BBC Three TV reviews: What’s new on the online channel and what’s worth watching?
Helen Archer | On 02, Aug 2020Reading time: 124 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.
Your Next Box Set: Motherland: Fort Salem
This new series has a lot to recommend it. Created by Eliot Laurence, the premise is beguiling, incorporating all the elements for what should be a terrific supernatural programme. Ancestral witches, going back generations, are recruited into an “army” to fight against a terrorist group called The Spree, made up of witches gone “bad”. The programme is fronted by three powerful leads – Taylor Hickson as reluctant soldier Raelle Collar, still grieving the death of her mother; Ashley Nicole Williams as Abigail Bellweather, who comes from a long and established military line; and Jessica Sutton as Tally Craven, a shy idealist who joins up against the will of her family. Their character arcs throughout the first season are strong, as they initially clash but ultimately find themselves fighting together as a true unit. They are backed by a plethora of strong supporting actors, all delivering polished performances.
Which just makes the programme’s flaws that little bit more frustrating. While the Spree’s attacks are creepy and unsettling – from the initial scene, in which they manipulate the minds of people in a shopping mall, so that they jump to their deaths like lemmings – the action takes a long time to kick in. The world building and customs aren’t completely fleshed out, and many of the show’s supernatural aspects are under-explained and woolly. There’s a dearth of deliberate humour and lightness, though there are some unintentionally hilarious scenes – it’s quite hard to take swarms of evil balloons seriously, much less when they’re individual evil balloons giving orders via a haunted mirror.
The end of the series sets us up for more serious questions – about terrorism and the role of the army in world events, for example – and also leaves us with tantalising indications of how the characters are going to develop. It all seems promising, but leaves the viewer with the impression that the first series is just a very long prelude. Here’s hoping the next season is that bit tighter, and that viewers have the patience to stick it out.
Pick of the Week: Fighting the Power: Britain After George Floyd
This sympathetic and informative documentary takes us behind the scenes of the UK’s Black Lives Matter protests which took place over the course of the summer, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis in May. It speaks to the relevance of the movement on this side of the pond, concisely demonstrating that although police here aren’t generally armed with guns in the same way they are in Amercia, Black people still suffer disproportionally at the hands of the law.
Reporter Daniel Henry highlights the percentage of BAME people who have been impacted by stop and search policies, and the use of tasers by police, and points to the rate at which they make up the prison and youth offender population, those fined under lockdown, youth unemployment, and school exclusion, invoking a system set up to fail young Black people. He meets some of those who have suffered from police use of force, including an interview with Wretch 32’s 62-year-old father Millard Scott, who was tasered in his own home during a police raid. Scott speaks to the animosity and distrust that builds each time a Black or brown person is targeted by law enforcement.
Henry is also on the ground to film the protests, including the right-wing involvement as they come out to “defend” various statues, and some of the chaos and violence which ensued. He speaks to eloquent antiracist activists and organisers, and gives police and politicians a right to reply – though their words ring hollow against a backdrop of the injustices shown here.
The words of the #BLM organisers are what stick with you after this intelligent documentary ends. They are focussed in their goals, which include police divestment and community investment. Their hope is that this movement doesn’t die out as the camera turns away and initial enthusiasm wanes, and their impressive yet accessible demands, as evidenced here, should be an enduring inspiration for us all.
Your Next Box Set: The Young Offenders Season 3
“Try not to do anything illegal for the next 24 hours.” “How are we supposed to know what’s illegal?” That’s the sound of BBC Three’s The Young Offenders back for a third outing, and it’s as hysterical and heartfelt as ever. Read our full review Words: Ivan Radford
False Hope? Alternative Cancer Care
Sean Walsh had everything to live for – surrounded by people who loved him, he was also on the cusp of a successful musical career. But he was just 23 when he died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. For the last two years of his life, he’d refused the medical treatment which would have given him at least a 50 per cent chance of long term survival. Instead, he turned to alternative therapies, such as changing his diet, coffee enemas, herbal supplements, oxygen tanks and thermography – all on the advice of various dubious organisations.
Here, journalist Layla Wright – who had personal connections to Sean and had been following his journey via social media – interviews his girlfriend and mother in an effort to understand his “radicalisation”, as he became more and more sure that alternative remedies were curing his cancer. She speaks to other people affected by the company Medical Thermal Imaging – who managed to convince Sean his cancer was shrinking despite the opposite being true – and initiates an undercover consultation at their clinic. There, secret video records a would-be patient being encouraged not to rely on conventional medical treatment, before shelling out over £200 for the privilege. Wright also discovers that a clinic in Mexico which Sean attended, and which claims to reverse advanced cancer, was still using Sean’s positive testimonial months after he had died.
This is a documentary in which anger and raw grief emanates from every interview, despite its sober and sensitive approach. It’s a fine balancing act, and an important programme, highlighting the way in which money is being made in the ‘cancer industry’ through the exploitation of people at their most vulnerable.
Haley Pearce – who made a name for herself as the tea lady in BBC’s 2013 fly-on-the-wall documentary The Call Centre – is back with her second season of Hayley Goes…, in which she investigates all manner of Gen X concerns with her usual, no-nonsense energy. In six half-hour episodes, she manages to cover everything from class issues to fast fashion. Each topic is framed around her taking up the “challenge” of converting to whatever subjects she is investigating. Some episodes are more interesting – and more eye-opening – than others, but each is filled with Hayley’s trademark natural curiosity. The series starts out strong, with its look at class, and includes some shocking facts about the divide between rich and poor in contemporary society, along with some humorous moments as Hayley attempts to “learn” how to be upper-class. She finds her month without sex tough, while going “back to nature” sees her reluctantly learning to appreciate the great outdoors. She’s never afraid to acknowledge her own shortcomings – admitting at the end of the “gender curious” episode that she has probably been thoughtlessly transphobic in the past, but now has the tools to examine her behaviour. Her episode on anxiety is probably her most personal, as she comes clean about her own mental health and some of her destructive thought processes. Pearce has an approachable, humorous, down-to earth approach. Between filming, she still works in a call centre to pay her bills, which perhaps goes some way to explaining the rapport she has with just about everyone she meets. Completely unpretentious, warm and likeable, she’s an ideal person to take us through a beginner’s look at some of the subjects affecting young people today.
Trump in Tweets
Despite a running time of over an hour, this is nonetheless a very brief history of Trump’s time on twitter. Starting from the opening of his account – when he was just a shameless self-promoter and host of The Apprentice – it brings us up-to-date, as he nears the end of his first term as President of the United States. Trump’s tweets are voiced by The Vivienne, who sounds, aptly, like a cross between Trump and Eric Cartman. Indeed, Trump’s immaturity, pettiness and vanity are constants, from the moment he took over the account from its original creator and began tweeting himself. His bizarre interest in celebrity early on – he was seemingly very invested in the relationship between Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattison, for example – gives way rather quickly to more sinister postings.
Although initially ridiculed and taken as a figure of fun on twitter and elsewhere, as his political power grew, his tweets became ever-more dangerous. And yet it’s when he becomes President that things turn really dark – from the backlash inflicted on a teenager who dared to ask him about abortion (and was left fearing for her life after he tweeted about her) to the anti semitic dogwhistles and his advancement of racism.
There are a lot of interesting interviewees here, but sadly they don’t have much time, thanks to the sheer amount of material the programme has to get through. Digital strategists, political activists, musicians and newspaper correspondents are joined by people like Sean Spicer and Anthony Scaramucci, who were pivotal in Trump’s initial rise in politics. There are some revealing insights into the way in which Trump has been able to use Twitter to lie without accountability and stoke division and fear. While we all remember “covfefe”, it’s the detrimental impact on democracy which will endure.
Canada’s Drag Race
If you’re missing the original Drag Race – or, indeed, its UK spin-off – this Canadian version has arrived just in time to fill the void. It possesses all the sparkles, sequins, and acerbic wit of its counterparts, just in a slightly different accent. In the first episode, the contestants embrace their Canuck nationality with a Rocky Mountain mini-challenge, before the main competition which is inspired by different Canadian cultural gems, including Anne of Green Gables and ice hockey. The format is changed ever so slightly. Guest judge Elisha Cuthbert acts as a RuPaul stand-in, presenting the final show, before taking her seat with the regular judges Brooke Lynn Hytes, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman and Stacey McKenzie. But other than that, it’s like sinking in to a warm bath of familiarity. The lip sync battle in the first episode is one for the ages and bodes well for things to come. Add some endearingly ‘quirky’ contestants, and some girls who clearly live for drama, and the entertainment value is pretty much guaranteed.
Pick of the Week: Deep in Vogue
This hour-long, 2018 documentary, directed by Amy Watson and Dennis Keighron-Foster, takes us to Manchester and Liverpool, where the vogue balls which have recently been receiving a resurge of popularity via the hit TV series Pose, are going strong. We follow two Houses – Decay and Ghetto – as they prepare for the ultimate ballroom competition. The film is ambitious in scope, and was completed with the help of crowdfunding. The history of the balls could be a documentary in its own right – although Paris is Burning, which is currently on Netflix UK, already has that covered. Here, the dancers, choreographers, and costume designers talk about what the scene means to them, discussing their own backgrounds and marginalisation, and the sense of family and acceptance that the Houses represent. It’s interspersed with a smattering of cultural analysis which covers everything from queer theory, intersectionality, appropriation, and the misogynoir suffered by the black female dancers of House of Ghetto.
In among all this, are, of course, some wonderful scenes of the sheer joy of dancing, and despite an awful lot of raunch on display, the ethos is actually very wholesome, as elders pass on the skills their younger counterparts need for their opportunity to shine. Overall, the documentary feels somewhat unstructured, with a lack of narrative flow, but it’s impossible to take your eyes off the screen when the dancers do their thing.
What might have seemed like throwaway reality TV programming when it was filmed last year now takes on a certain poignancy, given that so many of us will now have to forego any thought of our usual getaways. But if you are missing your summer holiday, you can experience it vicariously with this group of late teens and twenty-somethings, who are seeking personal and professional redemption over the summer months in Ibiza.
Brothers Liam and Callum head there with their friend George to launch a promotional video business, sharing a hotel floor with Sanchez, an ex-pro footballer who had to retire after injury and now works as a VIP host for Ibiza Rocks. Jake, a naked butler, shares a room with 18-year-old Max, who is hoping to pay his way by repairing revellers’ broken iPhones. They’re joined by ex-jockey Lauren, who hopes to increase her insta follows number so she can be a better influencer, and spa therapist Harriet, who is mourning the loss of two of her friends. Hairdresser Jess hopes to make some cash at local festivals, while Cat searches for work as a swimming instructor while working long hours as a caterer.
There’s everything you would expect from this four-part series – arguments and romances, 30 hour benders, podcasts and yoga. And in our current lockdown state, the large crowds, loud music, and general hedonism seems positively idyllic.
Behind the Filter
That the first words of this 15 minute pilot are “Phoebe Waller Bridge” – which the main character utters in the middle of a dream – should give you a good idea of what you are about to watch. This comedy of excruciating embarrassment is brought to you by an altogether different Phoebe, Phoebe Walsh, who co-wrote the episode with Guardian critic Harriet Gisbone. Walsh plays Ruby, a wannabe influencer who lives at home with her parents (Dominic Coleman and Pippa Haywood) and their Syrian refugee lodger, Abdul (Omar Malik). In a desperate bid for cultural relevance, Ruby has decided to record a podcast, Feminism in your Ears, and has invited two guests to participate – the effortlessly cool Charlotte (Patricia Allison), and Ruth’s fantasy man, Barney (Edward Bluemel).
As a main character, Ruby is superficial in every sense of the word. She attempts to be someone she’s not, to the point of declaring herself a queer woman of colour, but she is also without any obvious depth of character. All the viewer sees of her is her sheer desperation and social awkwardness, which makes it difficult to invest in her in any meaningful way. If the pilot is about watching Ruby unwittingly debase herself in every manner possible, it succeeds – the question of whether that’s an enjoyable, interesting, or even funny viewing experience is another question altogether. Sadly, despite the talent on display, the pilot seems already fairly dated.
Racism in the Ranks
Reporter Callum Tulley – who has previously gone undercover as a custom officer at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre to expose the violence and abuse doled out by employees to detainees – now sets his sights on the British Army. Not particularly known for its inclusivity, recent cases have made clear quite how extreme racial abuse and discrimination is within the institution.
Tulley speaks to some of the Commonwealth soldiers who have made complaints about the bullying they were subjected to while serving. They describe the way in which they were pushed out of the army because of the racial harassment they suffered, with one Fijian recounting in graphic detail the brutal assault he suffered at the hands of two of his white colleagues. Tulley interviews one of the men who was accused of the assault, who denies the allegation that it was a racially motivated attack, while simultaneously sounding a very loud dogwhistle.
While the top brass interviewed here accept the fact that racism exists in the army, they also fudge the suggestion that it’s systemic and institutionalised. That is undercut by the testimony of the Commonwealth soldiers. But it’s further undercut by the admissions of white soldiers who took part in WhatsApp group messages where they shared Nazi memes and racist abuse, under the guise of “banter”.
It’s posited here that racism is built into army experience – given that the “enemy” is so often non-white, it’s almost part of the training. Perhaps with growing calls for education about the insidiousness of racism across all aspects of society, things will change – although, as this documentary starkly demonstrates, progress in the Army seems unlikely to happen with any speed.
Make Me Famous
This 50-minute, one-off drama looks at the dark side of reality TV, something we have become all too aware of after the tragic, untimely deaths of several Love Island stars. It’s written by Reggie Yates, who interviewed former contestants of such shows to inform his script, and also brought some of his own experiences to bear.
The drama tells the story of Billy (Tom Brittney), a contestant in the fictional programme Love or Lust. It takes place over two timelines. In flashback, producers Kelly (Aiysha Hart) and Stephanie (Nina Sosanya) interview him for the show, and he demonstrates an eagerness for celebrity, barely hiding a vulnerability the interviewers recognise as easily exploitable. In the present, he’s made enough money to get himself a penthouse flat by hawking protein powder in Instagram branded marketing, and doing nightclub appearances where he takes full advantage of the free alcohol on offer. But it’s an empty life, and he’s trying to cope with the paradox of ever-present notoriety yet flagging fame. As a new series of the show is on the horizon, he’s on the verge of being dumped by his manager Gary (Trieve Blackwood-Cambridge) in favour of this year’s crop of would-be stars.
While the cast (including Amanda Abbington as Billy’s mum) do their best, they are somewhat let down by the script, which is surprisingly unaffecting. It’s an interesting but ultimately quite shallow look at the pitfalls of reality TV, and the way in which ordinary people can be ruined in a bid for their 15 minutes of fame.
Angels of the North: Season 2
The second season of Angels of the North is a mere four episodes as opposed to the eight of the first, and it quickly becomes apparent why. Filming started before terms like “lockdown” and “social distancing” were part of the common parlance, but the speed with which society changed can be charted here.
As we rejoin Sammyjo and co. in Longlox Salon, it’s business as usual. There are different boyfriends, different hair colours, new houses and new tattoos to catch up on, but essentially things are moving on normally. A housewarming party is planned, new juniors are starting, and promotions are in the pipeline – there’s even a shock, but welcome, pregnancy.
But suddenly, government measures are introduced, and clients have to fill out questionnaires before their appointments, detailing their general health and where they’ve travelled in the past few months. The girls chat light-heartedly about what they’d do if the takeaways shut. Soon, people stop turning up to appointments altogether, and fewer and fewer staff are able to come in. “Mamager” Bev’s surprise 55th birthday party is cancelled. Sammyjo starts spending time reading online news, and laments the fact she’s trying to get a romance off the ground just as a pandemic is hitting. Finally, just before lockdown, Sammyjo has to make the decision to close down shop altogether. The series ends, abruptly.
It’s a strange feeling, to be watching a light and fluffy fly-on-the-wall TV show about a Tyneside salon, and to feel it’s something of a social document. But it does reflect the reality of what’s been happening to businesses and individuals up and down the country, as lives come to a standstill.
How’s Your Head, Hun?
BBC Three’s hastily put together lockdown content continues apace, in what is fast becoming a genre in its own right. From Yung Filly’s online quiz show to Stacey Dooley’s look at what people are doing to help in this time of crisis, presented from her living room and featuring online interviews with members of the public, we now have Michelle Visage’s contribution to the canon.
Here, she lets us into her home, where she’s quarantining with her husband, David, her daughter Lola, and Lola’s “newish” boyfriend. There’s squabbling about how loudly people are breathing, there’s picking up dog poo, and there are a couple of recipes (for Virgin Pina Colada and frozen pizza). It’s all interspersed with quirky news round-ups and celebrity interviews.
Jade Thirlwall, Allan Carr and Susannah Constantine update us on how often they’re washing their hair, Dr Ranj is horny online and treats us all to a dance while wearing high heels, and there’s skincare advice from Dr Sandra Lee (aka Dr Pimple Popper). The grand finale sees Michelle and David come together to create a substitute prom night for Lola, to make up for the one she’s missing. It’s surprisingly moving – even Lola breaks her teenage deadpan mask to shed a tear or two. All in all, the programme itself is like being fully embedded in the bosom of a highly energetic family, which may be just what you need if you’re separated from your own.
Glow Up: Season 2
We’re now halfway through Season 2 of Glow Up, and if you want a distraction from the rest of BBC Three’s lockdown content, this may be the show for you. Stacey Dooley is back in the presenting seat, joined by Dominic Skinner and Val Garland, with guest judges including Henry Holland and Michelle Visage. So far, the budding make up artists have been put to task on a Christmas campaign, London Fashion Week, live West End theatre, and an editorial for Attitude magazine.
The make-up has been both weird and wonderful – the highlights, so far, have included a David Bowie-inspired look, and the fourth episode’s creative task takes its inspiration from Berlin club culture, which galvanises the contestants to some wonderfully outré artistry.
The contestants are all engaging in their own way – perhaps disappointingly, there is no backbiting, internal fighting or drama, just mutual support. As the season goes on, and people get eliminated, it spend more time actually learning about the techniques they are using. Now is the time to perfect those methods, in anticipation of ever being able to go anywhere other than the supermarket again.
TV is adapting to lockdown in various ways, the most obvious one being the multi-player Skype call. Here, Yung Filly presents a new quiz show and the contestants take part from the comfort to their own homes. It’s quite an old-fashioned premise, using 20th century technology.
Four teams compete for the top prize of some inflatable garden furniture. The teams are made up of four separate households who are quarantining together: the flatmate threesome of Amelia, Ellen and Clara, who have a complicated romantic history; Sunim and her mum Sonia; brothers Marcus, Ron and Mitch; and cohabiting couple Nikita and Michael. They’re joined by the celebrity house of ex-Love Islanders Michael, Chris and Jordan, who apparently now share a flat.
Each team is given the same task to perform – they compete against each other for best synchronised Tik Tok dance routine, general knowledge, and a memory test, where they have to name the various bits of tat in the Love Islanders’ flat. There’s a final round where the two best teams have to scurry about their houses trying to find random objects.
Yung Filly brings his usual energy to the proceedings, and the contestants are entertaining in their own way. As is usual in televisual lockdown life, though, the best bit is getting a peek inside the house of celebrities – noticeable here is Chris’ commitment to life-size cardboard cutouts of himself.
Pick of the Week: Stacey Dooley: Costa del Narcos / Lockdown Heroes
Stacey’s back (has she ever been away?) with two new documentaries, which couldn’t feel more different. The first, Costa del Narcos, looks at the international drugs trade, while the second, Lockdown Heroes, is filmed from her living room as she meets some of the people giving up their time to help others during the Covid crisis.
We’re not sure if it’s purely because of the current lockdown, but Costa del Narcos is really exciting. Stacey goes to the south of Spain, which, due to its proximity to Morocco, is the major route for smuggling hashish and cocaine into Europe. She starts off in a helicopter to observe from a bird’s eye view how the smugglers do it, then gets to go on a really fast speedboat in the middle of the night as the coastal police chase them down. Later, she joins special forces police as they bust into the villa of a suspected distributor and discover 700,000 euros in cash stashed inside a snooker table. The whole thing is like a mix between Scarface and Miami Vice, and you can almost smell the fragrant nighttime air, and the banana plantations of Colombia.
By contrast, Lockdown Heroes is half the running time and is confined to a small and somewhat impersonal flat, where Stacey and her partner Kevin are holed up for the duration. Over Skype, she speaks to people who are trying to do their bit by making PPE, volunteering with St John’s Ambulance at the Nightingale Hospital, making sure homeless people have enough to eat, and helping people stuck in refugee camps in Greece. It’s both humbling and inspiring – and it may be the format of Dooley documentaries for the foreseeable future.
Lynnie Zonzolo, a self-confessed “sneaker queen”, who by her own admission owns £30k to £40k worth of footgear, presents this documentary looking into the history and future of “killer kicks”. Heading first to New York City, she talks to Sean Williams, creator of Obsessive Sneaker Disorder, about the self-expression and originality that customising your trainers meant back in the day. By the early 90s, as marketing took over, celebrity endorsements and the introduction of limited editions meant owning a rare pair became a status symbol. Zonzolo looks at the the money side of what has become a billion dollar industry, with resellers bulk-buying and selling shoes on for massive profit. DJ Bobbito Garcia, author of the 1991 essay “Confessions of a Sneaker Addict”, explains that sneakers have now become a form of art, with their own exhibitions and the release of highly collectible shoes.
With sneakers being almost impossible to recycle and rapidly filling landfills, though, brands are now looking into more ecologically friendly materials. To find out about the environmental impact, Zonzolo travels to Germany to visit the Adidas HQ, where they are developing more recyclable sneakers. Back in Britain, she meets people who are concentrating on restoring old sneakers, and urging people not to toss their old ones.
It’s not a particularly revelatory documentary, but as a potted history, it’s interesting enough. If it makes sneaker addicts re-think their buying habits, though, it’s well worth a watch.
My Mate’s a Muslim
In this half-hour documentary, rapper Krept and vlogger Rumena are doing Ramadam in lockdown, which means they can’t go to the mosque or see many of their family and friends. In lieu of that usual camaraderie, they have roped in two of their non-Muslim pals to take part in a day of fasting with them. It’s hard going for Kritikal and Olivia, who are shocked to discover that it means not only going without food for the day but water too.
They all prepare – separately, though keeping in touch with each other – by getting up before dawn to prepare and eat their final meal. Then it’s back to bed to kill a few hours, before reconvening to moan about how hungry and thirsty they are. Krept advises Kritikal that the day isn’t just about foregoing food, but also about random acts of kindness, so Kritikal goes to the supermarket and gets his mum a lovely cosy blanket, along with a trolley full of the food he plans to cook up for Iftar, when he can break his fast. Olivia, meanwhile, is concerned she shouldn’t be doing her make-up and instead should be thinking more holy thoughts, although she’s assured by Rumena that it’s OK to put some slap on.
While it’s interesting for non-Muslims to get a taste of what fasting is really all about, as TV, it’s fairly boring. The highlight of the programme is the sneak peak we get into the nursery Krept’s preparing for his daughter, who is due in a matter of weeks. It’s very touching to see him iron a wardrobe of tiny pink baby clothes in anticipation of her arrival.
Boys Banged Up
The sometimes-controversial radio and TV presenter Stephen Nolan spent four months filming in Hydebank, a Northern Irish prison for young offenders, for this surprisingly nuanced and memorable four-part documentary. Forming relationships with some of the 100-odd young men imprisoned there, he uncovers not just the day-to-day workings of the institution, but the effect it has on those incarcerated.
Most of the subjects here talk about their dependency on drugs and drink, and some speak of the fact that they were so out of it that they barely have any memory of being arrested. Prison offers them the opportunity to get clean, but they tell Nolan of how easy it is to obtain drugs on the black market while inside. Some use their time working out, getting some education, or learning skills they can use on the outside, and yet they speak too of the effect of incarceration on their mental health.
Where the series really comes into its own is where the young men open themselves up in interviews and describe – sometimes openly, sometimes obliquely – what led them down this path. One man talks about the sexual abuse he suffered at the age of 7, and of its lifelong repercussions. Another mentions in passing the he played football for Northern Ireland at the age of 16 – but gave up when his mother died, and got into drugs shortly thereafter. Nolan gradually and subtly draws out such backstories, and it’s in these small moments of vulnerability, when the masks slip and we see the damaged young men who lurk beneath, that the series really shines.
The Vivienne Takes on Hollywood
In the run-up to the release of her debut single, The Vivienne, the UK’s first drag race winner, made this series of short mockumentaries, which follow her as she heads off to Hollywood to be coached by some of the big names in entertainment. She’s given singing lessons by Broadway star Marissa Jaret Winkour, who delivers on that promise with typical musical theatre verve, and takes motivational tutorials with Daniel Franzese, who introduces her to an improv troupe for some acting exercises. Choreographer Mark Kanemura gives her some much-needed help with her dance moves, while Bruce Vilanch regales her with gossip about her idols Cher and Bette Midler, for no discernible reason. By the fifth episode, The Vivienne is ready to start auditioning go-go boys for her backing dancers, a task she clearly relishes.
It’s all done with tongue very firmly in cheek and with The Vivienne’s trademark caustic humour. But while it might whet fans’ appetites for the single, as an amuse bouche it’s rather bloated, and the entertainment value wears thin fairly quickly.
Stacey Dooley Investigates: Spycam Sex Criminals
Stacey travels to South Korea for her latest programme, where she looks into ‘Molka’, the sex crime that involves men secretly filming women and then uploading the content onto the internet. She speaks to both perpetrators and victims, as well as the people trying to halt a crime which has permeated South Korean society.
So prevalent is it that teams of specialists sweep everywhere from public restrooms to motels across the country for spy cameras, which can be hidden in shower heads, fire alarms, set top boxes, clocks, and ever-more creative places. The cameras can have wifi connections which allow live streaming onto the internet, letting people watch in real time. Some use the footage they’ve shot for their “private collections”, while others sell them online.
The trauma of being a victim of such a crime is heartbreakingly exposed in an interview Dooley conducts with the parents of a young woman who killed herself after being filmed in a hospital. The pain and guilt they feel is palpable.
Female activists are also interviewed and discuss the way in which the crime affects their own personal lives, and their ability to trust men. In a country with a low birth rate and where many people don’t get married, Dooley presents Molka as an intersection of loneliness and a high-tech society, where the gulf between the sexes seems almost unbridgeable, and where men have no idea about the concept of consent or basic respect for women. The programme ends with a word of warning about the prospect of it becoming a global phenomenon, in this eye-opening and depressing look into 21st century life.
I Am a Men’s Rights Activist
With the subheading “Has feminism gone too far?”, this half-hour documentary induces an eye-roll from the get-go. Fortunately, the man behind the camera, journalist Alvaro Alvarez, seems to know this, and manages to ask his subjects some awkward questions about their ideology. He joins ex-soldier and former gay porn star Philipp Tanzer as he travels from his home in the remote Scottish Highlands to a conference in Chicago, where he meets like-minded members of the ‘manosphere’, who bandy about false statistics and back each other up about how it’s men who are oppressed now.
Alvarez’s method seems to be allowing his interviewees to hoist themselves by their own petards, by filming them uttering falsehoods and then questioning them about them. Philipp drops a bombshell of his own towards the end – recounting how his mother was killed by her violent partner – and Alvarez expresses surprise at how Philipp can extrapolate that men are more likely to be victims of domestic violence than women. But ultimately, this documentary details nothing that has not been covered before, and will mainly succeed in foisting yet another MRA into the mainstream spotlight, even as he complains about being “silenced”.
School of Hard Tricks
This is another one of those series that BBC Three seems so keen on – sticking some random people together, giving them challenges, and filming as they overcome their hang-ups and fears. This time, we’re in Bradford, following a group of six young people, from their late teens to early 20s, over the course of three weeks as they learn the art of magic. They start as novices, graduate to street performers, and – in the third and final episode – they perform what they’ve learned on stage in front of a large audience.
Along the way, our intrepid magicians learn valuable lessons about themselves and each other, and work through their issues via the medium of magic. They have various mental hurdles to overcome, be it a lack of self-esteem, the effects of childhood bullying, family issues, or self-confessed laziness. One of the participants worries his Aspergers will curb his success. But their mentors are there not just to teach them the tricks of the trade, but to build up their confidence from the inside out.
Sadly, the inside workings of the magic tricks are kept secret from the viewer, so we can only gasp in wonder along with the audience. But the illusions are not really the point. As a programme, it’s a tried-and-tested formula; the subjects are a likeable bunch who you want to do well, and the people teaching them are supportive and kind. But, much like a rabbit in a hat, it’s likely to disappear without a trace.
Earth Day Pick: Dirty Streaming: The Internet’s Big Secret
Energetically presented by film and TV critic Beth Webb (with the occasional help, randomly, of Crystal from Drag Race UK), this is a quick look at the energy consumption involved in streaming video online. For those of use who have never wondered before exactly how data reaches our various online screens, it’s no doubt fairly informative.
Webb tracks our streaming data back from the undersea cables to their mysterious landing stations in nondescript warehouse-like buildings, and delves into the energy consumption of our storage centres. The ever-increasing need for such hubs is brought home to the viewer when Webb travels to Loudoun Country, Virginia, where a twee-looking town acts as a front for the hyper-scale data centres we know, cutesily, as “the cloud”. Being driven around the area, populated by massive, anonymous concrete buildings, it’s apparent how much of the cloud is actually very firmly attached to the ground – and it’s Amazon that owns much of it, renting its storage out to many of the big digital companies, including Netflix and Uber. While many companies are taking steps to move to renewable energy, Webb finds that fossil fuel is still powering some, and that the internet is doing some serious polluting.
The programme ends with some tips on how to curb our own personal internet usage, but as 5G comes along, which will generate even more traffic and rely on even more power, the effect individual users can have seems minimal. The programme, however, will be something of an eye-opener for many, and may help to jumpstart conversations about the effect our own personal habits can have on the wider world.
Your Next Box Set: In My Skin
Up-and-coming screenwriter Kayleigh Llewellyn debuted her accomplished pilot for this over a year ago, and the follow-up episodes, now available in this five-part box set, prove it was no flash in the pan. Billed as a comedy drama, this nevertheless does not play high school hi-jinks for laughs. Painfully portraying the teenage experience in all its highs and lows (though mainly lows), it is a very grown-up affair – dark, dirty, gritty, emotional, and entirely unforgettable.
Gabrielle Creevy plays 16-year-old Bethan, who, while attempting to maintain a ‘normal’ teenage life, with all the trials and tribulations that entails, is also grappling with much deeper worries. Her mum (Jo Hartley) is bipolar, while her father (Rhodri Meilir) is a deeply dysfunctional alcoholic. Bethan must navigate her schooldays with the extra pressure of keeping her deepest traumas hidden from even those closest to her.
It’s a dark subject matter, perfectly pitched by some excellent performances. As Bethan, Creevy is enormously relatable, developing an intense crush on one of the popular girls at school – Poppy (Zadeiah Campbell-Davies) – and spinning a story of a wonderfully mundane family life to impress her. But even her two best friends Lydia (Poppy Lee Friar) and Travis (James Wilbraham) are in the dark about just how bad things are at home. Only her gran (played perfectly by Di Botcher, who is given a wonderful turn of phrase) knows the truth.
The writing is given life by pitch-perfect performances (special shout-out to Laura Checkley as Mrs Blocker, Bethan’s PE teacher, who could carry a whole show of her own). But it’s with Bethan that the audience suffers and rejoices, in a programme that seemingly effortlessly takes the viewer back to those powerless teenage years, when pleasure and pain seamlessly commingled.
Models: From Street to Catwalk
This four-part series follows a group of aspiring models signed up to the Manchester-based agency Nemesis, as they try to land campaigns and break into the big leagues. Boss Nigel Martin Smith has high hopes for 17-year old Ethan, but his police record and talent for getting into trouble looks like it might hobble him. Jordan is a labourer who worries about losing his on-site street cred if he goes for spa treatments and facials. Liam family issues to deal with, whilst trying to juggle attending London castings. Ruby, the only female model featured in the programme, is further on in her career than the boys, and is hoping to land contracts further afield – but an accident with some hair tongs might thwart her ambitions.
This is one of those loosely-structured reality programmes that are a staple of BBC Three’s output, and this one is engaging enough – a light and airy affair replete with pretty faces and fairly low-stakes drama.
Selling nudes on sites like OnlyFans can be a nice little earner for some – and, as lockdown continues in the UK and elsewhere, is likely to become even more lucrative, as people turn to the internet for both human connection and sexual gratification. In this documentary, Ellie Flynn looks behind the scenes of some of the accounts.
Lauren is on her way to becoming one of the top earners in the world for selling her nudes, and grants Flynn access to some of her shoots, while Beth is more of a newcomer and is learning her way. In their experience, since the “glamour” magazine age has been replaced by content generated by the models themselves, where they are directly engaged with the consumer and cutting out the middleman, selling nudes online can be seen as a step forward for the performers.
Presumably to offset too much positive coverage, Flynn then looks into the possibility of underage girls being involved. She deploys software meant to identify a person’s age by the pictures they upload, before going to the British Library to try to track down the birth certificates of some random people on twitter. There’s not too much dirt to be found, other than the rather obvious ways and means underage people can gain access to the sites, and there’s not much in this documentary in the way of new information or revelation.
This Norwegian anthology series is BBC Three’s first non-English-language drama acquisition, and, as perfect as it is for the channel, it is hopefully not the last. Split into three separate stories, each looking at the impact leaked nude pictures can have on the people involved, it’s a beautifully acted and totally engrossing series.
The first three-parter focuses on Sophia (Lena Reinhardtsen), a young girl who goes to a party and has sex with a boy she likes, only to find a video of it online the next day. The search for the person who filmed it leads her to suspect all around her, while also dealing with the fallout from being the talk of the town. In the second, four-part vignette, we see a similar scenario being played out, but this time from the point of view of the person who shared a video of an underage girl. Viktor (Tord Kinge), a student president with a glowing reputation and a bright future ahead of him, finds his life turned upside down as the repercussions of his actions are made clear. The final part of the trilogy follows young and inexperienced Ada (Anna Storeng Frøseth), who joins a Tinder-esque app for a laugh, only to find herself the victim of a sinister blackmail scheme.
Each story is gut-wrenching in its own way, sensitively portrayed not only by the lead actors, but by the supporting cast. While they could act as cautionary tales, the delicate nuance of the writing elevate them from finger-wagging, victim-blaming public service announcements. A great addition to the BBC Three roster.
Your Next Box Set: My Left Nut
While a comedy-drama called “My Left Nut”, seeking to explore the importance of men’s health, might not seem like a particularly enticing prospect for many, this limited series proves to be universally appealing. Adapted from an award-winning show at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe, the three-parter is both heartfelt and heartwarming, covering dark issues with a lightness of touch and in a sensitively humorous way.
Written by Oisin Kearney and Michael Patrick (whose own experiences as a teenager inform the show), the programme stars Nathan Quinn O’Rawe as Mick. While navigating the usual adolescent problems – mastering the art of shaving and going on first dates – he also finds a swelling on his testicles. At first too embarrassed to talk to anyone about it, the problem festers, and his behaviour changes under the weight of his suppressed anxiety. Eventually taking his mother into his confidence, he is able, with her support, to face up to the medical implications.
Some of the funniest parts of this are also the most bawdy – jokes about the size of the protuberance in his trousers make Mick a school legend, and medical students are invited to gawp at his intimate growth. But interspersed with the testicles jokes are genuinely moving moments, from Mick’s mum worrying about the fate of her son to the family’s ongoing grieving for Mick’s dad, who died of motor neurone disease some years previously. The performances are nuanced, from Sinead Keenan as Mick’s mum through to his Inbetweeners-style pals Tommy (Oliver Anthony) and Danny (Jay Duffy), and love interest Rachael (Jessica Reynolds). The result is a genuinely moving, sad, funny, affectionate portrayal of a young man… and his swollen left nut.
Your Next Box Set: Hot Property
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.
Your Next Box Set: Enterprice: Season 2
Back for a second series, we catch up with the creators of Speedi-Kazz, South London’s premier errands service, as they navigate money, relationship, and family worries while also trying to get their business off the ground. Spurred by the big dreams and true entrepreneurial spirit of of Kazim (played by Eyode Ewumi, who also writes the series), business partner and BFF Jeremiah (Trieve Blackwood-Cambridge) is bankrolling the company at the outset of Season 2. Hard work is not something the pair are averse to – but keeping out of trouble is proving a bit more challenging.
While endlessly endearing, the problem with the programme is it tries to do too many things at once. The recording of a radio ad, which the pair hope will go viral, ties up much of the first couple of episodes. Then there are the relationships – Kazim meets a new love interest about halfway through, and gets giddy trying to woo her, while Jeremiah experiences unexpected issues with his girlfriend when she returns from travelling.
There’s the enjoyable ducking and diving to make some cash, like a 21st-century Only Fools and Horses. But also introduced in this season is a strange subplot involving a self-style “community leader” who is profiteering from and exploiting the neighbourhood – and who has a grudge against Speedi-Kazz. It all becomes somewhat chaotic – especially as, towards the end of the season, Jeremiah experiences a genuinely devastating personal loss, which isn’t given the time it needs to percolate.
That being said, the many of the characters are fascinating, and the slightly anarchic nature of the programme adds to its appeal. The last couple of episodes see everything come together cohesively, and the charm of the characters goes a long way.
The Mysterious Murder of Nipsey Hussle
It’s almost a year ago to the day since 33-year-old Nipsey Hussle was shot multiple times outside his clothing shop on Crenshaw Boulevard, LA. In this documentary, Ben Zand travels to America, where he reports on an active rumour mill dedicated to airing conspiracy theories surrounding his death.
Eric Holder is currently on trial for his murder, despite having pled not guilty, and much speculation has sprouted as to why Nipsey was killed. As he was an active community leader, fingers have been pointed at police and government involvement. Here, Zand interviews people who raise the point that there is a precedent for government agencies orchestrating the murder of black activists – from Martin Luther King to Malcom X and Fred Hampton – and that, as Nipsey was encouraging his community to work together to fight oppression, he became a target. Other people feel that the blame lies closer to home, positing the idea that, as Nipsey was gang-affiliated, he was the target of “discipline” from within his own. Others feel that the real motive was much more mundane – that Nipsey disrespected his killer by calling him a snitch, and paid for that disrespect with his life.
It’s a strange documentary, airing grievances without much in the way of clarification. It seems that regardless of the outcome of the trial, rumours will persist. Whether that fact merits documentaries promulgating them is another question entirely.
The Unshockable Dr Ronx
If you have a fear of going to the doctors, and would rather Google your symptoms than actually talk to someone about them, Ronke Ikharia, aka Dr Ronx, is on a mission to help. She hits the streets of Croydon, where she meets people suffering from everything from foot fungus to excessive sweating. Her initial consultations – in casual spaces like boxing gyms and coffee shops – can be enough to sort out the issue immediately. One man is told to put nail varnish or superglue on to his verruca, which will stop it breathing and get rid of it. The solutions really can be that easy.
Some issues are more problematic. One non-binary person is having problems with their chest binders, which has real repercussions in their daily life. Another is suffering from hair loss – Dr Ronx has some valuable tips. Another patient is suffering with their mental health, and just needs to talk without judgement about the various ways self-harm is affecting their life. There are rather more graphic health issues too, from spots in the genital region to smelly vaginal discharge.
Time and again, it’s the worry of talking about these problems – which may seem embarrassing and are kept secretive for that reason – that is the main barrier in seeking help. The relief the patients evidently have when they are out in the open – and when they find out their conditions are not as serious as they’d thought – is palpable. Ronx’s natural empathy and eminent approachability is the key here, making people feel comfortable while talking them through their health fears.
While not for everybody, the rather baffling popularity of Kim and Aggie and more recent televisual output focussing on hoarders suggest that there does seem to be a market for filth-based programmes. Now BBC Three has turned its hand to the genre.
Here, the concept is simple. Two manky households swap places with each other to clean up each other’s mess. Each has a team name – the self-explanatory ‘Party Boys’ find themselves competing against ‘Partners in Grime’, comprised of two couples who share a house and a lax attitude to hygeine. They’re competing for a prize of £1000 and the added bonus of presumably having a fighting chance of getting their deposit back.
Each team has detailed instructions of exactly how to go about their task. For educational purposes, there are some top cleaning tips (who knew that putting coca cola down the toilet bowl brought out the porcelain sparkle?), and there is an inexplicable rap halfway through, which suggests putting slugs on the tiles in your bathroom, as they clean the mould. It’s not one we’ll be trying anytime soon, but each to their own.
The houses really are mucky, with rotting takeaways in every crevice, a sink blocked up with puke, and toilets which defy description. It’s not one to watch while having your dinner – or, indeed, if you want an appetite any time in the near future. The real revelation is the almost proud way these people let a camera crew – and the viewing public – peek into their living conditions. One of the participants drops the bombshell halfway throughy that her mother is, in fact, a cleaner. We can only imagine the horror with which she will watch the show. All in all, in the words of Kim Woodward, these are a bunch of filthy mares.
Young, Welsh and Pretty Minted
The second season of the programme that looks at young entrepreneurs in Wales catches up with some of the people featured in the first, and introduces us to some others. It begins with Alex Pike, a young designer preparing for a prestigious catwalk show in Cannes, before segueing to Ashley Richards, a 19-year-old who says he makes £10k a week by trading in foreign currency. We return to find out what Toni Leigh Hall, founder of Banter Cards, has been up to – she’s currently turning over £500k a year and is attempting to deal with expanding her business while also maintaining some level of work/life balance.
Gonth, a vlogger previously observed as he was preparing to move to London, is now back in Wales, where he has found it easier to buy a house and have a social life. Sisters Sophie and Hannah Pycroft, creators of Spectrum makeup brushes, are off to Ibiza for a photoshoot, while, less glamorously but no less profitably, Callum Griffiths is making dried dog food in a Welsh warehouse. Erin Budina, a model and businesswomen, is attempting to make the switch from Instagram to YouTube, by creating a series in which she, rather charmlessly, does ‘real’ jobs, including one at the local recycling plant. There’s a couple of young men who have a gin bar, and someone who sells exotic insects online. Ibby, meanwhile, is a part-time barista who is making headway with his real passion: graphic design. He’s taking meetings with the pro golfer Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston to create his new branding, and it’s an insightful look at his working methods.
If it sounds like a lot to pack in, that’s because it is. Some of the subjects are more interesting than the others – some could fill a whole series themselves. For every young capitalist all about making big bucks with little substance, though, there are also those who are genuinely passionate about what they do, and the series spends its most interesting time with them.
Stacey Dooley: On the Psych Ward
Another week, another Stacey Dooley documentary. Here, she goes behind the scenes (or, in this case, behind the glass partition) at Springfield Hospital in London, a psychiatric facility that deals with people in crisis. Be warned – it’s an uncomfortable watch from the very start.
Many of the people she speaks to have been sectioned under the mental health act, and Stacey interviews them as they are admitted. Laura was brought in after attempting to jump off a bridge – she reveals she hasn’t eaten in over two weeks, has a longstanding history of anorexia, and says she doesn’t want to live anymore. Almost immediately, questions of how she can meaningfully consent to being interviewed arise. It gets yet more voyeuristic as patients who clearly don’t want to be identified are filmed in the throes of psychotic episodes, with their faces blurred out. Oisin, who presumably agreed to being identified, chats to Stacey before, off camera, having to be restrained when he attacks one of the mental health professionals. The staff who speak to Stacey are undeniably impressive and committed to their work, having to make tough decisions about the care of their patients while also being aware of the constraints of understaffing and underfunding. It’s something Dooley grapples with in her final piece to camera, but the documentary itself leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
Beauty Laid Bare
This three-part documentary brings together four people with varying interest in make-up, then sends them off to America to investigate the industry. Chloe is a 21-year-old make up artist from Belfast: Queenie is a ‘skeptic’ who rarely uses and beauty products; 25-year-old Casey is interested in male representation; while Resh, from Manchester, found salvation in make-up after she was the victim of a horrific acid attack. They’re all put up in a fancy hillside house in LA, which they use as the base for their investigations.
They visit various cosmetics brands and question them on their inclusiveness and their eco-friendliness, and attend a make-up convention, interviewing influencers who can make tens of thousands of dollars just by mentioning specific products. But they look at the other, much less glamorous, side of the business, as they take an informative trip to Mexico, where they discover what it takes to make Candelilla wax, used in many products. A helicopter ride over Death Valley allows them to view where talc comes from, and to find out why it can contain asbestos, while Chloe ventures into the sewers of San Francisco, to see for herself where the non-biodegradable plastics and wipes end up.
It’s all something of an eye-opener, revealing the uglier side of the industry. The four presenters vow to take home the lessons they learn, to help others become more responsible consumers, and to do what they can to demand change from the companies whose products they use.
Pick of the Week: Shame in the Game: Racism in Football
In England and Wales, hate crime incidents at professional football matches rose by 66 per cent last season. This 25-minute documentary shows footage of the kind of abuse the players are victims of – everything from names being shouted at them from the terraces to racist and antisemitic football chants in pubs, where Nazi salutes are brazenly given. Some of the players affected are interviewed, as they describe the impact on their lives and careers, and the support – or lack thereof – they have received from their clubs.
Much of the footage is shocking, and it does give an insight into the depth and breadth of the abuse, and how prevalent it is. There are some interesting observations made about its reflection of society as a whole, as Brexit and other world affairs are giving people the opportunity to become more vocal about their bigotries. But while the testimony of the players is depressing and anger-inducing, the programme itself is something of a snapshot. It gives voice to those who have suffered abuse, but, sadly, of the 20 Premier League teams approached by the filmmakers, only one club agreed to take part in the film. Whether the institutions will be able or willing to crack down on the racism within its ranks in any effective way remains to be seen – but this is a heartfelt plea for them to take it seriously.
Recommended Box Set: Shrill: Season 2
Just a month after the first season of Shrill was screened on BBC Three, the second season has now landed. It picks up straight from where we left off, with Aidy Bryant’s Annie fleeing from her troll’s house after smashing out the windows of his car. High on a ferocious adrenaline, she’s full of righteous anger as she flees town (and her responsibilities) with her now-dedicated boyfriend, Ryan (Luka Jones). The reality soon hits, though, as she realises she’s out of a job and her mother has gone AWOL in her absence. So begins this season’s journey, in which, while Annie’s not going to roll over and be the butt of anyone’s jokes anymore, she also gradually realises she has to make compromises in life.
Various zeitgeisty issues are raised, from unpaid internships to capitalist feminism. Some of these plot lines hit the mark more than others, but where the programme comes into its own is with the quieter moments of character development. Fran (Lolly Adefope), for example, having had her heart broken, is committed to staying single and appreciating herself, leading to a fabulous solo date, which ends with some rousing karaoke. Annie’s workmates, too, have their own small story arcs and are more roundly humanised than they were in the first season. Laugh-out-loud moments are few and far between, as the programme seems to be heading more towards snappy soap than comedy – but it is no less enjoyable for it. What emerges is akin to a millennial Sex and the City, but with a gentler heart.
This short, three-part series is yet another of the kind of chaotic, magazine-style programmes that BBC Three seems to fall back on. This ostensibly looks at the reality of life for young people in coastal towns, specifically North Devon – although other than that overarching remit, there’s not much to link the three episodes.
The first follows the work of an outreach worker supporting homeless people, and takes a look inside a hostel – although it’s bizarrely intercut with someone harvesting cannabis. The second episode jumps to 20-year-old Titch, who drops off leaflets at 5p-a-time while she can, but has aspirations to be a photographer, with her first exhibition to prepare for. She shares screen time with people who work in entertainment at a holiday park – again, with nothing really linking the different strands. In the final episode, we take a look inside the world of boxing.
In among all this, some interesting facts about North Devon are dropped. It has, apparently, the highest rate of youth homelessness in the country, very little in the way of affordable housing, and a depressed job market, with young people having to rely on seasonal work. Despite that, others come from elsewhere to buy up property and snap up jobs that could be going to local people – such as the holiday park workers featured in Episode 2. What could have provided some tension is brushed over in favour of an observational series, which lacks focus, is strangely boring, and leaves us with more questions than it answers.
Recommended Box Set: 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 email@example.com, 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.
Man Like Mobeen: Season 3
The third series of Man Like Mobeen seems, at first, to continue on from the winning formula of looking at the ills of modern society through Guz Khan and Andy Milligan’s sardonic lens. Issues such as racism, government cuts, and the trials of the underfunded NHS have always been part of the commentary of this programme – payday loans, food banks and “halal lettuce” are all part of the social fabric of Mobeen’s world. And so it goes in the opening to Season 3, as we are reunited with his sister Aks (Dúaa Karim) and his tight posse of Nate (Tolu Ogunmefun) and Eight (Tez Ilyas).
Things take a darker turn quite quickly, however, and this season is quite a departure from what has gone before. Money-laundering and drug-dealing are foisted upon our hapless crew, thanks to Art Malik’s sinister Uncle Khan. He insists that Mobeen shows his nephew Naveed (Nikesh Patel) the underworld ropes, and things go pretty pear-shaped, pretty fast.
The stakes are much higher this season, and there are a couple of really shocking moments. Interspersed with really interesting dialogue and character building – in one episode, Mobeen is handcuffed to Officer Harper (Perry Fitzpatrick) for a slow-mo ‘chase’ through the woods, which throws up a fascinating discussion – is a lot of plot and somewhat incomprehensible nefarious deals in darkened rooms, to the detriment of the characters we’ve come to care so much about. It seems like a disservice to the otherwise great writing, and the mix of violence and gentle humour is both jarring and devastating.
Stacey Dooley Investigates: The Grind
Stacey Dooley’s newest documentary sees her travel to the Faroe Islands and Norway in order to investigate the bloody business of whale hunting. In the Faroes, ‘the grind’ is not only tradition, it also feeds local families. When a pilot whale pod is spotted, locals go out in boats to herd them towards a ‘killing bay’, where they are killed by hand with the aid of a special ‘spinal lance’, which, if used correctly, should kill the mammals within seconds. The meat is then shared among those taking part in the hunt.
Perhaps thankfully, during her time in the Faroe Islands, Stacey is not involved in a live ‘grind’ – although she does receive footage from protest group the Sea Shepherds of a recent one, in which distressing images of a dolphin being slowly and painfully killed are shown.
The commercial whale hunt in Norway is quite a different beast, miles from the shore and therefore not witnessed by protesters. Dooley joins the fishermen as they spend days waiting to spot a minke whale, which they can kill with their large cannon. Both commercial and local whale hunters point out the hypocrisy of people from other countries telling them what they should and shouldn’t do, and point out the ills of processed meats. Whale hunting, according to them, is environmentally friendly and no different – better, in fact – than abattoirs. As usual, Stacey hears both sides of the argument, although she does confront a Faroese government advisor towards the end of the film. While the programme does ask some questions about ethical eating and cultural differences, it remains curiously underwhelming.
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.
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.
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.
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 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