BBC Three TV reviews: What’s new on the online channel and what’s worth watching?
Helen Archer | On 18, Jan 2020Reading time: 71 mins
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.)
The channel also offers a range of old BBC Three shows to stream – you can see our guide to which box sets are available here.
But which of the new TV shows and online videos are worth catching up with? Every fortnight, we round up the latest BBC Three titles available online and review them.
Pick of the Week: Eating with my Ex: Season 2
The incredibly more-ish dinner date programme is back, and it’s as delicious as ever. The 8 episode box set kicks off with a couple of celebrity specials to whet our appetites for the main course. First up, TOWIE’s Diags and Fran Parman dissect the breakdown of their relationship in a beer garden, with accompanying tequila shots, in a raw and emotional discussion, while Love Island’s Michael and Joanna reunite for the first time in months to see if there is any future for them. In the second celebrity instalment, Love Island is represented by Georgia Harrison and Sam Gowland from the 2017 series, while Paralympic champion and MBE Kadeena Cox sits down with her ex, Tes, to find out whether he was living a double life while her was with her.
This is, of course, just the amuse bouche for the really tasty stuff, which comes when the “normal” people sit down opposite each other. There are three couples per episode, and a lot to pack in. Some were together for as long as a decade; others are brought back together after relationships spanning only a few months. As is usual with programmes like this, there are clearly some people who are in it purely for screentime, such as the man who claims to have been in a relationship with his “ex” for four years, despite her denying any such relationship existed and him not even knowing she’s vegetarian. Freddie from Channel 4’s The Circle pops up in one episode, and there’s a particularly glaring recycling of reality TV participants when Demere appears, who is in this week’s other BBC Three new release, Don’t Scream. It’s all worth it for the genuinely invested exes, who are seeking proper closure, one way or another.
The confusion at the heart of this concept is evident from the conflicting descriptions of it. Billed as “the ultimate physical and psychological test” by the BBC, and a “hilarious gameshow experience” by the production company at the helm of the pilot, it’s a programme unsure of what it actually is.
Hosted (in a rather loose sense of the term) by Yung Filly – who doesn’t meet the contestants on camera, and instead watches them from a behind-the-scenes screening room – the show takes place in a disused shopping centre, which has been rigged up as a mixture of a haunted house and something from the Saw film franchise. The three participants must make their way through the mall, gathering specific items from each department. They start out with £5,000, but with each scream they emit, £100 is deducted.
The three contestants – a group of schoolfriends who are growing apart as their lives diverge – hope this experience will bring them closer. Demere, Kayleigh, and Rob give pre-show interviews in which they happily confess their worst fears. The inadvisability of this is apparent from the outset and, as they proceed, they must face each phobia they mention, from rats and clowns to snakes and small spaces. It’s like a very low-budget version of the tasks faced on I’m a Celebrity, without the Australian outback or, indeed, the celebrity. On the evidence of this pilot, it seems doubtful that Yung Filly (host of BBC Three’s excellent Hot Property) has another viral hit on his hands.
Pick of the Week: Veganville
What better start to Veganuary than a three-part documentary about some vegan activists spending a month in the Welsh agricultural town Merthyr Tydfil, to try to convert the locals to a plant-based diet? Our four main crusaders are Rikki, a 24-year-old trying to reconcile her veganism with her day job of working in her mum’s burger van; Joey, a 32-year-old Australian ex-gang member and current professional activist with global profile in vegan world; 34-year-old Jodi, who comes from the Welsh Valleys and whose father was a Hare Krishna; and 51-year-old Dan, a truck driver and “the only vegan on the estate” in his hometown of Manchester.
They all have different approaches to educate and convert the local population. Their main goal is to get people to sign ‘pledges’, which range from cooking one vegan meal to going a day or a week as a vegan, with the ultimate ‘pledge’ being a lifelong commitment to veganism. But they come across some resistance from the meat-lovers in Merthyr, which here is described as the “heart of meat and dairy industry”.
Much of the tension arises from the vegans’ tactical differences. Joey prefers the shock value of screening abattoir footage, while Jodi prefers a softly-softly approach of showing people how tasty and easy veganism can be. Sadly, they never really answer the legitimate structural questions of price and availability, but as a look into the various strands of vegan activism, it’s fairly enlightening.
Recommended Box Set: Shrill: Season 1
After premiering in the US last March, this much-talked about series finally got a screening in the UK in December, just as a trailer for the second season was making its rounds. Based on Lindy West’s collection of writing, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, it stars Aidy Bryant as Annie, an up-and-coming writer from Portland, Oregon, working her way up the career ladder at fictional website The Weekly Thorn.
While the marketing of the show suggested broad comedy, this is more bittersweet than sugary, providing wry smiles rather than belly-laughs – which is no bad thing. Much has been made of the fatphobia and body-shaming themes, and although the series opens with a gym bunny humiliating Annie with thoughtless and casual cruelty, and the series follows Annie as her self-esteem grows through self-acceptance, it is also a sensitive look at the many difficulties of navigating your 20s, all done with a lightness of touch which belies the real emotion underpinning it. The only negative is that the series is so short, and feels somewhat unfinished. But that only leaves you wanting more.
Catch on BBC One: Ladhood
Liam Williams, probably best known to BBC Three viewers for his astute influencer satire Pls Like, brings us this adaptation of his Radio 4 series, which wryly documents his formative years in Garforth, Leeds. In the six-part box set, he traces all his ‘adult’ problems back to his adolescence, when they first came to the fore. It’s an effective premise.
Each episode begins with him messing up his life and relationship in various ways – from his depression and his attitude to drinking, to getting into pointless fights and his inability to commit fully to his relationship. We then flash back to his teenage years, as we watch him kicking about in his gang of four, while the older Williams hangs around in the background like the Ghost of Christmas future.
It’s full of early 21st century nostalgia – his first email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, which he uses to upload dire raps onto MySpace, while his mum shouts at him to get off the internet when she has to use the phone – and the soundtrack is spot-on. The cast of characters are wonderfully drawn, exploring concepts of masculinity via bawdy laughs and a lowkey sensitivity, resulting in a more erudite version of The Inbetweeners.
A kind of wistful melancholy permeates the hilarity, asking questions about why we repeat the same mistakes and whether we ever fully leave our past selves behind us. Despite appealing to the teenager in all of us, this is a grown up comedy which shows Williams really coming into his own.
Blindboy Undestroys the World
After debuting his talents with a valuable contribution to BBC Three’s housing week, Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubberbandits returns with this three-part season, taking on the ails of the 21st century in his own inimitable way. Much of modern life is here, from digital money laundering scams and deep-fake videos, to the gig economy and identity theft, via pyramid schemes and high-risk trading. The second episode is given to modern-day slavery and it’s sobering stuff, looking at sex-trafficking and immigrant labourers controlled by gangmasters for profit.
The format mixes undercover reporters investigating extremely dodgy practices and organisations with Blindboy’s straight-to-camera, rapid-fire commentary, always with an undercurrent of the kind of absurdist humour mainly seen on the internet in the form of shitposting and parody accounts.
His most vehement critic is a reactionary fish – the “trout of no craic” – who variously opines and interjects with the kind of right-wing talking points which are all-too-familiar to twitter users. He certainly packs a lot into each half-hour episode, and the fast-paced delivery means some concentration is required. But once you get into the swing of things, you find some genuinely revolutionary thought cushioned with humour and backed up by serious research. Underlying it all is a genuine and heartfelt anger at the injustices of the world.
Angels of the North
If, in these long winter months, you’re longing for the kind of mindless televisual comfort that only a good dose of reality TV can provide, you could do worse than this eight-episode series. The programme introduces us to the staff of the infinitely-instagrammable Longlox salon in Gateshead, headed up by SammyJo and her mum, Bev. It’s a close-knit team of young women sporting identikit luscious hair extensions and pink uniforms, whose ups-and-downs are captured in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Much of the series is given over to SammyJo and her on-off romantic relationship with the architect who is designing her new-build. Text messages are pored over and Facebook comments from other women are investigated with a microscopic attention to detail that would make Miss Marple proud. But there are also personality clashes on the salon floor to deal with, nights out to arrange, a seating arrangement inspired by a giant pink polo mint to organise, and a centrepiece of astroturf sprouting a fake tree to design.
The programme is as sweet as candy floss, and the nutritional levels are about the same. But we’re all tired at this time of year – sometimes a good sugar rush is just what the doctor ordered.
Tagged : Life on Lockdown
This three-part follow-up to February’s Tagged: Fresh Out of Jail introduces us to three different young men living with a tag. Eighteen-year-old Jordan has just got out of prison for stealing a car and has been tagged for 12 weeks so the authorities can keep an eye on him. Having lived in care since he was 10, and having spent the past few months inside, he now has to sort out housing as a matter of urgency. Seventeen-year-old Kian, meanwhile, was caught with a machete and is living with his mum while he’s tagged, and tries to enjoy his time by hanging out with friends while avoiding trouble.
Most interesting, perhaps, is Tommy, who’s been tagged for four months as he awaits his trial for robbery – a crime he says he didn’t commit, although he’s grimly preparing for prison nonetheless by selling off the contents of his flat. An ex-military man, Tommy suffers from PTSD and relies on food banks to feed him. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the life of someone who, despite serving his country, is now left to pick up the pieces on his return. If there is to be a third season of the programme, the makers might be wise to stick to the same subjects to see what happens with them, rather than picking up and dropping people with each new box set, which leaves us without much in the way of closure.
Facing the Consequences
This is another follow-up season, after the first screened last year. The concept is the same: people engaged in potentially risky behaviour are confronted with the potential consequences of their actions, in the form of a person whose life has been impacted negatively by each different subject matter.
In the first episode, two people who say they’d pretty much do anything to lose weight are introduced to a man whose sister died at 21 after taking dodgy diet pills. Next up, a young mother whose reaction to a lip augmentation almost killed her shares her story with filler-fans. A man who killed a trainee paramedic with one punch talks to two people who have the habit of getting into brawls on nights out. There’s a victim of catfishing trying to talk sense into an online fibber; and enthusiastic gamblers are told about the long-term effect it has had on one man’s life, after he lost everything through betting. The final episode – about the potential harm done by sexting – is perhaps the most shocking, because it can be seen as relatively harmless, and so many people do it. But when one girl trusted the wrong person, she found her life all but destroyed as images of her were shared around her community.
They’re six-minute programmes, so they barely scratch the surface of some of the issues discussed. As short, sharp shocks, they may help people examine their behaviour, but as a TV series, the length of the programme limits the understanding of each subject.
Plastic Surgery Undressed
This new series, presented by Vogue Williams and Mobeen Azhar, is not for the squeamish. It seeks to give more information to those thinking about going under the knife, and shows, in graphic detail, the realities of elective surgery. In each episode, four would-be patients are accompanied by a friend or family member, and watch in real time as their preferred procedure is performed. They also hear from people who have undergone it, with varying degrees of success. Throughout, they are asked if their opinions have changed and by then end are asked to decide whether it’s really the path they want to go down.
The first episode deals with nose jobs, the second with lipo sculpture, and the third with breast augmentation. Some interesting discussions arise with regard to body image, social media, gender and sexuality, and ethnicity, and the lingering effects of bullying on self-esteem. More practically, questions of going abroad to get surgery, the risks both during and post-surgery, and aftercare and recovery are answered. But it’s all cut away to the graphic shots of the cutting and chiselling, scraping and pummelling of flesh, which is perhaps the point.
Many of the people taking part admit that they have only seen more sanitised before and after images of plastic surgery on the internet – this is a real eye opener as to what the whole thing really involves. Not one to watch while you’re thinking about what to have for tea.
My Mate’s a Bad Date
Dating in the 21st century can be a nightmare. But, while we often hear about how awful it is from the people on the receiving end of bad dates, we rarely hear from those who inflict them on others. In this new show, sexpert and relationships coach Oloni does God’s work by trying to help out the people who can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to prospective romance. Each participant has been nominated by their best friend to get this badly-needed help.
Oloni chats to them to see what the problem is, and views their behaviour on test dates. She then gives them some much-needed tips and sets them up with three new dates to practice their newly-learned charms, while watching them from a side-room and occasionally calling them up to tell them what to talk about, Cyrano de Bergerac-style.
Initial problems cover everything from drinking too much and being constantly on their phone, to talking about marriage and children or ranting about their exes. Then there is the farting and burping, the literal gymnastic shows, and the falling asleep mid-sentence. Some things are more easily fixed than others, and it does give us a glimpse into what might prompt such behaviour – drinking to overcome nerves, or using sarcasm to distance yourself and avoid intimacy.
Oloni is great with the participants, but the main issue is the lack of pay-off at the end. While most of us watch dating shows in the hope the people involved will find true love, the dates set up here are used mainly for practice rather than for long-term coupling. Still, it’s a handy how-(not)-to, and possibly useful if you’re finding you’re putting off potential matches by doing headstands in the club.
Reality TV thrives on tension and, judging by this boxset, nothing breeds tension quite like putting a bunch of strangers in a house to pool their resources and take a stab at proper communal living. In Houseshare, six 21-year-olds are given a massive house in London, where they will live for six weeks. The twist is that, despite massive disparities in wages (most arrive jobless and have to sort themselves out with employment in the first weeks) they must all contribute their incomings towards the household budget. From this, they must pay rent and bills, as well as more controversial outgoings such as food, alcohol, and 10-pin bowling.
The mix of people who are keen to make their fortune in the big smoke include James from Shetland, who has a trade under his belt so pretty much walks into a decent, well-paying job; a couple of recruitment consultants keen to maximise their income; a work-averse Mancunian; a fashion graduate who wants to reach the first foothold in his career; and Olivia, who needs to undergo unpaid training before she can start her chosen vocation as a carer. Higher-earners contribute more and, fairly soon, individual financial decisions threaten to undermine the community-pot completely. While it’s a blow for the idea of utopian cooperative living, it does make for pretty addictive, if throwaway, TV.
Pick of the Week: Why Dad Killed Mum: My Family’s Secret
Tasnim Lowe was just 16 months old when a fire at her family home claimed the lives of her 16-year-old mother, Lucy, her 17-year-old aunt Sarah, and her 47-year-old grandmother Eileen. Tasnim was “rescued” by her father from the burning building and placed under an apple tree, although she still has a burn on her face as a reminder of that night, while her dad, Azhar Ali Mehmood, was found guilty of starting the fire and has spent the past 19 years in prison. He is, however, now up for parole, and Tasnim has been tasked with writing a statement for his hearing.
This three-part documentary joins her as she investigates the events leading up to the fire in a bid to understand why he did what he did.
What follows is a genuinely upsetting tale of wide-scale child sexual exploitation in the Telford area. In looking at her own family history, Tasnim uncovers a much wider story, and meets other victims of the now widely known grooming scandal. She also begins to understand more about the social dynamics of a time – not so long ago – when such abuse was swept under the carpet and ignored by those in positions of authority.
Lowe herself is a sympathetic, intelligent, and sensitive presenter, and the programme is extremely moving. This is an important and brave documentary that ultimately shines a light on the way in which the harm caused by unaddressed injustices and abuse can ripple through generations.
Rapman: Back of the Bus
Rapman – aka. Andrew Onwubolu – is the creator of the hugely successful Shiro’s Story, as seen by over 7 million viewers. The three-parter, screened on YouTube, led to a film, Blue Story, which is set for release on 22nd November. This 10-minute programme acts as pre-publicity for the movie, as cast members Michael Ward, Stephen, Kadeem, Junior, Karla, and Rapman himself, sit on the back of a bus touring their London neighbourhood. They chat about topics ranging from male suicide and accusations of the glorification of violence to more lighthearted topics of teenage memories and superheroes, while clips of the upcoming film are interspersed throughout.
The snatches of the movie do generate some genuine excitement for their finished product, and the crew are relaxed and in high spirits as they chew the fat. But this programme acts as a long-form promo for the movie rather than as a stand-alone TV show, and as its viewers are likely already fans, it’s probably preaching to the converted.
Box Set: Looking for Alaska
This eight-part drama, adapted by The OC creator Josh Schwartz from the young adult novel by John Green, introduces us to a motley crew of prank-loving youngsters who attend Culver Creek boarding school in remote Alabama. Miles ‘Pudge’ Halter (Charlie Plummer) is the newcomer, finding a group of friends in his roomie Chip (Denny Love) and Takumi (Jay Lee), not to mention the titular Alaska (Kristine Froseth) – a high-spirited yet complicated manic pixie dream girl, whose spell he instantly falls under.
They’re overseen by headmaster The Eagle (Timothy Simons, best known as Jonah from Veep) and theology teacher Dr Hyde (Ron Cephas Jones, pretty much reprising his role as William Hill in This is Us). The school itself seems like more of a summer camp than a place of education, all idyllic sunlit-dappled backwaters and surrounding leafy glades.
The first few episodes are fun yet repetitive, as the group bond by playing tricks on their more popular classmates, but there is a constant darkness lurking just below the surface. We know something bad is going to happen from the start, via flash-forwards, and yet when fate befalls one unlucky character it’s simultaneously shocking and strangely underwhelming.
The programme has a very old-fashioned feel – it’s set in the mid 2000s but feels more like a 1960s throwback – and there is a issue with the writing of the female characters, who are ultimately there to teach the boys valuable life lessons, rather than exist realistically in their own right. Ultimately, this coming-of-age story is beautifully acted and filmed, but may prove a hard sell to an increasingly savvy teen audience.
Pick of the Week: RuPaul’s Drag Race UK
You’d have to be living under a rock not to notice the launch of Drag Race UK. The publicity it’s receiving is befitting this behemoth of a show. The original, US version, fronted by RuPaul, is this year celebrating its 10-year anniversary, and in that time it’s made stars of its contestants, and spawned multiple offshoots. The UK spin-off was always going to attract mass interest due to its built-in fanbase, the only question being how successfully this occasionally earnest show would adapt to a more bawdy British culture.
It’s heartening to see that it has, in fact, embraced the many specificities of the UK, while simultaneously being rather confused by them, and an extra layer of entertainment is added by that cultural exchange. Some of the drag names of the contestants are so intrinsically from this side of the Atlantic that they almost defy explanation – Baga Chipz and Cheryl Hole are self-explanatory enough, although RuPaul is baffled by ‘Vinegar Strokes’. The challenges in the first episode are, too, an example of exactly how the show plans to deal with this clash: by facing it head-on, as contestants are tasked with designing one outfit that explains their home town, and another that pays homage to Queen Elizabeth. The results are witty, fabulous, and very, very British. It’s an excellent start to the show, and there’s already a few professional jealousies brewing. Expect tears, tiaras and tantrums.
Pick of the Week: Love and Hate Crime: Season 2
Fans of true crime documentaries will welcome the return of this nuanced, serious series, which has delivered three new thought-provoking episodes. The first, Killer in the Classroom, looks at the case of Matthew McCree, who was killed by a single stab through the heart, delivered by fellow pupil Abel Cenedo in their Bronx school in 2017. The programme follows as Cenedo prepares the case for his defence, in which a narrative quickly emerges of the homophobic bullying he was subjected to – a defence denounced as victim-blaming by McCree’s family and friends. It’s harrowing yet fascinating viewing, as larger-than-life lawyers battle it out.
The second episode, Trouble in Paradise, takes us to West Palm Beach, where Guatemalan Onesimo Marcelino Lopez-Ramos was beaten to death. A picture emerges of a segregated society where the very rich thrive on the back of the labour of a poverty-ridden Hispanic community, a place where “Guat-hunting” is part of the lexicon. David Harris is on the stand for the killing, in what is very much a riveting courtroom documentary.
The final episode, Honour Killings, opens with some casual yet shocking Islamophobia, but by the end has given us a nuanced look at the case of Ali Isran, currently on death row for the murders of his son-in-law, Coty Beavers, and young Iranian activist, Gelareh Bagherzadeh. The twists and turns each episode takes are delicately yet expertly done, and all tell us something of the world we live in, surgically dissecting contemporary American society.
Makeovers have long been a staple of teen cinema, although some are more successful than others. Posited as a way to make predominately young women feels better about themselves, they can also provoke strong negative reactions. When The Breakfast Club’s preppy Claire turned grunge queen Alison into a clean-cut version of herself, she subsumed Alison’s personality. In Grease, Sandy was turned into a leather-clad femme fatale, all the better to make claim on her man – who had himself undergone a transformation in the hope of being more appealing to her. In Clueless, Tai’s makeover turned her from a sweet-natured dork to a mean girl on one fell swoop.
Misfits Salon swerves these pitfalls by focussing on the personality and character of its clients, tailoring their new looks to reflect who they actually are, rather than imposing standards of beauty upon them. Daisy has autism and feels she has no friends outside of her online social media circle, so hairdresser Sophia Hilton (along with make-up artist and stylist) gets to work creating a look that will boost her confidence. Lesha is non-binary, comes from a strict Christian background, and is also a burns survivor – two separate looks are created for her. Kerri, meanwhile, has fibromyalgia and, while she dresses up for cosplay, has no idea what her own personal image should be. Whether dealing with grief, getting to grips with being newly out the closet, or traumatic amputation, the crew is committed to helping express the personality of their clients, rather than making them more conventionally ‘attractive’. It’s all quite heartwarming, as the participants open up, and get emotional, before leaving the salon bursting with happiness.
Inside the Cage: The Rise of Female Fighters
Watching this documentary in the same week boxer Patrick Day died of his injuries after a fight is a challenging, somewhat disturbing experience. As commentators talk about how to make the sport more safe for competitors, Annie Price here meets some of the young women willing to risk appalling injuries in pursuit of greatness.
The 40-minute programme looks inside the world of female mixed martial art (MMA), one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Combining up to 15 fighting techniques, almost anything goes. Price meets three fighters, at different stages in their career, and finds they are focussed, passionate sportswomen. But she looks, too, at the downside of their career, which ranges from life-changing injuries to lack of financial compensation for the rigours they put their bodies through.
One of the subjects, Molly McCann, is preparing for the biggest fight of her life but, having suffered a fractured eye orbital in her previous match, must get the all-clear from her doctor before she is able to compete. She’s also training while on a strict diet so she will qualify for her weight. It’s hardcore stuff, and Price – a personal trainer by trade – doesn’t shy away from asking tough questions about the effects of the sport on the body. She is the perfect presenter for this programme, understanding as she does the fitness aspect, but also forming real bonds with the people she interviews, getting to the core of what makes them tick and the reasons behind their unmistakeable drive. But those with a nervous disposition will probably be watching many of the fight scenes through their fingers.
Addicted: America’s Opioid Crisis
This documentary tries to pack a lot in to its half-hour running time. It’s a quick primer into the way in which opioids have exerted their vice-like grip on America, the victims of the crisis and the people who are profiting from it.
The statistics, although widely known, are still as shocking as ever. 130 people in America die every day from opioid overdoses, while 80 per cent of heroin users started out on prescription painkillers. The programme points its finger directly at Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sackler family, whose net worth in 2016 was £13 billion. Purdue, the documentary says, marketed their drugs in an aggressive manner, by lying about its addictiveness and encouraging overprescription. But sharing the blame are various other companies, and the FDA itself.
The filmmakers demonstrate the suffering behind the statistics in various ways. Starting with a workshop that tries to help young kids whose lives have been marred by family addiction, it quickly cuts to footage of people nodding out on the street. The mother of talented baseball player Brock Hernandez – who died at the age of 24 after being prescribed painkillers for his injuries – is interviewed, and the film crew follow as a pair of desperate parents try to get their son into treatment.
It’s a programme you feel you have seen before, but it’s no less shocking for its retelling. Various lawsuits have been filed with the companies that should shoulder the blame for so much misery, though how that will help the millions now addicted remains unclear.
Junior Doctors: On the Front Line
BBC Three’s fascination with junior doctors continues apace. Following on from three seasons of Junior Doctors: Your Life in their Hands, which ran from 2011-2013, then 2017’s Junior Doctors: Blood, Sweat and Tears, this four-part documentary introduces us to six young, newly qualified medics, making their way tentatively away from university and into hospital corridors.
As with the previous shows, the programme documents the day-to-day minutiae of life on the wards. Be it learning from their mentors, giving talks and presentations, removing blood clots from the nostrils of elderly patients, or administering enemas, this isn’t the fast-paced excitement of fictional depictions of doctorly heroism, but a rather more prosaic portrayal.
There are moving moments as they deal with end-of life care, as relatives are talked through do not resuscitate orders, and the process of certifying deaths. Our subjects are open about their embarrassing moments, and the things they still have to learn. We also get to see them with their families and what they do on their downtime, off the wards, to decompress. But for the most part, this is a well-trodden format that doesn’t have much in the way of anything new to add.
Festival Drugs: Meet the Dealers
Livvy Haydock is back with her own brand of slightly sensationalist, tabloid-esque ‘investigative’ reporting, this time looking at the people who deal drugs at music festivals. Part one deals with a duo of hapless wannabe traffickers, who plan to hawk their wares further afield, and attempt to smuggle drugs into a French festival. Things don’t go exactly to plan, as drugs get stuck in rectums, resulting in a lot of swearing inside public toilet cubicles. Suffice to say, their big plans to make a killing in the foreign market ends up more Four Lions than Scarface.
The second episode looks at the security measures that prevent drugs getting into festivals (spoiler: they’re quite lax), and at one man who uses his credentials and experience to smuggle drugs in. In the final episode, Haydock meets a ‘gang’ that produces the drugs and has a group of young kids who go into the festivals to sell them.
What’s missing from this programme – and indeed, from much of Haydock’s output – is the refusal to look at the bigger picture, or the more systemic problems. Instead of accepting that people are going to take drugs at festivals, and looking at how this could be made safer, an authoritarianism underpins the series. There’s also an uncomfortable, unaddressed race aspect, whereby the all the ‘criminals’ – from the hapless, amateur ‘smugglers’, to the security guard on the take, to the boys selling the drugs – all seem to be black, while the people buying the gear are mainly white. It’s a programme that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Jesy Nelson: Odd One Out
Jesy Nelson had barely turned 20 when she won The X Factor with her band Little Mix in 2011. It should have been the happiest time of her life, but instead she was plunged into a world of online hatred, as people trolled her on social media, resulting in depression and eventually a suicide attempt. In this documentary, she talks us through the impact the abuse had upon her, her family and her friends. We follow as she sees a therapist to help her overcome her feelings of worthlessness, unable even to look at old photos of herself in the immediate aftermath of her X Factor win, without recalling the dark place she was at. She also sits in as a charity visits a school to spread awareness of the consequences of social media abuse. Deeply harrowing is her visit with the parents of Sian Waterhouse, who was 16 years old when she took her own life after suffering the effects of horrific online bullying. Jesy goes alone into Sian’s bedroom, left just as it was when she died, down to the ruffled bedclothes her parents can’t bear to move.
By the end of the film, Jesy herself still seems like very much a work in progress, even now struggling to come to terms with her self-image and the power social media has over it. But with this documentary, she has hopefully made people aware of the terrible, long-lasting effects of bullying, and changed the needlessly cruel way some people, buoyed by anonymity, conduct themselves online.
Pick of the Week: The Break: Season 4
The fourth season of this platform for new and emerging writers seems to have dropped its commitment to BAME writers and is instead focussing on new voices from Northern Ireland. The five six-minute monologues tell stories specific to the place but also have universal themes. In Clean, a young woman returns home after a night out, during which she’s been sexually assaulted. What should she do next? Who should she tell? Should she even have a bath? The pathos of the writing imbues this with a sad, wry wit. Similarly, Hot Mess, which deals with the pitfalls of dating while struggling with mental illness, casts off any grimness in favour of humour and self-awareness. Wings – the only one of the series to focus on a male main character – deals with a young man who is charged with the care of his younger sister, while facing pushback from the authorities. Bin Bagged is a fast-paced story of a girl who gets into trouble at school, which somehow manages to pack in her whole life experience into the short sketch. Last Night in Belfast, a love letter to a place as much as a person, is warm and wise as well as allegorical – especially in our Brexit-obsessed times. These are funny, touching, thought provoking pieces, brought to life by some great new creative talent.
Pick of the Week: Comedy Threesomes
This new set of ‘threesomes’ (three 3-minute comedy shorts – although some have a slightly longer runtime) provides new writers with the chance to develop their ideas and characters. Oi, Pussy! is a mix of live-action and CGI that centres around a group of animals who provide a kind of Greek chorus to their owners and their immediate environment. It’s a great idea, as animosities and strange alliances grow between dogs, cats, and goldfish, while their clueless caregivers get on with their lives, unaware of the judgements bestowed upon them. A highlight is a dog getting cheated on by her waste-man boyfriend and seeking advice from a mystic feline. Fully Blown, meanwhile, deals with a wannabe rap duo Gap C and Starz, trying to live out their dreams from the suburbs of Southampton. Finally, Hunter is a completely useless ‘life guru’ who is trying to expand his desperate clientele. While there’s the germ of an idea in each threesome, and the character development seems relatively sound in each, the writing could be tighter, and the plots more focussed.
Fast fashion is an increasingly controversial topic – although you wouldn’t know it by the first episode of this fly-on-the-wall documentary, which charts the trials and tribulations of the staff of In The Style as they prepare to launch a new collection. The company, which has been running since 2013, headed up by CEO Adam Frisby, is focussed on getting influencers to market their products, and in this episode they whisk ex-flight attendant Lorna Luxe away to Cannes for their most expensive photoshoot yet. There’s a problem, though, as they don’t yet have sample products in her size 12. Cue urgent phone calls to their suppliers on the other side of the globe as they try fast-track the clothes in time for them to take selfies on the balcony of their luxury hotel. There’s another a blip with their app just minutes before they launch the range, which provides tension, as Adam stalks the office talking about his ‘perfectionism’. His boyfriend tries to reign in the more uptight parts of his personality, with a varying degree of success.
It’s a pretty interesting documentary, which talks to the people who work for Adam about the downsides to their otherwise seemingly glamorous job. There’s a lot of discussion about how hard they and the influencers work, but no sight of the factories which actually produce their clothes, or any nod to the environmental impact of it all. Perhaps that’s still to come in future episodes, which will feature various other influencers, including Dani Dyer. But so far this seems like a rather narrow vision, which ignores the larger implications of the ever-growing fast fashion industry.
The Rap Game UK
The US version of this show has been running for five seasons, fronted by Jermaine Dupri and Queen Latifah. BBC Three’s incarnation is an altogether more low-key affair. It houses seven unsigned artists from up and down the country (even Aberdeen and Scunthorpe are represented) in a horrible penthouse apartment in Birmingham, where they will compete for a record contract. Presented by Krept, Konan and BBC Extra’s new talent spotter DJ Target, the competing artists take part in various tasks over the course of the six-episode run. They have to freestyle in front of surprise guests and take part in rap battles to impress future mentors, all the while telling their own stories and injecting their personalities into their lyrics.
While this is no The X Factor – it lacks the ritual humiliation, which seems de rigueur for more mainstream talent competitions – it’s already getting quite competitive. The MCs are ranked from one to seven at the end of each instalment, and resentments are building. Drama seems inevitable. This will be required viewing for fans, but even if rap’s not your thing, this delivers entertainment value.
Unmasked: Make-up’s Big Secret
Emmy Burbidge runs her own beauty salon in Frome, Somerset, where an increasing number of her clients are asking not only whether the make-up she uses is cruelty free, but also what it’s made of. When she finds out that palm oil is used in 70 per cent of cosmetics, she heads off to Papua, New Guinea, to investigate palm oil production.
She witnesses deforestation, child labour, exploitation, and large companies reneging on deals. But she also meets people making palm oil in a sustainable and responsible way, while treating workers fairly. The problem is that it’s difficult for the consumer to clarify whether their palm oil is coming from a responsible source or not.
It’s a really interesting and informative documentary, which, while unable to cover everything in its 20-minute running time, is an excellent taster into the issues surrounding palm oil production. It also offers practical suggestions for the type of pressure we can all exert on their favourite cosmetics brands to make production less exploitative and more environmentally friendly.
Girls on Girls
This five-parter takes five different women who have made some very different life choices and gets them to spend time immersed in each other’s worlds. While it comes off as cheap TV, it actually throws up some really interesting conversations about the life of the modern-day woman. First up is Ellen, who is funding her education by pole dancing. Then, Amina, a Muslim scouser who is also a poet. She bangs heads with shaven-headed feminist Jo. The fourth episode focusses on stay-at home mum Beth, and finally we visit single mum and poverty activist Chian.
All kinds of discussions emerge, covering everything from divorce to tantric sex, religion to botox. Amina and Jo’s mutual distrust of each other – Amina thinks Jo is judging her choices, while Jo think Amina isn’t being as open as she should be – is a tension that makes things interesting, and throws up some questions about white feminism. But the main takeaway is that women’s choices, no matter what they are, are always judged. While perhaps the production crew wanted to pit the women against each other, what emerges is their overall willingness to accept and respect each other’s lifestyle.
We don’t think it’s overly cynical to see this as an attempt to cash in on the popularity of Love Island. While it bills itself as somehow being for the greater good, Heartbreak Holiday has all the ingredients of the ITV show but without the slick production values, or, indeed, any kind of point. The ten people taking part are all meant to be suffering from some kind of heartbreak, although their issues are too diverse to make any cohesive sense. Deano has never been in a relationship, is tired of being ‘friendzoned’, and is very much out on the pull. Luke has a girlfriend at home but has trouble committing (as we will witness during the course of their Greek island-hoppping). Melissa has problems getting on with friends, while Erin got ghosted. Lauren, meanwhile, has an on-again/off-again boyfriend she has trouble letting go of. Archie is from a traditional Nigerian family he recently came out to. And so on and so forth. They’re all put together in various villas, where they drink, go out clubbing, get visits from friends a relatives, and fall out with each other.
There’s one touching moment when one of the participants, Maxine, tells the others that she’s actually trans, and talks about her specific difficulties of dating, but otherwise, this is a big old unfocussed mess.
Abused by the Police?
In this 50-minute documentary, Ellie Flynn goes to America to look at sexual assaults committed by law enforcement officers. She starts out by interviewing Anna Chambers, who describes in detail what happened to her when she was pulled over by two cops in 2017 (warning: it is graphic and awful). After reporting it, Chambers was soon on the receiving end of ‘slut shaming’ via social media as supporters of the accused tried to tarnish her credibility – even within the documentary, Flynn describes Chambers’ social media posts as “promiscuous” – while the officers involved argued consent. It’s an all-too-familiar story for those who go public with their stories, but, as one expert points out, many don’t report it at all – and, according to their research, the average age of the victims in such cases is 14.
Flynn also speaks to Jasmine Abuslin, the underage girl at the centre of the Oakland police scandal. But halfway through the documentary, she spends an inordinate amount of time on a false allegation of sexual abuse against a police officer. It seems completely out of place within the film, which is otherwise fairly clear about the scale of the problem, and the myriad methods the police use to get away with their crimes – and the viewer is left wondering about the motivations behind its inclusion.
How Not to Die on Holiday
Curiously scheduled to coincide with the end of the summer holidays, this series of short films presents us with four case studies of people who have faced life-or-death situations while travelling. The first looks at 25-year-old Ross, who was riding a moped to a party in Thailand when he crashed, resulting in his leg being amputated. Jack, meanwhile, fell off a balcony in Magaluf after a day of drinking. Fortunately for Ross, he was with another person who was able to get help, and Jack was found fairly quickly – things might have looked quite different had either of them been left undiscovered. In both cases, the advice is quite similar – don’t move the person to avoid spinal and neck injuries, open the airways without tilting the neck, and call emergency services immediately.
Rhianna, meanwhile, was stuck in an avalanche after skiing off-piste, and, again, was lucky that she was found relatively swiftly. The last film follows 17-year-old Evan, who got caught in a rip tide while swimming in Northumberland with a group of friends. This final instalment works best as far as useful advice goes – under no circumstances should you attempt to swim out to help someone in such a situation; never try to swim against the tide; if you can, swim sideways, and if not, float on your back – not least because it is so easy to imagine yourself in that situation.
Overall, the boxset is probably unlikely to save many lives, but they do succeed as cautionary tales should the worst happen. Happy holidays, everyone!
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel
Can you Beat the Bookies
Lloyd Griffith, comedian and football presenter – and one of the stars of a controversial ad for Ladbrokes – sets himself up with a budget of £7.5k and a timescale of 4 weeks, during which he hopes to double his money by playing the bookies at their own game. He meets gambling addicts, professional gamblers, data analysts and a man with a foolproof method of betting on tennis matches in his quest. In doing so, he quickly amasses a network of contacts who phone him up with tips – be it on dog racing, horse racing, or football results – and becomes more and more immersed in the gambling culture. At one point, he’s raking in the thousands by sitting in front of two computers, being fed tennis results by a ‘courtsider’ and placing bets before the umpire has a chance to record the scores to the bookies, while also keeping up with a football match he’s had some intel on.
We won’t spoil the result of the documentary for you, but it’s always advisable not to put a bet on someone outwitting the bookmakers. Suffice to say, any winnings made here were the result of some hot tips and a lot of help. But it’s easy to get sucked into this documentary, which is addictive in its own way – even as you know the game is ultimately rigged.
Stacey Dooley Meets the IS Brides / Face to Face with the Bounty Hunters / Nigeria’s Female Suicide Bombers
A new slew of Stacey Dooley documentaries have arrived on BBC Three. Her controversial look at IS Brides, which was also screened on Panorama, hit the headlines mainly because she erroneously described a Muslim prayer gesture as an “IS salute”, sparking a discussion about Muslim representation on the BBC. The rest of the programme has a striking lack of Stacey’s usual empathy, as she takes to task women who have travelled to Syria to join Islamic State.
Nigeria’s Female Suicide Bombers, which looks at young women who have either been kidnapped or enlisted by Boko Haram in Nigeria, has a similar dearth of nuance, with Dooley seemingly determined to pinpoint her subjects as either heroes or villains. It does, though, look at the ways in which growing up with war as a content backdrop affects young people and the ways in which local organisations are combatting generational disaffection. The third film of this triptych is, randomly, a look at bounty hunters in the United States – the people who track down those who have skipped bail. Dooley accompanies them as they apprehend people while they’re working in McDonald’s, or as they strong-arm families into giving up the location of their loved ones.
Dooley’s prominence on TV – and her recent big-money deal with the BBC – means, presumably, that we’ll be seeing even more of her. To avoid further controversies, it might be wise for her to pick her projects carefully.
Inside the Secret World of Incels
It’s been five years since Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured 14 more in Santa Barbara as ‘revenge’ for his sexual and social rejection. In that time, he’s become something of a hero to the ‘incel’ (involuntary celibate) community, who bond online over their lack of sex and hatred for women. This documentary manages to get three ‘incels’ to talk to them about what motivates them.
‘Catfishman’ remains masked up throughout his interviews, in which he boasts about faking personas on dating sites to meet up with women, who he then verbally abuses while taking videos of the encounters to share online. Matt, in New York, insists you can be an incel without being a women-hater, but admits it’s a small step to finding viciously misogynistic online content. James, in Northern Ireland, claims to have repented his incel ways and now has a successful YouTube channel where he talks about mental health – although, as it has to be pointed out to him that lyrics he wrote celebrating Elliot Rodger might be hurtful to the bereaved families, one has to wonder at the value of his expertise.
Dr Kaitlyn Regehr, a researcher of online misogyny at the university of Kent, who is credited as development consultant for the documentary, points out that this is the age of the hate crime, with hatred bubbling over in many online communities, helping normalise real life violence. It’s always a sobering experience to be reminded of how much men can hate women, and although the documentary is something of a sickening watch, it does its job in reflecting what’s happening in the darker corners of the web, and in warning of the ways in which it can spill out into offline behaviour.
Extinction Rebellion: Last Chance to Save the World?
In his new documentary, Ben Zand meets some of the people behind Extinction Rebellion, the protest group who are seeking to highlight the dangers of climate change through civil disobedience. He charts the four months leading up to their mass protest in April, where they managed to cause disruption to central London for eleven days.
Zand first meets up with them in January, as they’re planning the actions, including a nationwide school strike. After interviewing co-founder Roger Hallam, he speaks to some of the young activists. 16-year-old Dani is extremely committed to the movement, but her mum worries that she’ll neglect her education for it, while 22-year old Sam faces a stint in jail after gluing his hands to the door of an oil company. Hallam accepts that the group is less about providing solutions and more about raising awareness, so when Sam gets to speak to MP Claire Perry at the end of the documentary, the whole things seems rather fruitless, as no actual action will be taken.
The documentary itself is quite light on detail. There are no questions about funding, for example, or about the ‘whitewashing’ controversy surrounding the movement. Zand does question whether the long-term consequences of having a criminal record have been thought through by the participants, but the focus is on the impressive clear-sightedness of the young people involved, who are trying to do what they can for their own future and that of the planet.
This three-part box set, filmed over seven months, introduces us to some of the North East’s constabulary and the community they police. It focuses on the old ‘pit villages’ of Horden (a “crime hotspot”, apparently), Peterlee and Seaham, as the Durham cops do their neighbourhood rounds.
The programme has an oddly upbeat tone, with a jaunty voiceover and charismatic petty criminals. One of the cops seems to think he’s in Michael Mann’s Heat – “Us cops and robbers have more in common than we like to think” – and much of the first couple of episodes centre on one or two repeat offenders, who are taken to the station while their premises are searched, generally turning up nothing. If it’s a game of cat and mouse, it’s more Tom and Jerry than Manhunter.
In between all the banter at the station, though, there are some more serious crimes being committed – a masked robbery of a bookies (a young, vulnerable worker is threatened with a hammer) and a serious assault at a pub. In the third episode, which looks at addiction-based crime, things get really dark, as the officers have to deal with a fatal overdose.
In among all this are chats about the history of the area at the local tattoo parlour, discussions about deprivation, mental health issues and recidivism. It’s something of a never-ending cycle for many of the people involved in the documentary, with very little hope for a better life. But it’s presented as cheery slice-of-life stuff which never quite gets to the heart of any issue it looks at.
Hometown: A Killing
This six-part box set follows journalist Mobeen Azhar as he returns to his home town of Birkby, Huddersfield, to investigate the death of Mohammed Yassar Yaqub, who was shot by police in his car in 2017, provoking a ‘Justice 4 Yassar’ campaign. Starting off as a trip down memory lane as Mobeen visits the place he grew up in – and bumps into the people he went to school with – he finds that people are unwilling to talk openly about the circumstances surrounding Yassar’s death.
He soon discovers that things have changed quite dramatically in the 20-odd years since he’s been there. Weapons now proliferate and young men are turning to drug dealing. There’s a potted history here of first generation immigrants, and a look at how life has shifted, as Mobeen speaks to people whose lives have been impacted by drugs and violence. There is also a look at the impact of Islamophobia and bigotry, and the ways in which it can silence a community.
This is an occasionally uncomfortable watch – at times, it feels like victim blaming, as Yassar’s involvement in the drugs trade is investigated and Yassar’s dad quickly stops speaking to Mobeen. But it’s also an honest look at a subject that is difficult to broach, and feels it can only – or best – be done by someone like Mobeen, who grew up in the community and can bring a clarity that might otherwise be obfuscated.
The Hostel for Homeless Young Mums
This documentary very much does what it says on the tin, as we’re invited to have a look inside a Luton hostel for young mums. The hostel’s longest-running resident Talamika, a 22-year-old mother of a two-year-old, narrates, introduces us to some of her housemates, and tells us her own story in the process. With about 10 rooms in the building, she finds herself being housed with people she doesn’t know, but the documentary demonstrates the support networks that build among the residents.
The young women tell their stories of how they ended up in the hostel – becoming pregnant at a young age, with little or no support from their family or the fathers of their babies. Lives are hard and tiring – one mum, Katie, is a 19-year-old juggling 3-year-old twins with trying to get a childcare qualification. It’s a never-ending grind, and she finds herself falling asleep in class due to sheer exhaustion. Talamika has been there for three years, and has to pay off some debt she owes before being able to move out, so finds herself watching on as the young women she shares with are given housing. The documentary shows how difficult it is to survive – and hope for a better future – with so many cards stacked against you, but it also shows how necessary such hostels are in helping young homeless mums get on their feet and able to live an independent life, and will hopefully play a small part in busting the stigma surrounding hostel-dwellers.
Deadstock: Ultimate Resellers
An Antiques Roadshow for millennials, this programme targets a new generation of bargain hunters. Collectors and car boot sale aficionados show their best bargains to presenters Fiona and Youth, explaining how they came to own their prized possessions, with the option of putting them up for auction at the end. Pop culture memorabilia featured includes first edition Pokemon cards, film posters, an original White Album by The Beatles and a signed Harry Potter book. For the fashionistas, meanwhile, there’s vintage Moschino and a charity shop Vivienne Westwood bag, a pristine collection of limited edition trainers, and a very special dress bought at a market in rural France, which may or may not belong to Supremes legend Mary Wilson.
In among all this are tips for car boot sales, how to get handbags authenticated, and sustainable fashion advice. If you think you’ve got something tucked away at the back of your wardrobe which might be worth a few quid, or just want some tips on how to spot a bargain at a car boot sale, you could do worse than give the programme a go.
The pilot for this new dating show was aired during BBC3’s Housing Week, and was a bit of welcome light relief amidst a plethora of programmes highlighting the housing crisis. Thankfully, it’s lost none of its verve and energy now that it’s been extended to a full series box set. Hosted by Yung Filly, who brings an approachable manic energy to the proceedings, the concept could be described as Blind Date meets How Clean is Your House. Filly meets up with hopeful singles in different British cities and helps them whittle down potential suitors, basically by rifling through their rooms and judging them based on their clothes and belongings. The person doing the picking is then introduced to the friends of two of their would-be dates, before making their final decision.
As with the pilot, what’s really amazing is the state of some of the rooms, and the fact the people allowed a camera crew in without even tidying up. All sorts of things are uncovered during the course of the show, from dusty dildos to mouldy dishes. Filly has fun trying on wigs, getting lessons in kink, and having poppers explained to him, and the rapport he builds with the people taking part provides plenty of giggles. On the whole, this is great fun and the format is a lot fresher than most of the musty drawers that the contestants are invited to ransack.
The Warwick Uni Rape Chat Scandal
Just over a year ago, the horrific content of a Facebook group chat between male students at Warwick University first came to light. The men involved talked about the women on the campus in dehumanising terms, sharing rape fantasies and sexually violent messages. It led to a public scandal, an investigation, the eventual suspension and expulsion of the participants, and widespread criticism of the way the university handled the case.
In this half-hour documentary, “Anna” (not her real name) discusses being the one to find and report the messages, and the effect it, and the subsequent inquiry, had on her life. Also interviewed is one of the other young women being discussed in the Facebook chat, as well as a student representative, the editor of the university’s student newspaper, and an expert on violence against women.
While the messages themselves are deeply shocking, the film also shows university investigation and appeals process let the victims down time and time again, leading to angry campus protests and tutors and departments having to put their weight against their own employer in support of the women. Since the Warwick story broke, similar cases have been reported on other UK campuses, and this documentary, you feel, is a small piece of a wider, ongoing problem, the extent of which is just beginning to come to light.
This rather confused (and confusing) programme follows five female grime artists who are making a podcast together, which you can listen to independently of the programme, on BBC Sounds. Pre Wavy, C Cane, Laughta, Cassie Rytz and Madders Tiff allow cameras to follow them as they meet friends for coffee, go shopping and hang out at the snooker hall, talking about their personal lives, their families, their music – but mainly about the upcoming podcast.
The young women all have their own problems, be they difficult break-ups or strained family relationships, but the kind of structured reality framework deployed here is one we’re all familiar with and savvy to by now, and none of it feels in any way spontaneous. The first episode is very much an introductory episode for the five participants – one in which they are filmed separately, talking about their impressions of the others – so perhaps things will loosen up when they finally all get together. But at the moment the programme resembles an extended promotional shoot for the radio show – which doesn’t, thus far, make for great TV.
PTSD: The War in my Head
This documentary tells the story of three British Army soldiers who took their lives last year following lengthy battles with PTSD. Through video diaries and voice notes made while they were alive, they speak to us directly of their struggles.
Kevin Williams lost one of his best friends while he was on tour in Iraq, and turned to recreational drug use on his return. John Paul Finnegan had lifelong hearing problems after a bomb burst his eardrums while deployed, and instead of returning to the battlefield, he was tasked with chauffeuring bereaved army families around, after their loved ones lost their lives. Kevin Holt – who had been interviewed by BBC Three back in 2012 to talk about his experiences in the army – spent 7 months in Afghanistan before an IED killed five of his troop, leaving him to pick up their body parts. He was redeployed and later consumed with guilt, after he gave a young girl a bottle of water and she was hanged because she accepted it.
As they came back, the tales are of broken marriages, fits of inexplicable violence, depression, paranoia, and the inability to talk about their feelings, having been so immersed in such a ‘macho’ environment. Holt’s sister talks about her brother’s confusion – when he was over there, he felt he was a better person, because he wanted peace, yet when he came back, he only wanted to fight. She speaks of her numbness following his suicide, due in no small part to the feeling she had lost her brother long before. (”My brother didn’t come back from Iraq. He went, but he didn’t come back,” she says.)
It’s a quietly devastating documentary that talks of the lasting impact of the battlefield, the invisible wounds you return with and the lack of support in dealing with the trauma.
Gemma: My Murder
In August 2010, Gemma Hayter’s body was found on a disused railway track in Rugby, Warwickshire. Gemma was a 27 year old with learning disabilities, and had been tortured over a period of time before being murdered. With crimes against disabled people rising, this documentary speaks to her family and friends, looking at her life and the events leading up to her death in an effort to understand how she could have been so let down by the authorities who should have been able to support and protect her.
Her mother, sister, niece, and friends are interviewed, and paint the picture of a generous, trusting person who was looking for friendship and acceptance. Given no diagnosis throughout her school years, she was signed out of the system at 24, and was then put into council housing, where she met the people who would take advantage of her, before eventually killing her. Without any supported living, Gemma fell into the company of those who would use her generous nature against her, storing drugs in her flat, which they passed off as surprise ‘presents’ for people, and accompanying her to pick up her benefits, which they would get her to spend on them.
The series of failures in Gemma’s care, even as her family were crying out for someone to help her, is highlighted. Although she wanted to be independent, Gemma herself knew that she needed support, and two years before she died, she wrote a letter to social services asking for help. Had these requests been heeded, say her family, her murder could have been avoided. It’s a horrifying story of a person let down by society, which led almost inevitably to her fate.
Work It: Body Confidence Stories
It should surprise no one who finds their own personal workout slightly boring that watching other people exercising is even more so. This box set follows three personal trainers as they get to know their clients and help them get fit, eat well, and basically have confidence in themselves. Which is all very nice. It just doesn’t make for particularly great TV.
The trainers – Esmee, Kelechi, and Jay – all have their own specific personal histories that led them to become trainers. Struggles with physical and mental health means they are adept at understanding and motivating the people who come to them for help. Their first client, Lyndon, has an artificial leg – just like Jay – and, although Lyndon lacks the confidence that Jay has, they clearly bond over their situation. Charlotte, meanwhile, has had breast cancer and wants to get in shape for an upcoming operation – Esmee can relate, because she became paralysed as a teenager after an allergic reaction to anaesthesia, which led her, eventually, to her career in helping others through physical fitness.
Other specific problems are addressed, including Eli, a trans man who wants help in making his physique more masculine, and Sarah, who has Tourettes and finds it embarrassing to work out in a shared gym, because of her tics. There are the more general issues too, such as Lauren, who has just broken up with her partner and wants to show them what they’re missing, and Matt, whose uni life means he’s drinking too much. Lee’s unhealthy lifestyle is a reaction to a bereavement, while Cassie has had three kids and feels her body is no longer her own.
If you’re looking for inspiration to get fit, it’s doubtless here in abundance, and the trainers tailor the workouts to deal with each situation. But as a TV show, it’s probably not going to set the airwaves on fire.
Common People – Cam Girls
This is a strange little programme. Bex is a 31 year old cam girl and she’s interested in what people think about her. To find out, she’s invited three men she knows through work, but who don’t know each other, to sit around a table and talk about the industry. They’re unaware it’s Bex who has asked them to be there, and they don’t know each other’s connection to her. Matt is a subscriber to her site, Olly is a manager who has known her for years, and Joseph is a cam site owner. Bex sets them questions and watches on in secret as they discuss all things cam girl.
Bex is clearly hoping to catch them in the act of some sort of hypocrisy. As it happens, Matt is placid and open about why he uses such services – he’s not in a relationship at the moment, and he finds interacting with an actual human more satisfying than with anonymous porn. Olly describes himself as a feminist, has a girlfriend, and clearly respects women. Joseph is on another level altogether – introducing himself with “I love two things in life – women and money”, he’s a fan of Margaret Thatcher – though that seems to be where his admiration for women ends. “Every women has a cash point between their legs”, he says, though he wouldn’t want a “fatty”.
Thankfully, Olly puts him in his place on numerous occasions and Joseph just shows himself up. By the time Bex makes her appearance, to ‘surprise’ the men who have been discussing her choice of work, it’s all pretty much over, and she has nothing to add except to say that she considers herself a “fatty” and yet Joseph still hosts her on his site. It’s all completely pointless, seeming to promise confrontation yet ending more with a fizzle than a bang.
Before Tim Bergling’s terrible and untimely death in 2018, director Levan Tsikurishvili spent four years documenting the highs and lows of the superstar DJ otherwise known as Avicii. This documentary – completed before Bergling’s suicide – charts his career just as it was taking off into the stratosphere, and the mixed emotions his phenomenal success elicited.
It paints the picture of a hard-working, passionate and conscientious musician, who, by his very nature, was not cut out for the pressures of constant touring. Having lived a quiet life up until the age of 19, within the same 5 blocks of his Stockholm neighbourhood, he initially embraced the success he garnered. But while the first half of the documentary shows Bergling flying high, including interviews with DJs such as Tiësto and David Guetta, who sing his praises, and footage of him working with Niles Rogers and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, we all know how this ends. His ambitious and street-smart manager, Ash, who was with him from the start, says in his office: “Tim is going to die. With all the interviews, radio tours and everything, he’ll drop dead.” Everything starts to fall apart with his failing health and his hospitalisations. Footage from his bedside show doctors enthusiastically prescribing him Percocet and other addictive painkillers, despite his protests, and there is footage of him as he leaves the hospital, dosed up to the eyeballs while being spirited away to his upcoming shows. He talks about his constant physical pain, but also about his anxiety surrounding touring, and the way he combats that with drinking before he goes on stage.
The film closes hopefully, with Bergling quitting touring and quietly making music on a beach in Madagascar, having shed the unhealthy parts of his life. It’s certainly how we’d like the story to end.
Just One Night
This high concept, almost anti-dating show, posits the question of whether you’d leave your partner after spending ‘just one night’ with the person of your dreams, almost as though the Ashley Madison dating website has come to life. Bonnie and Stevie have been together for four years, having met on Tinder. Bonnie wants them to move in together, but Stevie’s not so sure.
Helpfully, BBC Three set them both up with their ultimate ‘type’ (for Stevie, this means a blonde with big boobs). Shannon and Moses are selected to go on a date with the couple – separately, though in the same restaurant, metres from each other – to see if they can’t tempt them away from their partner.
Shannon’s a veritable honey-trap, pretty much throwing herself at Stevie, while Moses is just the tonic Bonnie seems to need, trying to big her up and give her some helpful advice about her own worth and what kind of behaviour she should or shouldn’t settle for. It feels pretty touch and go for our intrepid couple, although we won’t spoil the ending. It’s a strange programme and one which you can’t imagine will be beating off applicants to appear on it.
Famalam: Season 2
Sketch shows are a kind of ever-constant on British TV, although we haven’t seen a really successful one for a few years now. It’s odd, because the format seems perfect for the Twitter age, where short skits form the kind of content made to go viral. Step in Famalam, which is back for a second four-part season, after rave reviews for its first.
Producer Akemnji Ndifornyen (previously of the Javone Prince Show) and director Tom Marshall, whose work includes Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum, are wise enough not to change a winning formula, bringing back many of the characters viewers have already taken to their hearts. The African Aunties continue their wars, competing over whose grandson is doing best, while Detective Moses Mountree returns with a new partner, straight out of Miami Vice – though can the home counties cope with “two diversities in one village”? There’s some very touching feedback from rival graffiti gangs, a mother makes an appeal for her son, who has become a policeman (“I just want my little boy back”), and a new character, Peter, who makes his family’s life hell with his addiction to Instagram.
Unlike many sketch shows, this one critiques the modern black experience with a sharpness of humour – featuring a Hunger Games competition to win the part of ‘token black friend’, while in the Nollywood Love Island, all the men are fighting over the lone white girl. The opening sketch is a good insight into what to expect, as slaves organise an uprising, only to be questioned on their chants of “slaves lives matter” (“Don’t all lives matter?”). There’s a chaotic energy about the whole enterprise, but its silliness belies a pointedness that skews the stereotypes of its traditional format.
Escaping Gangs: Parole, Prison and Pastors
This box set of three short films looks at the work a South London church does to combat gang crime. SPAC Nation’s following includes people hoping to get out of gangs, and its weekly services involves a weapons amnesty at the door, with a high security presence enforcing it, searching bags for knives and separating rival gang members on the floor.
We’re introduced in the first episode to Pastor Tobi Adegboyega. Apparently, Tobi made millions in property deals and thinks the answer to street gangs is to turn members into entrepreneurs. To this end, SPAC Nation has funded various businesses within the congregation and hopes capitalism can end the violence on the streets, by jettisoning one kind of income for another. With a weekly congregation of 2,000, they receive over £800,000 in donations from church members each year, according to official figures, so they’re not short of a bob or two.
Some of the people the church has helped are interviewed, including Kevin, who they funded to the tune of £30,000 for his chauffeuring business and Junior, who has been living in a hostel since he got out of jail, has a long rap sheet, and sees no future for himself as no one will give him a job, making him consider getting back into the gang life – a cycle that is repeated throughout the documentary.
What the people here have in common is their realisation that they’re on a hiding to nothing with their current lifestyles, and the need to change before they wind up dead or in prison. SPAC Nation offers them an alternative, should they be willing to grasp it. Having said that, the documentary never really gets past the bravado of any of the people taking part – those in the gangs or in the church. No really difficult questions are asked, not least of SPAC Nation itself. It’s a superficial documentary, which may whet your interest in the church, but you’ll have to do your own independent research to answer any lingering doubts.
Eating with my Ex
Fans of the bite-sized portions of ‘Eating with my Ex’ – which racked up almost 20 million views when screened last year in short episodes – will be delighted it has now been made into a more fulfilling half hour course. It’s an irresistible concept – more ‘Last Dates’ than First Dates – which sees two people who have broken up get together to discuss why their relationship went wrong, and to (possibly) give it another shot.
In the first episode, three couples are brought kicking and screaming back to each other. Steph and Scearcia had an intense – perhaps too intense – six-month affair, and Steph is reluctant to let go. Jodie and Jason were together for 18 months, and broke up after tensions arose surrounding her perceived poshness and his rapping alter-ego. Niall and Chloe were childhood sweethearts whose relationship ended for good, after Chloe slept with one of Niall’s friends.
The fact that, clearly, each couple doesn’t know why their ex is there (to apologise, to have an argument, to woo them back?) lends real tension to the proceedings. After a first few awkward moments of small-talk, they get stuck into the big questions, which each has an opportunity to set to the other. The extended format gives us a little more time with each couple as they talk through their feelings about their upcoming dates with friends and family. But the nitty-gritty is the same, and it’s a tense ride for both the participants and the viewer.
BBC Three seems obsessed with what’s on other peoples’ phones. First, the channel introduced ‘Family Phone Swap’ and ‘Co-Worker Phone Swap’, to test how much you know people around you by looking through their data, then ‘Couples Phone Swap’, which presumably saw the ending of a few relationships. Now, they’re giving us ‘First Dates Phone Swap’, where a couple of people get to meet three potential dates and have to choose which one they’ll go out with by looking through their phone.
Shaquille is the first to choose between three potential paramours. Talking each other through the content of their apps, his first date comes to a swift halt when she says she wants to be a Conservative MP. Another says she’s a vegan because she wants to be “ethnical”. It’s quite heartwarming that after having to sift through ‘shag lists’, Shaquille ends up bonding with his third date over their shared love of musical theatre. The second ‘eligible’ is Dani, who has to sit through quite a bit of negging, a ‘ratings system’, and a shopping list, before she finds her perfect phone match.
As a concept, it doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of BBC Three’s other recent dating show, where the woman looking for love was able to go to the houses of her suitors to rifle through their drawers and inspect their bedsheets before meeting them. And, at this stage, we’re just left to wonder how much more BBC content can be ripped from this already fairly tired concept.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
In this moving HBO documentary, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds confronts his deeply-held faith’s attitude towards the LGBTQ community. Raised a Mormon and serving time as a missionary before beginning his musical career, he was able to compartmentalise the church’s hardline on gay relationships until the suicide rate of young people in Utah started skyrocketing.
Last year, he teamed up with Tyler Glenn of the band Neon Trees – who was also raised in the faith before coming out in his late 20s – to organise an LGBTQ-inclusive festival in the heart of Mormon country. This documentary covers the lead-up to LoveLoud, but it also delves deep into the deeply damaging stance of the church and the effect it has on its young congregation.
Reynolds speaks to psychologist excommunicated after doing an LGBTQ supportive Ted Talk, to young gay Mormons, and to the parents of a teenager who committed suicide after coming out to his Mormon community. While Dan hopes he can change the church, he’s also set for the long road. It’s an emotional journey but LoveLoud – and this film – seems like a first step in showing love and acceptance for young people who have been long encouraged to repress parts of themselves in order to be accepted into their religion.
Box Set: Killing Eve
“You’re brilliant. Just don’t tell them everything, or you’ll sound like a nutter.” That’s the advice given to Eve (Sandra Oh) early on in Killing Eve, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s twistedly brilliant and brilliantly twisted new series. Part serial killer thriller and part buddy comedy, it’s one of the best shows of the year.
Based on the ebooks and later novella by British author Luke Jennnings, the series introduces us to Villanelle (Jodie Comer), an assassin with a penchant for disguise, silk drapes and watching the last vestiges of life seep from her victims’ eyes. As her body count begins to rise around the world, though, it catches the eye of Eve, an MI5 operative with a penchant for serial killers. When her theory about Villanelle begins to border on the fanatic, and the interviewing of a possible witness goes awry, she’s fired from her job – but fortunately, an off-the-books branch of the secret service is keen to make use of her particular taste in homicides. Dark, violent, and endlessly witty, the result is a funny, female-led treat. Words: Ivan Radford
This Country: Season 1 and 2
DAisy May and Charlie Cooper are gently side-splitting in this low-key mockumentary, which explores the lives of young people in modern rural Britain. Read our full review. Words: Ivan Radford