BBC Three TV review: 2016 Comedy Feeds
James R | On 10, Sep 2016
Another year, another batch of Comedy Feeds from BBC Three. Available to watch exclusively on BBC iPlayer, the online channel’s series of pilots are an established platform for the next generation of British comedy talent.
Now on their fourth run, this year’s Comedy Feeds largely consist of sitcoms, which might come as some surprise, given the presumably open-ended nature of the whole initiative. But there are laughs to be found in these six pilots. Here’s our verdict on all of them (find out more about each one here):
A Brief History Of Tim
“In 5 years time, I’ll die, then in 1,000 years I’ll be brought back because every company will need a disabled person to fulfil their quota.”
BBC Three’s 2016 Comedy Feeds starts strong with this fantastic taste of Tim, a young man with cerebral palsy. His real problem? He’s also a dick.
That simple subversion of expectations is behind all of A Brief History of Time’s humour, but there’s something wonderfully more complicated going on beneath the surface. On the one hand, it shows how society is so intently politically correct that it’s unwilling to criticise a disabled person for their behaviour, instead writing it off as part of their condition. On the other, it shows that there’s more to our lead than his cerebral palsy – and Tim Renkow makes the most of the opportunity.
From hitting on people to playing pranks on them, not to mention lying his way through job interviews, he’s hilariously, intelligently, brutally cruel. But again, there’s more to it then just his illness: he doesn’t do it because he’s got cerebral palsy, but because he’ll do anything to distract him from worrying out more important things in life, like getting a job or a girlfriend.
The result is as happy making provocative statements – “disabled people don’t have a flag, because the gays took all the colours” – as it is quoting R. Kelly. Clever, sweet and gleefully dark, A Brief History of Tim is all too brief. Someone commission a full series of this immediately.
If you’ve seen The Rack Pack on BBC iPlayer, you’ll be familiar with Will Merrick, who delivered a stunningly accurate performance as everyone’s favourite snooker-player-turned-electronica-DJ Steve Davis. His charisma is out in full force once again in Fail, a sitcom pilot that teases the misadventures of neurotic 20-something Paul. The rest of the show, though, is slightly less charming.
Paul, like most graduates, is living with his parents. With no money to get a place of their own, his girlfriend, Claire (Ruby Thomas), has moved in with them too. The result is a string of embarrassing encounters, awkward conversations and painful jokes, almost all of which revolve around sex – raunchy sex between Paul’s parents, the lack of sex between Paul and his girlfriend, and the threat of sex between Claire and her ex, Greg, who turns up on the scene.
Merrick is good, with Vincent Franklin and Julia Deakin sparking believably off him as his overly intimate mum and dad, but Ruby Thomas’ part is disappointing two-dimensional, while Greg’s so-perfect-it-hurts routine never quite brings the laughs you expect. If the characters can be fleshed out a lot more, this might become a comedy-drama worth pursuing, but as a sitcom, there’s nothing original here, especially when Fail is compared to something more successful, like BBC Three’s Fleabag.
Getting older sucks – especially when you don’t know what you’re doing with your life. Pumped dives right into that quarter-life limbo, but it won’t necessarily make you feel much happier about it. The sitcom pilot follows three idiots who were once kings of their small Scottish village, but the return of Jen, the love of Fletch’s life, only throws their lack of achievement into sharp, bitter relief. Awkwardness ensues, as he tries to win back his teen sweetheart. The excellent cast embrace their pathetic characters to a fault, but that sadly means that they often end up more irritating than amusing – a tricky balancing act to manage, although parents, James Blunt songs and Kadiff Kirwan (soon to be seen in Netflix’s Black Mirror) as Jen’s hunky new bloke stop this teetering completely in the wrong direction.
“Mate, that is the worst thing I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen two pigeons fucking and getting hit by a car.”
Limbo is another BBC Three comedy pilot that deals with the ennui of being 20-something. Our characters? Three self-centred tutors, who pretend to impart knowledge to children, but (you guessed it) still have much to learn about life.
If that smacks of being on-the-nose, then it’s par for the course for Limbo, as unsubtle stock types are quickly established, from the nervy Francis (Alastair Roberts), who’s going through a dry spell in his bedroom, to the posh ex-schoolmates of his friend, Alice (Ellie White), who bump into them in a coffee shop and promptly start judging her on her life.
There’s a lack of logic or depth to a lot of the characters – Alice’s desperation to impress her former classmates makes no sense, but still leads to a massive party anyway, while the father of one of stoner Neck’s (Bekka Bowling) pupils (played by Sanjeev Bhaskar) starts hanging out with her for no reason. As a result, not much of it rings true, which prevent the humour from working. While the writing isn’t top-grade, though, Lucien Young and Joe Parham’s script does deliver some barn-storming one-liners every now and then, helped by a committed cast, led by Alastair Roberts (of last year’s hilarious sketch pilot People Time), and a likeable supporting turn by Bhaskar.
Sketch shows are increasingly rare on UK TV these days, but they’re everywhere online. Does that mean that fans of sketch comedy are happy watching things on the web? Does it mean that comedy talent isn’t being encouraged by traditional media? Or does it mean that the sketch shows online aren’t good enough to make it into living rooms by the old-school method?
The JPD3 Show is the only sketch show in the current crop of BBC Three Comedy Feeds, so it’s a pleasure to see the channel continue to pay attention to the form. Inevitably, stars Joivan Wade, Percelle Ascott and Dee Kartier are already well known online, thanks to their comedy trio act, Mandem On The Wall.
This jump to the Beeb demonstrates why they’ve been noticed – an opening skit about Black men swimming is laugh-out-loud funny, while a song about not having Wi-Fi is a witty bit of first-world-problem satire. A number of the sketches, though, feel less developed – a feeling reinforced by the unfortunate inclusion of some rough footage at the end of the credits (someone at BBC iPlayer should have noticed that). But despite the inherent hit-and-miss nature of sketch comedy, the enthusiasm and timing of the performers easily carry you through this 15-minute pilot. Would we want to see these young men given a platform by the BBC to hone their writing further? Absolutely.
Man Like Mobeen
After last year’s Ramadan-themed comedy short, Guz Khan returns to BBC Three with a pilot for a sitcom about a 20-something Muslim growing up in Birmingham. Nods to that infamous Fox report about the city being overrun by Islam might suggest a smart, spiky piece of satire, but Khan swiftly steers us into lighter territory. We’re whisked through a cast of outlandish characters, from his uncle, trying to draw the reformed gangster back into the criminal fold, to the old people Mobeen now looks after in his day job at a care home. Everyone we meet is irredeemably stupid, except for his younger sisters, whom Mobeen is now responsible for.
The jokes come thick and fast, with the script impressively refusing to take anything seriously, whether it’s his religious epiphany, the perils of thug life or online dating. The shot of his mate, Wax (Tez Ilyas), swiping through Muslim Tinder/Minder (“Cousin… cousin… cousin…”) is worth tuning in for alone. Is there a plot here to drive a full series? Perhaps not. But there are certainly enough laughs for it.