Top TV shows and films on BBC iPlayer (23rd August 2015)
James R | On 23, Aug 2015
On Sunday 23rd August, the BBC begins the start of an ambitious project with CBS: a live string of three broadcasts from Monterey Bay in California. Filming from the sea, the air and from an aquarium studio, the hope is to catch a blue whale live on camera for the first time.
But the Beeb is just as ambitious when it comes to catch-up content, with iPlayer’s line-up ranging from racy period dramas and exclusive shorts to a Naked Gun-style spoof and – yes – The Great British Bake Off.
We review the best TV shows and films currently available on BBC iPlayer:
“Nobody messes with the McCrane family,” warns cockney crime boss Harry McCrane to his newly assembled henchmen. A hand goes up. “Yes, Sandra?” He’s just taken over an ice cream factory. The problem? They were already making a lot of money with the ice cream. Drugs, on the other hand, are a lot of hassle.
It’s exactly the kind of villain you can expect to encounter Top Coppers, BBC Three’s new comedy series. Created by Andy Kinnear and Cein McGillicuddy (also on directing duties), the show spoofs 1970s cop thrillers like it’s going out of fashion.
In many ways, of course, it is: comedies these days don’t do slapstick and silliness in the quite the same way. But the cast are more than up for it; Steen Raskopoulous is hilariously gormless as star cop John Mahogany and John Kearns is even more so as his sidekick, Mitch Rust. Both are dim, good at deadpan delivery and even more ginger than their names suggest. Their policing of Justice City, led by an amusingly over-the-top chief – the lover of another brother’s mother – recalls Police Squad! with its rapid-fire punchlines and constant undermining of every plot point. It’s not quite on a par with Frank Drebin, but three decades on, this wears the comparison on its sleeve with impressive attitude.
Available until: 22nd September
Photo: BBC PICTURES/Rough Cut
The Scandal of Lady W
After turning Henry VIII’s head as Anne Boleyn in The Tudors, Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer goes back to court for this racy BBC drama. This is another kind of court altogether, though: the legal court, where Lady Seymour Worsley was sued by her husband, Sir Richard, in 1781, for having an affair with another man and eloping.
All of the claims are true, but they’re only the tip of the steamy iceberg: we soon discover that Seymour was rumpy-pumpying away with dozens of men, all at the behest of her husband, who preferred to crouch at the keyhole and peep in – doing his own rumpy-pumpying, if you will.
It’s a raunchy tale, for sure, and the Beeb’s 90-minute telling dives under the bed clothes with surprising enthusiasm. Along with director Sheree Folkson jump some excellent acting performances – led by the excellent Dormer and a slimy Shaun Evans – a whole heap of flashbacks and what seems to be a rather large chamber orchestra. The leaping from the sack and back to the witness box, though, doesn’t work as well as David Eldridge’s uneven script (based on Hallie Rubenhold’s book) would like, leaving the forward-thinking tale of a woman refusing to be judged as a man’s property feeling rather rushed – another reason for the slightly under-served actors to be slightly out of breath.
Available until: 16th September
Photo: BBC/Wall to Wall Productions Ltd
Ever since the 1960s, the UK government has regularly hosted a game of “what if…” to decide the best action to take in the event of nuclear war. Tom Harper’s film follows a group of nine civil servants as they gather over three days to play out the hypothetical scenario. As the usual workplace bunch bicker, the domestic drama raises the international stakes of their ethical dilemma: the suspense isn’t interrupted by the saucy, soapy interludes, but heightened by the question of whether they can overcome their personal problems to reach any kind of political decision at all. The result is a chilling insight into an essential exercise and an intriguing office routine – and it makes for riveting viewing. Read our full review.
Available until: 7th September
We all know what to expect from a wedding, just as we all know what to expect from an episode of Sherlock, but The Sign of Three skipped the old, blue and borrowed and went straight for something new. Sherlock’s dangerous challenge this week? Delivering the Best Man’s speech at the wedding of John Hamish Watson. It’s a big ask. Indeed, Holmes delivers a big speech – so big, in fact, that the speech easily takes up a whole hour. Two-thirds of a mystery thriller given over to matrimonial tradition? The Sign of Three felt less like an episode of Sherlock and more like an episode of a TV series which happened to star the characters of Sherlock. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. The “Many Happy Returns” mini episode (7 minutes), which is available on BBC iPlayer until 2nd September, is a bonus. Available until: 24th August (10pm) Photo: BBC/Hartswood Films We’ve said it before and we’ve said it again: nobody does wildlife documentaries quite like the BBC. Here, the Beeb devotes an entire series to the Atlantic, from the people bobbing in the current of the Gulf Stream to – as the show continues – a more conventional slice of sea-faring wildlife. The only thing more beautiful than what’s on screen is the sound of Cillian Murphy narrating in your ears. Available until: 7th September (Episode 1) Photo: BBC/ Corinne Chevalier The Bake Off continues its irresistibly tasty new run of amateur bakers competing to win over the taste buds of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. If you’ve enjoyed the biscuits and cakes of the weeks gone by, the idea of a bread-themed episode may not make the mouth water – but wait until you’ve had a look at the lion cooked up by one contestant. Six seasons in and the format is still as grrrrreat as ever. Available until: 3rd September (Episode 1)
Sherlock: The Sign of Three
Atlantic: The Wildest Ocean on Earth
The Great British Bake Off – Episode 3
Sound of Song
We all know what to expect from a wedding, just as we all know what to expect from an episode of Sherlock, but The Sign of Three skipped the old, blue and borrowed and went straight for something new. Sherlock’s dangerous challenge this week? Delivering the Best Man’s speech at the wedding of John Hamish Watson.
It’s a big ask. Indeed, Holmes delivers a big speech – so big, in fact, that the speech easily takes up a whole hour. Two-thirds of a mystery thriller given over to matrimonial tradition? The Sign of Three felt less like an episode of Sherlock and more like an episode of a TV series which happened to star the characters of Sherlock. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. The “Many Happy Returns” mini episode (7 minutes), which is available on BBC iPlayer until 2nd September, is a bonus.
Available until: 24th August (10pm)
Photo: BBC/Hartswood Films
We’ve said it before and we’ve said it again: nobody does wildlife documentaries quite like the BBC. Here, the Beeb devotes an entire series to the Atlantic, from the people bobbing in the current of the Gulf Stream to – as the show continues – a more conventional slice of sea-faring wildlife. The only thing more beautiful than what’s on screen is the sound of Cillian Murphy narrating in your ears.
Available until: 7th September (Episode 1)
Photo: BBC/ Corinne Chevalier
The Bake Off continues its irresistibly tasty new run of amateur bakers competing to win over the taste buds of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. If you’ve enjoyed the biscuits and cakes of the weeks gone by, the idea of a bread-themed episode may not make the mouth water – but wait until you’ve had a look at the lion cooked up by one contestant. Six seasons in and the format is still as grrrrreat as ever.
Available until: 3rd September (Episode 1)
“Songs. Some of my favourite things. Bet they’re some of yours too.” It’s the kind of cheesy opening line you might expect from an old music hall presenter in the early 1900s. If anyone can sell it today, it’s Neil Brand. The pianist and composer, whose accompaniment to silent movies is always a joy, is a charismatic presence on camera, balancing technical knowledge of chord progressions with a casual, accessible style. After his recent BBC series looking at film soundtracks, he returned again at the start of the year to trace the history of how songs were first recorded. From Edison’s wax cylinders to the arrival of vinyl, the revolution taking place in studios and living rooms defined and shaped what music sounded like. Brand lines up old equipment, classic recordings and – just as crucial to his style – sits at a piano to examine but also enjoy the role of music in our day-to-day lives. If you missed it the first time around, this chance to catch up with the three-part series is a welcome reprise. Here’s hoping he gets another encore soon.
Available until: 1st September (Episodes 1, 2 and 3)
Earth’s Natural Wonders: Living on the Edge – Extreme Wonders
Nobody does nature documentaries quite like the BBC. But while the shows usually focus on cute or dangerous animals in stunning locations, Earth’s Natural Wonders offers a welcome change of pace: the subject here are the people who live in such extreme environments. There are the “ice doctors” traversing crevasses on Mount Everest. The young boys undergoing the coming-of-age ritual of having their hands stung by bullet ants for 10 minutes. And even those working to save condors from lead poisoning in the Grand Canyon. Skipping quickly between six locations to keep things varied, the diverse landscapes are on show is as breathtaking as ever, but the human drama is what really snatches the oxygen from your lungs – helped no end by Olivia Colman’s narration. “If you fall, it’s instant death,” one cave climber hoping to reach a bird’s nest at the top tells us. If that seems incredible, wait until you how they handle marauding elephants on Kilimanjaro.
Available until: 3rd September (Episode 1)
Ripper Street: Season 3
“It is a battle that has no end, but is worth the blood.” That was Detective Inspector Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) to his sidekick, Drake (Jerome Flynn), in Season 1 of Ripper Street. Set in 1880s Whitechapel, the show saw the newly appointed Reid attempting to lead the police force out of the shadow of Jack the Ripper.
We begin four years after the events of Ripper Street Season 2 – a break that gives ample room for backstory to reward former viewers, but also means newcomers can pick it up straight off.
All of our characters have gone their own ways. Drake has moved to Manchester. Reid has retreated into his own den of case histories, a loner assembling a library of felonies and felons. And Captain Jackson is a playboy once more. But as a train crash brings them all back together, the stand-out improvement here is the women: often restricted by Richard Warlow’s scripts, now Rose is set for a complex rags-to-riches-to-rags arc, while Long Susan (the excellent MyAnna Buring) is leading a social movement that is spreading across London – but needs funds to keep growing.
“The abyss isn’t within us or without us,” Reid tells Drake in one of his more sombre moments, when discussing the state of London and humanity. “We are the abyss.”
It’s the polar opposite of his mantra in Season 1 – and as Reid stalks the streets of Whitechapel, his long coat fading into the darkness of the back streets, that transformation is as stunning as it is thrilling. Ripper Street is back. And it’s better than ever. Read our full review.
Available until: 30th August
Photo: BBC/Tiger Aspect/Bernard Walsh
Partners in Crime
David Walliams dials down his usual schtick to play Tommy Beresford, who gets caught up into a web of espionage with his wife, Tuppence, after a chance encounter with a mysterious woman on the train. Based on Agatha Christie’s novel, The Secret Adversary – the debut of her innocent double-act detective – Walliams and Jessica Raine are convincing enough as a borderline stale married couple that it’s impossible not to be swept up in their Sunday night shenanigans. Driven by Tuppence’s curiosity, the plot’s a tad outlandish but the period setting (with all its hats, suits and vehicles) adds to the charming escapism of the romp.
Available until: 25th August
Photo: BBC Pictures/Endor Productions
Wanted: A Very Personal Assistant
BBC Three continues to break down barriers between myths and disabled people with this excellent series following the attempts of some of the 300,000 young disabled people in the UK who need carers for their daily needs to hire the right helper. Could the country’s population of young, unemployed people be the solution? The clash between brain-damaged Josh, whose rude humour has led him to a fledgling stand-up career, and his more wholesome trial candidate sparks both laughs and sincere sympathy, while Jasmine (a 21-year old with spinal muscular atrophy) finds it tough to tackle the balance between a boozy best friend and a sensible personal carer; the fact that she has a partner and her new potential helper doesn’t only emphasises the complex intricacies of the patient-carer bond.
From toilet malfunctions to nights out on the town, the result humanises a relationship that can often seem distant or professional – and that honesty, aside from making for compelling and moving TV, could well inspire younger viewers to consider a new career. More like this please, BBC Three.
Available until: 26th August
Life in Squares
Who exactly were the Bloomsbury Set? Imagine a bunch of Tinder users in the early 20th entry, comprising of EM Forster, Virginia Woolf and more. Virginia (Lydia Leonard) and her older sister, Vanessa (Phoebe Fox), are the centre focus of this drama following their sexual and artistic exploits. While Vanessa finds herself tangled with Clive Bell – whose flirtatious repertoire includes such gems as “only two more days and it’ll be the opening of trout fishing season…” – Ed Birch’s Lytton Strachey and James Norton’s Duncan Grant bring homosexual tension to the screen. The result is a steamy and speedy drama that blows people as much as it does the cobwebs away from period drama tropes. Trout fishing has never seemed so appealing.
Available until: 26th August
Photo: BBC/Ecosse Films/Robert Viglasky
Music Box with Guy Garvey
The Elbow’s likeable frontman throws the curtains wide on a new music series exclusive to iPlayer, which sees Garvey share and discuss artists that he is most excited about. The series will run every other week for six episodes, with the first living up to its promise of introducing audiences to new music through its focus on Here We Go Magic. The exclusive premiere of the video for Falling – from their new album Be Small – is an apt coup, with Garvey providing the kind of amusing and insightful commentary that listeners to his Radio 6 Music show will be familiar with. Space for archive music from Radiohead brings diversity to the line-up, while the sub-30-minute runtime makes this an easy fit into your commute. Most impressive, though, is the BBC’s Playlister, which enables you to add tracks to a music playlist – a feature that, while not always relevant to the Beeb’s catch-up TV content, really comes into its own. Much like YouTube’s links to purchase audio from its videos, it’s the kind of innovative touch the BBC is good at – and could signal a strong future for IPlayer in the music VOD world. One day like this a fortnight will see us right.
Available until: June 2016
Photo: BBC / Dean Chalkley
Matt Berry Does… Summer Holidays
Matt Berry’s series of topical shorts continue to make us chuckle, even as the subject matter becomes more and more arbitrary. His response to the topic is to deliver his most surreal voice over and footage combo yet – but even if the topic and its follow-through feel more haphazard than in the past, there’s something undeniably hilarious about Matt Berry’s voice over the top of screaming fish. Long may that stay true.
Available until: June 2016
Photo: BBC iPlayer
The BBC’s latest season of comedy pilots has arrived and it’s a consistently hilarious batch. Highlights include warped game show spoof Funz and Gamez, complete with depressed host and a production team that breaks into their contestants’ homes to steal prizes, and sketch show People Like Us, which just might be the best ensemble sketch programme since Big Train. Elsewhere, the return of a wayward daughter from university to her rural home is a delightfully original piece of comedy in an age where many sitcoms have become bland and familiar. These feeds should come with a warning – because they’ll leave you hungry for more. (Read our full review).
Available until: June 2016.
As BBC iPlayer’s Original Drama Shorts return for another season, one of 2014’s best, My Jihad, returns as a miniseries of three 15-minute films. The first introduced us to Fahmida (Anjli Mohindra) and Nazir (Hamza Jeetooa), two single Muslims who crossed paths at an unsuccessful speed-dating night. Picking up events one month later, this is a universal exploration of love in modern Britain that packs in twice as much warmth and wit as most 30-minute shows do in a whole season.
Available until: 2016
Original Drama Shorts
BBC iPlayer continues to prove a platform for new talent with its latest bunch of shorts. From a moving demonstration of isolation and connection in an online age to a darkly funny – and unpredictable – story of female love and family loyalty, this is an impressively versatile collection of stories that are more than worth spending time with.
Available until: June 2016
BBC Proms 2015
The Proms are a fantastic additional to the cultural calendar every year, with the Beeb’s increasingly diverse range of programming – this year, instead of the semi-traditional Doctor Who Prom, there is a David Attenborough-themed event and one based around Sherlock – helping to make classical music as accessible as it is affordable. For those unable to make it to the Royal Albert Hall, the televised coverage is second to none, with a large proportion of Proms broadcast live and subsequently available to stream. Composers from Beethoven and Handel to Britten and Holst, plus performers such as Yo-Yo Ma, whenever you want to watch or listen to them? Play on, BBC. Play on.
Photo: BBC / Chris Christodoulou
Matt Berry Does… Father’s Day
Matt Berry proves once again that almost anything he says is funny, mostly because of the way he says it. After several excellent comedy shorts for BBC iPlayer, the IT Crowd and Garth Marenghi star now has his own series of short films titled “Matt Berry Does…”. After a profile of the Oxford vs. Cambridge boat race earlier in the year, he turns his anthropological gaze to Father’s Day, providing a history of parenthood that dates all the way back to our primate ancestors. Alongside the bizarre and silly turns this spoof documentary takes, not to mention the vaguely satirical swipes at the failed evolution of men, the highlight is simply Berry using the phrase “UK daddy”, something that he repeats over and over again. It doesn’t stop being funny. This is the second of six “Matt Berry Does…” specials. Roll on the other four.
Available until: June 2016
“This is the Earth, our home…” begins Michael Palin at the start of each episode of The Clangers. “A tiny, wet planet, lost and alone. Lost in the vast silence of space…”
It’s not the introduction that older viewers will be used to, but it’s immediately clear that the Beeb’s updated version of Oliver Postgate’s classic has no intention of rebooting the show for modern audiences. In a year where Gerry Anderson’s equally loved series was given a CGI makeover, new characters and a different back-story, The Clangers feels like the antithesis to ITV’s Thunderbirds.
Palin’s avuncular tones are the perfect fit for The Clanger’s reassuring voice-over, which rejoices in the small details of our creatures’ lives. The result is something that feels as timeless as ever, because it doesn’t alter what made The Clangers special in the first place: its ability to present imagination as the most natural thing in the universe. Read our full review.
Available until: 30th August (Episode 4)
Photo: BBC/Coolabi, Smallfilms and Peter Firmin
Women Who Spit
“Your shabby, slipped-stitch mistakes make you miraculous,” spits Vanessa Kisuule in a short poem urging women to stop shrinking back and to take up space. It’s one of countless brilliant lines you’ll hear during this series of short films, which see female poets tackle topics facing young people today.
Cecilia Knapp’s explanation of why she writes is inspiring, Deanna Rodger’s look at those forced off the street is provocative, while Jemima Foxtrot’s double-performed examination of confidence and doubt is an entertaining and powerful reminder of the importance of self over surface. Each are excellent performers, leaving your tongue tripping back over syllables to savour their taste, but keep Megan Beech’s passionate cry for more women on our TV screens until last: after the previous four fantastic compositions, you’ll be hard pushed not to agree.
Important and urgent, this collection shows just how valuable BBC iPlayer can be as a platform to voices that should be heard more often.
Available until: May 2016
Photo: BBC/Thomas Caron Delion
We Are What We Are
This Mexican horror follows a family of cannibals, who try to survive after their father dies.
Available until: 23rd August (2.30am)
Let Me In
Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is 12 years old. So is Abby (Chloe Moretz), his new neighbour. She’s been 12 for a long time. She doesn’t get cold. She doesn’t appear in the daytime. And she has an older man (Richard Jenkins) who goes out at night and butchers teens for blood. When the two young souls meet on an icy climbing frame in Owen’s apartment complex, their relationship rapidly evolves.
Letting each other into their isolated worlds, it’s an unsettling bond to witness up close. And Matt Reeves makes sure we do: his camera often stays at Owen’s eye level, to the point where we feel as detached from his faceless mum as he does. It’s a neat touch, teasing out the emotions from his naturally awkward cast. Along with the decision to frame events from the POV of a police detective, it helps to make his CG-heavy version of the Swedish story unique enough to overcome the usual remake backlash.
Available until: 23rd August (1.05am)
Shall We Dance
Fred and Ginger do their thing in this musical about a famous ballet dancer and revue artist who find themselves mistaken for being married while on a boat to New York. An odd couple? Stellar dance numbers? Music by George and Ira Gershwin? This is toe-tapping stuff.
Available until: 24th August
The 39 Steps
The very definition of classic. Hitchcock’s 1935 thriller, which goes from London to the Forth Bridge and back again, takes in everything from spies to handcuffs. Shackled together for the duration, Robert Donat’s Hannay sets the template for Hitch’s wrong-man-on-the-run, while Madeleine Carroll’s sniping love interest adds a fun comic touch. The low-key climax may not be the Big Ben-straddling stunt of the 1978 remake, but this is cracking, tense stuff.
Available until: 27th August
Hop in a helicopter and fly over London sometime around sunset and you won’t believe your eyes. That’s what Streetdance dance: never before has London looked so sexy or stylish. Add in some excellent dance choreography and Streetdance becomes a film worth seeing. The premise, which sees a ballet school and a streetdance crew forced to team up, is full of cliches and obvious romantic notes, but there is chemistry in abundance. Not emotional chemistry, but physical chemistry. (The sequel is also on BBC iPlayer. It’s not as good.)
Available until: 1st September
Plan B’s gritty drama follows a drug dealer who is dragged into a multi-stranded tableau of London misery. Mobile phones, guns and babies all collide in something that feels like EastEnders, but – thanks to its effective use of music – has a sound all of its own.
Available until: 1st September
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Cary Grant in the same film at the same time? If that line-up doesn’t have you swooning already, the two-hour runtime of this 1939 epic – which sees three British Army officers and their eponymous water carrier fighting a band of religious fanatics in India – soon will.
Available until: 5th September
The superb Keira Knightley is only outshone by the costumes in this lavish drama about the Duchess of Devonshire, who found herself trapped in a failed marriage during the 18th century.
Available until: 6th September
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