you shivering.
A strong start to a second season.
(Read our full review of Season 1)
Available until: 25th April
A man wakes up in bed next to a woman. He brushes his teeth with a purple toothbrush. He leaves the flat, closing the door quietly behind him. He goes downstairs. He changes into his uniform and starts his shift on the apartment block’s front desk. Three hours later, she descends in the lift.
“Good day, Miss Clara. How did you sleep?” he asks.
Freaked out yet? Cesar (the excellent Luis Tosar) is only just getting started. Incapable of being happy, the creepy concierge latches onto the unsuspecting Clara and begins a campaign of torment that lands somewhere between the suspense of Hitchcock and the dark humour of Polanski. REC director Jaume Balagueró forces us to see things from our anti-hero’s POV, creating an engrossing, horrifying protagonist and daring us to sympathise with him.
Warning: Will stop you sleeping for days.
Available until: 29th March
Tom Felton Meets the Superfans
If you started getting excited by the words “Tom Felton”, then you may well fall into the category of “superfan”. What motivates someone to become so devoted to a programme, movie or person? BBC Three’s documentary is an insightful, sympathetic investigation into the phenomenon, from tales of bullying and escapism to a celebration of cosplay at Comic-Con.
The masterstroke, though, is getting Tom to present the whole thing, giving us a look at the crazed crowds from the other side of the red carpet. Reactions to him, both in disguise and in person, are telling, while comments from J.K. Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe add to the insight of what it’s like to be objectified by complete strangers. The most revealing part of all, though, is the on-the-ground guerilla reporting of Tom asking for autographs; a sequence that captures the thrill of recognition from someone you don’t even know.
Available until: 26th April
Photo: BBC/Keo Films
Who hasn’t lied to someone to make something easier? BBC One’s new drama series consists of a string of standalone stories that revolve around tiny fibs told by people all working at the same car showroom.
Michelle Keegan is superb in Episode 2 as Tracy, who goes on holiday to the Dominican Republic with her friend, all expenses paid – only to discover the real cost of their visit. Returning home, she deceives everyone to avoid any awkwardness, as Keegan twitches and glances around with a sympathetically nervous air. The rest of the cast follow suit, from Jason Manford’s cheesy salesman to the boss having an affair with one of the team. The decision to stage it all within the same workplace captures the ripple that each lie spreads, developing into a shifting pool of false facades that is always interesting to gaze into. And that’s no lie.
Available until: 23rd April (Episode 2)
Photo: BBC/Red Productions/Ben Blackall
Beaten by My Boyfriend
Every 60 seconds, a 99 call is made to report domestic violence. BBC Three continues its current run of superb documentaries with this shocking look at abuse in the home. Stacey Dooley presents the hour-long programme, following the Lancashire police as they follow up complaints. It’s the diversity of perspectives that really inform the issue, spending time with call centre respondents trying to remain calm and quizzing abusers about their motivations. A rare encounter with Theresa May completes the cross-examination, while Dooley manages to tie things up with a commendably uplifting finale. The harrowing facts, though, remain with you long afterwards.
Available until: 2nd April
Photo: BBC/Mentorn media/Mark Johnson
Griff Rhys Jones presents this new quiz show, which pits scholars of history, science and culture against each other inside museums. Taking place in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, the first episode is full of occasionally dry questions and answers, while the scoring is as laid-back as you’d expect from a room full of professors, but Jones is an enjoyably casual presenter, while find-the-artefact sequences are vary the pace neatly. This programmes, though, live and die on their guests. The participants – led by the irresistibly enthusiastic Dr. Janina Ramirez – are a likeable bunch, precisely because they’re not your usual contestants. The result is no University Challenge, but if you’re tired of inane panel shows, this is enjoyably brainy stuff. It’s a quiz in a museum. A quizeum.
Available until: 24th April (Episode 1)
Photo: BBC/Modern Television/Hannah Farrell
Ever since its debut a few years ago as a novelty piece of programming, Stargazing Live has evolved into a flagship of the BBC’s always excellent science coverage. Dara O Briain and Brian Cox’s fifth season benefit once more from well-planned timing, as the 2015 solar eclipse occurs, but also find time for some fascinating interviews with none other than Buzz Aldrin – a source of amusing anecdotes and mind-blowing facts that justify the “Back to Earth” 30-minute bonus show even more than usual. The fact that this can all be watched after the live broadcast is impressive. The fact that you want to is even more so.
Available until: 17th April (Episode 1)
Adam Curtis’ bizarre, surreal, brilliant provocative documentary deconstructs the media’s presentation of politics and history with a dizzying complexity and a dark sense of humour. At over two hours, it’s a daunting watch, but an important one – not least because it showcases the potential for BBC iPlayer as a platform for bold, experimental work. (Read our full review)
Available until: 2016
Bluestone 42: Season 3
A comedy drama following a bomb disposal unit in Afghanistan? It’s exactly the kind of thing you can expect from BBC Three – and, like a lot of the channel’s original series, this is cracking stuff. We rejoin the Bluestone 42 team after the IED explosion has hit their mastiff. Have they all survived? Tune in for Matthew Lewis, aka. Neville Longbottom. Stay for the agile balancing of conflict and genuine laughs.
Available until: 11th April (Episode 10)
Hillary Clinton: The Power of Women
In 1995, Hillary Clinton made a groundbreaking speech, setting down a challenge to treat women’s rights as human rights. 20 years on, has anything really changed? A pertinent, provocative look at society, sex and politics.
Available until: 24th April
Girl with a Pearl Earring
Beautifully shot and well performed, this understated drama inspired by Vermeer’s painting sees Scarlett Johansson’s maid hired by Colin Firth’s artist, a relationship that leads the master to depict her on canvas.
Available until: 28th March
Anthony Hemingway’s war film follows the events of WWII from an unfamiliar perspective: that of the segregated Tuskegee airmen. Called into duty to shoot down the Germans, the troops are led by a handsomely charismatic David Oyelowo as Joe “Lightning” Little. Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard bring the heavy social messages while the script is weighed down by convention, but the exciting aerial sequences make this an enjoyable historical romp.
Available until: 30th March
The Devil’s Double
Latif Yahia, a former school friend of Saddam Hussein’s psychotic son, Uday, is recruited to become his body double in this drama. Giddy with excess and violence, the film gets a bit carried away, but it’s worth watching just for Dominic Cooper, who pulls out all the stops in his dual roles.
Available until: 2nd April
Poldark and handsome, does the Beeb’s costume drama give us much beyond that pun? Aidan Turner is certainly a good fit as the Cornish tin mine heir, who returns home after years in the army to find his estate in ruins, his father deceased and his sweetheart engaged to someone else. There’s not much beneath the surface, particular in the sweetheart stakes, but Eleanor Tomlinson is fun as Poldark’s bolshy maid, while Kyle Soller is entertainingly drippy as his dim-witted romantic rival. But at the end of the day, it’s all about Turner and how good he looks in a hat. If you were a fan of Kili in The Hobbit, there is at least some good swooning to be found here.
Available until: 7th April (Episode 1)
Dragons Defenders of Berk: 19. Cast Out Part 1 / 2
Netflix and DreamWorks Animation are hard at work on their How to Train Your Dragon spin-off, launching later this year, but CBBC have been taking to the skies above Hiccup’s Viking village for a while now in Dragons: Defenders of Berk. As Hiccup and the gang try to rescue Stoick in this typically well-animated two-parter, it’s worth a watch this Easter holiday for both young and old viewers alike. After all, who doesn’t want a dragon?
Available until: 29th March (Episode 1, many others available)
Photo: BBC/Sophie Mutevelian