Top TV shows and films on BBC iPlayer (19th July 2015)
Ivan Radford | On 19, Jul 2015
BBC iPlayer is at its typically eclectic best this week, as everything from classic music to indie comedy is available to stream.
The Beeb’s nurturing of new talent blossoms in the summer, with the premiere of both its annual drama and comedy shorts – but this year, we also get two fully commissioned series based on pilots in previous years. People Just Do Nothing returns for more laughs in its second season, while My Jihad’s sparkling mini-rom-com is one of the best shows you’ll see all year not on TV.
Add in an entire concert season on tap straight from the Royal Albert Hall, a smattering of films and a whole heap of other programmes for adults and kids alike, and you have a unique collection of TV you simply won’t find anywhere else. The broadcaster may be under fire from the government, but its public service remit – and commitment to quality entertainment – has never been more evident.
Here are the top titles currently available on BBC iPlayer:
People Just Do Nothing
Several years after it was first a BBC Comedy Feed pilot, People Just Do Nothing returns for a second season following the vaguely inept owners of pirate station Kurupt FM. (They’re very big in the Brentford area.)
Co-created by and starring Allan Mustafa as MC Grindah and co-starring Hugo Chegwin as DJ Beats, what started as a YouTube series has been nurtured by the Beeb into a comedy staple – becoming the first BBC Three show to premiere on iPlayer along the way. There’s a hint of Alan Partridge to the mockumentary – “How far does Kurupt reach?” asks our filmmakers on a balcony overlooking a council estate. “As far as the eye can see,” comes the proud reply. “But not that bit on the left.” – but the setting, characters and knowingly bad music has its own rhythm, which the cast stick to with engaging chemistry. Scenes where we catch Beats out of his hat and in a business suit for a job interview bring a surprising sympathy to his useless existence – and even more sympathy for his girlfriend, Roche, who has to endure the worst birthday party for their daughter ever recorded on screen. Asim Chaudhry as their friend, who runs a string of incompetent and illegal businesses, is always a treat. (Watch out for his “Polish Vodka”, which isn’t from Poland, but is made with window cleaner.)
Available until: 2nd August (Season 1)
Photo: BBC / Roughcut / Jack Barnes
The BBC’s latest season of comedy pilots has arrived and it’s a consistently hilarious batch. Highlights include warped game show spoof Funz and Gamez, complete with depressed host and a production team that breaks into their contestants’ homes to steal prizes, and sketch show People Like Us, which just might be the best ensemble sketch programme since Big Train. Elsewhere, the return of a wayward daughter from university to her rural home is a delightfully original piece of comedy in an age where many sitcoms have become bland and familiar. These feeds should come with a warning – because they’ll leave you hungry for more. (Read our full review).
As BBC iPlayer’s Original Drama Shorts return for another season, one of 2014’s best, My Jihad, returns as a miniseries of three 15-minute films. The first introduced us to Fahmida (Anjli Mohindra) and Nazir (Hamza Jeetooa), two single Muslims who crossed paths at an unsuccessful speed-dating night. Picking up events one month later, this is a universal exploration of love in modern Britain that packs in twice as much warmth and wit as most 30-minute shows do in a whole season.
Available until: 2016.
Original Drama Shorts
BBC iPlayer continues to prove a platform for new talent with its latest bunch of shorts. From a moving demonstration of isolation and connection in an online age to a darkly funny – and unpredictable – story of female love and family loyalty, this is an impressively versatile collection of stories that are more than worth spending time with.
Available until: 9th August
A Song for Jenny
Broadcast by the BBC to mark the 10th anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings, A Song for Jenny is a heart-rending example of the cathartic power of TV. The film, adapted by Frank McGuinness from Julie Nicholson’s book, follows Julie as she tries to find out what happened to her daughter, Jenny, who was travelling in London that morning. It’s a horrifically honest performance from Emily Watson that brings to life exactly what Julie was going through, while the script keeps things sincere and straightfoward. The result is a rare insight into the raw anguish of loss. A decade after the terrorist attack, it brings a country together in a cry of bereavement, a prayer for grief and a hymn to a mother’s courage.
Available until: 4th August
David Attenborough Meets President Obama
“Americans really go in for birthdays,” says David Attenborough, in his delightfully humble way, after being flown to the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama. Ostensibly an interview by Barack with the wildlife broadcasting legend, the 35-minute programme is a more casual chat, covering everything from David’s record-breaking dive on the Great Barrier Reef to the challenges facing the environment today. The greying Obama, who is on something of a roll at the moment, is as professorial as ever with his thoughtful questions, indicating that he is well aware of the need to raise awareness of global warming. The fact that this drew 2.5 million viewers when broadcast on BBC One is proof that he’s succeeded at that. Watching Sir David get a surprise birthday cake is a bonus.
(If this gets you in the mood for more Attenborough, BBC iPlayer is your friend: the service usually has at least one wildlife programme presented by the national treasure. At the moment, it’s Natural World.)
Available until: 28th July
BBC Proms 2015
The Proms are a fantastic additional to the cultural calendar every year, with the Beeb’s increasingly diverse range of programming – this year, instead of the semi-traditional Doctor Who Prom, there is a David Attenborough-themed event and one based around Sherlock – helping to make classical music as accessible as it is affordable. For those unable to make it to the Royal Albert Hall, the televised coverage is second to none, with a large proportion of Proms broadcast live and subsequently available to stream. Composers from Beethoven and Handel to Britten and Holst, plus performers such as Yo-Yo Ma, whenever you want to watch or listen to them? Play on, BBC. Play on.
Photo: BBC / Chris Christodoulou
Available until: 17th August (First Night of the Proms)
The BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon is almost unrivalled in the world of televised sport. With a full line-up of matches available to watch live through the BBC Tennis site, the fact that most of them make it to BBC iPlayer in either highlights form, or as catch-up chunks of the BBC One/BBC Two broadcast, is a treat. Just take care to avoid the early episodes of new show Wimbledon 2day, which sees Clare Balding attempting to serve up a Top Gear-style round-up of the day’s action – and mostly hitting the net.
Available until: 29th July
Photo: Ray Burmiston / BBC
“Runny nose, coughing, swollen glands, slight fever…” There’s something about hearing familiar symptoms said in a foreign language that makes them all the more unsettling. BBC Four’s latest import, then, makes for a mildly creepy watch, as we see a contagion spread quickly through Antwerp – only for the authorities to (ahem) cordon off a quarter of the city to contain it.
The opening episodes give us an introduction to the usual array of potential victims, from the immigrant who brings the disease into the port to the police and officials trying to battle the infection. The stand-outs, though, are strong-willed clever clogs Jana (Liesa Van deer Aa) and teacher Katja (Veerle Baetens), who takes her class for a fun day trip to the National Institute for Contagious Diseases. As you do. If patient zero turns out to be a metaphor for the dangers of illegal immigration, it’s impressively underplayed, while the location and language make for an effective change to the usual Scandi shows in this Saturday evening slot. You’ll be Google Translating your own common cold symptoms in no time.
Available until: 27th July(Episode 1)
With over 60 sets already available to stream and counting, iPlayer is where Glastonbury is at. From Kanye West’s set on Saturday night to Burt Bacharach and Florence + The Machine, it’s all here – and it’s not going anywhere for another 30 days. Click here for the full line-up – or see our top Glastonbury highlights.
Available until: 25th July
Amy Winehouse In Her Own Words
“You gotta choose your words carefully,” says Amy Winehouse in this new documentary about the late singer.
Produced by Sasha Duncan, the film spans just 23 minutes, a runtime that seems almost as slight as the singer’s tragically short career, before her death at the young age of 27. But in the shadow of the looming feature-length film, Amy Winehouse In Her Own Words benefits from that small scale.
The title itself emphasises the project’s smart approach: with no talking heads to offer their version of events and no linear story, we simply get Winehouse’s take on her own situation, distilled into the brief times that she let her guard down. The film is threaded together from extracts of footage for the Jazz And Soul Britannia series on BBC Four, BBC One Sessions in 2007, Glastonbury 2004 and 2008, and the 2004 Mercury Music Prize, as well as intimate interviews. The result a short, but powerful piece of film-making that chooses its words carefully; less a biopic and more a moving, intimate portrayal of a supremely talented artist. Read our full review.
Available until: 21st July
Matt Berry Does… Father’s Day
Matt Berry proves once again that almost anything he says is funny, mostly because of the way he says it. After several excellent comedy shorts for BBC iPlayer, the IT Crowd and Garth Marenghi star now has his own series of short films titled “Matt Berry Does…”. After a profile of the Oxford vs. Cambridge boat race earlier in the year, he turns his anthropological gaze to Father’s Day, providing a history of parenthood that dates all the way back to our primate ancestors. Alongside the bizarre and silly turns this spoof documentary takes, not to mention the vaguely satirical swipes at the failed evolution of men, the highlight is simply Berry using the phrase “UK daddy”, something that he repeats over and over again. It doesn’t stop being funny. This is the second of six “Matt Berry Does…” specials. Roll on the other four.
Available until: June 2016
“This is the Earth, our home…” begins Michael Palin at the start of each episode of The Clangers. “A tiny, wet planet, lost and alone. Lost in the vast silence of space…”
It’s not the introduction that older viewers will be used to, but it’s immediately clear that the Beeb’s updated version of Oliver Postgate’s classic has no intention of rebooting the show for modern audiences. In a year where Gerry Anderson’s equally loved series was given a CGI makeover, new characters and a different back-story, The Clangers feels like the antithesis to ITV’s Thunderbirds.
Palin’s avuncular tones are the perfect fit for The Clanger’s reassuring voice-over, which rejoices in the small details of our creatures’ lives. The result is something that feels as timeless as ever, because it doesn’t alter what made The Clangers special in the first place: its ability to present imagination as the most natural thing in the universe. Read our full review.
Available until: 10th August (Episode 1)
Photo: BBC/Coolabi, Smallfilms and Peter Firmin
An Hour to Save Your Life: Season 2
Earlier this year, Sky 1 brought us Critical, a medical drama that borrowed 24’s real-time premise to follow a team of surgeons trying to save emergency patients in the “Golden Hour” following their admission to hospital. Now, the BBC has responded with a second season of its own one-hour documentary about the same thing. Interviews with the doctors post-event provide welcome explanations of the procedures we’re watching – reminding us of the harsh reality that more than makes up for the lack of gory, fictionalised injuries. Sky’s show is sensational and gripping. These cases actually happened.
Available until: 25th July (Episode 1)
Photo: BBC / Boundless
Women Who Spit
“Your shabby, slipped-stitch mistakes make you miraculous,” spits Vanessa Kisuule in a short poem urging women to stop shrinking back and to take up space. It’s one of countless brilliant lines you’ll hear during this series of short films, which see female poets tackle topics facing young people today.
Cecilia Knapp’s explanation of why she writes is inspiring, Deanna Rodger’s look at those forced off the street is provocative, while Jemima Foxtrot’s double-performed examination of confidence and doubt is an entertaining and powerful reminder of the importance of self over surface. Each are excellent performers, leaving your tongue tripping back over syllables to savour their taste, but keep Megan Beech’s passionate cry for more women on our TV screens until last: after the previous four fantastic compositions, you’ll be hard pushed not to agree.
Important and urgent, this collection shows just how valuable BBC iPlayer can be as a platform to voices that should be heard more often.
Available until: May 2016
Photo: BBC/Thomas Caron Delion
jane Horrocks stars in this likeable drama about a shy woman who finds escape from life in music. Based on Jim Cartwright’s play, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, the cast includes Ewan McGregor, Michael Caine and Jim Broadbent.
Available until: 25th July July
The inimitable Julie Christie stars in this adaptation of LP Hartley’s novel – scripted by Harold Pinter – about a boy, who is drawn into being a messenger between an aristocratic woman and a farmer with whom she is having an affair.
Available until: 21st July
Bridge to Terabithia
New classmate Leslie unlocks a mesmerising world of fantasy and imagination for fifth-grader Jesse in this poignant adventure based on the best-selling novel.
Available until: 25th July
Bruce Willis stars in this enjoyably duff modern update of Frederick Forsyth’s 1971 novel. Willis plays the titular hit man, who is hired to kill someone in the US government – only for Richard Gere to try and stop him. Worth watching just to see what wigs he ends up wearing. “Master of disguise”, indeed.
Available until: 2nd August
“Sometimes we can mistake anger for caring.” That’s sensible policeman Robert (Mark Strong) to worked-up copper Joe (Paul Bettany). And who can blame Joe for being tetchy? He’s got a lot to be worked up about. His father (Brian Cox) was a ball-busting police chief and now has Alzheimer’s. His younger brother, Chrissie (Stephen Graham), keeps cheating on his partner. And they’ve got a killer to find after a 12 year old girl is brutally murdered.
If Blood sounds like a TV drama, that’s because it is – the script is based on 2004 series Conviction – but Paul Bettany easily fills up the screen’s extra inches. His gradually imploding man is one of the most intense roles of his career, a small-scale chance to tackle the big issues. By sticking with his perspective, Nicky Murphy’s low-key thriller makes for a gripping examination of morals and police procedurals rather than a mere ITV clone.
Available until: 21st July
The Lost Squadron
War films following aerial antics are a familiar site, but this 1932 movie, starring Richard Dix, Mary Astor, and Robert Armstrong, takes the unusual route of following WWI pilots, once they’re grounded after the war. Their career of choice? Stuntmen for a mad film director.
Available until: 26th July
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt bring a surprising amount of charm to this whimsical, flimsy tale of an advisor at the Department of Fisheries, who is hired by the assistant to a wealthy Yemeni client to create a salmon fishing paradise in his home country – something that he deems nigh impossible.
Available until: 8th August
Adam Curtis’ bizarre, surreal, brilliant provocative documentary deconstructs the media’s presentation of politics and history with a dizzying complexity and a dark sense of humour. At over two hours, it’s a daunting watch, but an important one – not least because it showcases the potential for BBC iPlayer as a platform for bold, experimental work. (Read our full review)
Available until: 2016