Top TV shows and films on BBC iPlayer (8th September 2015)
Ivan Radford | On 08, Sep 2015
As autumn gets underway, the season of appointment TV begins once more in fresh earnest. The X Factor and Strictly join The Great British Bake Off in the TV industry’s efforts to create event television – the kind of thing you’re meant to watch live to enjoy the most. Take that, Netflix and catch-up.
No show had more diary entries this week than BBC One’s take on Lady Chatterly’s Lover – a guaranteed bonk-fest and part of its new run of Sunday night dramas (following The Scandal of Lady W). But as brilliant as GBBO remains, the BBC’s strength lies in its plethora of online content available to catch up with, including two lower profile shows that you may well have missed.
We review the best TV shows and films currently available on BBC iPlayer:
Boy Meets Girl
The first UK sitcom to feature a transgender character, Boy Meets Girl is the kind of show that could – and arguably should – be trumpeted as welcome game-changer. The show, though, is actually quite old-fashioned in its approach, not to sexuality but to humour: jokes range from the well observed “I was born with a penis” revelation during a romantic dinner to overly familiar older relatives delivering cosy, if tired, gags. But if that leaves this far from on par with Amazon’s Transparent, there’s pleasure to be found in its earthy, comfortable attitude to its subject: the moment where Rebecca Root’s Judy explains to Harry Hepple’s Leo that she was born in the wrong body is an unexpectedly tender piece of TV.
Danny and the Human Zoo
“You may have seen these impressions before, but not in colour,” says young Danny Fearon, as he takes to the stage in Dudley. Written by Lenny Henry, the loosely autobiographical story of a young black comedian growing up in the 1970s might sound like a self-indulgent piece of nostaglia. But while Danny Baker’s similar effort, Cradle to Grave (also on iPlayer), was satisfactory, if shallow, Danny and the Human Zoo emerges as a tender, moving tale.
Kascion Franklin is fantastic as the impersonator, who makes his name only by mimicking famous white people, and Cecilia Noble is wonderful as his passionate, protective mum. But Henry quietly steals the show as his serious dad, who looks upon everything from infidelity to his adopted son performing on a stage surrounded by minstreals, and manages a grumpy, reluctant smile. It’s a wonderful display of restraint during a time only a few decades ago, when prejudice among white people didn’t know the meaning of the word.
Photo: BBC/Red Productions/Adrian Rogers
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Jed Mercurio’s take on DH Lawrence’s steamy novel is a surprisingly chaste affair, as Holliday Grainger’s haughty Lady C gets off with groundskeeper Oliver Mellors. Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden tones down the language (“bottom” is the word of the day, rather than anything rude, thank you very much), just one of many changes to the text that left some fans fuming online at the lack of rumpy-pumpy. The biggest crime of passion is the dialogue, which, thanks to some colourful accents, leaves you closer to titters than titillated. The strength of Mercurio’s script, though, lies in its down-to-earth tone, complete with James Norton as the surprisingly sympathetic, disabled Sir Clifford Chatterley. “It is the living together day to day not the sleeping together” that defines love, he argues at one point. This TV drama makes a good case for it.
Goodness Gracious Me
Goodness gracious me is something you wouldn’t be blamed for crying, as the British-Asian sketch show from years ago returns out of the blue for an Indian-themed special. There are some misses in among the hits – gags such as Brownton Abbey and Brownadder don’t always work as well on camera as they do on paper – but there’s wit and silliness aplenty, as Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Nina Wadia, Kulvinder Ghir and Dave Lamb skewer the BBC’s approach to diversity and even find time to send up stereotypes with the Indian Space Programme. You might be surprised by the troupe’s sudden reunion, but what’s most impressive is that after all these years, the gang have still got it. Goodness gracious, indeed.
Photo: BBC/Des Willie
Available until: 24th September
This sitcom about Croydon’s worst fried chicken shop (Seriously Fried Chicken) takes full flight after being commissioned on the basis of its Comedy Feeds pilot last year. The strength of the show remains the store’s incompetent manager, Mary, a part played with endearing desperation by the excellent Katy Wix. She takes centre stage, as she goes undercover to find out who’s been complaining about her to head office. There are deep fried laughs in the reaction of her colleagues to her ineffective costume, building to a strong final gag, but with a disappointingly familiar romantic subplot and an uneven role for the token rowdy sidekick (amusing when in his mascot costume, less so when left to deliver stock rude statements), a lot of this first episode rests on how funny you find a woman wearing a fake moustache. Give this time to flap its wings: there are promising nuggets to be found.
Available until: 26th September (Episode 1)
Photo: BBC / Two Brothers Pictures Limited / Bwark Productions Limited
This tenderly observed portrait of five men as they undergo transformation into women marks the welcome growth of a spotlight the TV world is shining on trans people in the wake of such shows as Orange Is the New Black and Amazon’s Transparent. There is a real diversity on show, from 17-year-old Bee, who is supported by her blokey dad, to Glady, a 70-something who belts out karaoke numbers in the local boozer with pride. But one thing these all have in common is a genuine desire to understand – and spread understanding of – their journeys, the beginning of a process that will, hopefully, lead to the normalisation of such tales in our mainstream media. “She’ll always be one of the lads,” says the co-worker of Anne, a soldier-turned-bus-driver who has just come out, without hesitating to accept her.
Available until: 23rd September
Photo: Peachtree Films/BBC Scotland
“Nobody messes with the McCrane family,” warns cockney crime boss Harry McCrane to his newly assembled henchmen. A hand goes up. “Yes, Sandra?” He’s just taken over an ice cream factory. The problem? They were already making a lot of money with the ice cream. Drugs, on the other hand, are a lot of hassle.
It’s exactly the kind of villain you can expect to encounter Top Coppers, BBC Three’s new comedy series. Created by Andy Kinnear and Cein McGillicuddy (also on directing duties), the show spoofs 1970s cop thrillers like it’s going out of fashion.
In many ways, of course, it is: comedies these days don’t do slapstick and silliness in the quite the same way. But the cast are more than up for it; Steen Raskopoulous is hilariously gormless as star cop John Mahogany and John Kearns is even more so as his sidekick, Mitch Rust. Both are dim, good at deadpan delivery and even more ginger than their names suggest. Their policing of Justice City, led by an amusingly over-the-top chief – the lover of another brother’s mother – recalls Police Squad! with its rapid-fire punchlines and constant undermining of every plot point. It’s not quite on a par with Frank Drebin, but three decades on, this wears the comparison on its sleeve with impressive attitude.
Available until: 22nd September
Photo: BBC PICTURES/Rough Cut
The Scandal of Lady W
After turning Henry VIII’s head as Anne Boleyn in The Tudors, Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer goes back to court for this racy BBC drama. This is another kind of court altogether, though: the legal court, where Lady Seymour Worsley was sued by her husband, Sir Richard, in 1781, for having an affair with another man and eloping.
All of the claims are true, but they’re only the tip of the steamy iceberg: we soon discover that Seymour was rumpy-pumpying away with dozens of men, all at the behest of her husband, who preferred to crouch at the keyhole and peep in – doing his own rumpy-pumpying, if you will.
It’s a raunchy tale, for sure, and the Beeb’s 90-minute telling dives under the bed clothes with surprising enthusiasm. Along with director Sheree Folkson jump some excellent acting performances – led by the excellent Dormer and a slimy Shaun Evans – a whole heap of flashbacks and what seems to be a rather large chamber orchestra. The leaping from the sack and back to the witness box, though, doesn’t work as well as David Eldridge’s uneven script (based on Hallie Rubenhold’s book) would like, leaving the forward-thinking tale of a woman refusing to be judged as a man’s property feeling rather rushed – another reason for the slightly under-served actors to be slightly out of breath.
Available until: 16th September
Photo: BBC/Wall to Wall Productions Ltd
The Great British Bake Off
Pudding trumps bread any day of the week and Bake Off doesn’t disappoint, with an array of mouth-watering cheesecakes (cream soda, anyone?), entertaining meringue dilemmas and some creme brûlée catastrophes. Paul Hollywood is scathingly blunt as he and Mary wobble over the custardy, creamy chaos. All that and there’s still the question of whether Ian can win Star Baker for the third week in a row. Six seasons in and this format is still as sweet as ever.
Earth’s Natural Wonders: Living on the Edge – Extreme Wonders
Nobody does nature documentaries quite like the BBC. But while the shows usually focus on cute or dangerous animals in stunning locations, Earth’s Natural Wonders offers a welcome change of pace: the subject here are the people who live in such extreme environments. There are the “ice doctors” traversing crevasses on Mount Everest. The young boys undergoing the coming-of-age ritual of having their hands stung by bullet ants for 10 minutes. And even those working to save condors from lead poisoning in the Grand Canyon. Skipping quickly between six locations to keep things varied, the diverse landscapes are on show is as breathtaking as ever, but the human drama is what really snatches the oxygen from your lungs – helped no end by Olivia Colman’s narration. “If you fall, it’s instant death,” one cave climber hoping to reach a bird’s nest at the top tells us. If that seems incredible, wait until you how they handle marauding elephants on Kilimanjaro.
Ripper Street: Season 3
“It is a battle that has no end, but is worth the blood.” That was Detective Inspector Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) to his sidekick, Drake (Jerome Flynn), in Season 1 of Ripper Street. Set in 1880s Whitechapel, the show saw the newly appointed Reid attempting to lead the police force out of the shadow of Jack the Ripper.
We begin four years after the events of Ripper Street Season 2 – a break that gives ample room for backstory to reward former viewers, but also means newcomers can pick it up straight off.
All of our characters have gone their own ways. Drake has moved to Manchester. Reid has retreated into his own den of case histories, a loner assembling a library of felonies and felons. And Captain Jackson is a playboy once more. But as a train crash brings them all back together, the stand-out improvement here is the women: often restricted by Richard Warlow’s scripts, now Rose is set for a complex rags-to-riches-to-rags arc, while Long Susan (the excellent MyAnna Buring) is leading a social movement that is spreading across London – but needs funds to keep growing.
“The abyss isn’t within us or without us,” Reid tells Drake in one of his more sombre moments, when discussing the state of London and humanity. “We are the abyss.”
It’s the polar opposite of his mantra in Season 1 – and as Reid stalks the streets of Whitechapel, his long coat fading into the darkness of the back streets, that transformation is as stunning as it is thrilling. Ripper Street is back. And it’s better than ever.
Photo: BBC/Tiger Aspect/Bernard Walsh
Music Box with Guy Garvey
The Elbow’s likeable frontman throws the curtains wide on a new music series exclusive to iPlayer, which sees Garvey share and discuss artists that he is most excited about. The series will run every other week for six episodes, with the first living up to its promise of introducing audiences to new music through its focus on Here We Go Magic. The exclusive premiere of the video for Falling – from their new album Be Small – is an apt coup, with Garvey providing the kind of amusing and insightful commentary that listeners to his Radio 6 Music show will be familiar with. Space for archive music from Radiohead brings diversity to the line-up, while the sub-30-minute runtime makes this an easy fit into your commute. Most impressive, though, is the BBC’s Playlister, which enables you to add tracks to a music playlist – a feature that, while not always relevant to the Beeb’s catch-up TV content, really comes into its own. Much like YouTube’s links to purchase audio from its videos, it’s the kind of innovative touch the BBC is good at – and could signal a strong future for IPlayer in the music VOD world. One day like this a fortnight will see us right.
Available until: June 2016
Photo: BBC / Dean Chalkley
Matt Berry Does… Summer Holidays
Matt Berry’s series of topical shorts continue to make us chuckle, even as the subject matter becomes more and more arbitrary. His response to the topic is to deliver his most surreal voice over and footage combo yet – but even if the topic and its follow-through feel more haphazard than in the past, there’s something undeniably hilarious about Matt Berry’s voice over the top of screaming fish. Long may that stay true.
Available until: June 2016
Photo: BBC iPlayer
The BBC’s latest season of comedy pilots has arrived and it’s a consistently hilarious batch. Highlights include warped game show spoof Funz and Gamez, complete with depressed host and a production team that breaks into their contestants’ homes to steal prizes, and sketch show People Like Us, which just might be the best ensemble sketch programme since Big Train. Elsewhere, the return of a wayward daughter from university to her rural home is a delightfully original piece of comedy in an age where many sitcoms have become bland and familiar. These feeds should come with a warning – because they’ll leave you hungry for more. (Read our full review).
Available until: June 2016.
As BBC iPlayer’s Original Drama Shorts return for another season, one of 2014’s best, My Jihad, returns as a miniseries of three 15-minute films. The first introduced us to Fahmida (Anjli Mohindra) and Nazir (Hamza Jeetooa), two single Muslims who crossed paths at an unsuccessful speed-dating night. Picking up events one month later, this is a universal exploration of love in modern Britain that packs in twice as much warmth and wit as most 30-minute shows do in a whole season.
Read our full review.
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.
Read our full review.
Available until: June 2016
BBC Proms 2015
The Proms are a fantastic additional to the cultural calendar every year, with the Beeb’s increasingly diverse range of programming – this year, instead of the semi-traditional Doctor Who Prom, there is a David Attenborough-themed event and one based around Sherlock – helping to make classical music as accessible as it is affordable. For those unable to make it to the Royal Albert Hall, the televised coverage is second to none, with a large proportion of Proms broadcast live and subsequently available to stream. Composers from Beethoven and Handel to Britten and Holst, plus performers such as Yo-Yo Ma, whenever you want to watch or listen to them? Play on, BBC. Play on.
Photo: BBC / Chris Christodoulou
Matt Berry Does… Father’s Day
Matt Berry proves once again that almost anything he says is funny, mostly because of the way he says it. After several excellent comedy shorts for BBC iPlayer, the IT Crowd and Garth Marenghi star now has his own series of short films titled “Matt Berry Does…”. After a profile of the Oxford vs. Cambridge boat race earlier in the year, he turns his anthropological gaze to Father’s Day, providing a history of parenthood that dates all the way back to our primate ancestors. Alongside the bizarre and silly turns this spoof documentary takes, not to mention the vaguely satirical swipes at the failed evolution of men, the highlight is simply Berry using the phrase “UK daddy”, something that he repeats over and over again. It doesn’t stop being funny. This is the second of six “Matt Berry Does…” specials. Roll on the other four.
Available until: June 2016
“This is the Earth, our home…” begins Michael Palin at the start of each episode of The Clangers. “A tiny, wet planet, lost and alone. Lost in the vast silence of space…”
It’s not the introduction that older viewers will be used to, but it’s immediately clear that the Beeb’s updated version of Oliver Postgate’s classic has no intention of rebooting the show for modern audiences. In a year where Gerry Anderson’s equally loved series was given a CGI makeover, new characters and a different back-story, The Clangers feels like the antithesis to ITV’s Thunderbirds.
Palin’s avuncular tones are the perfect fit for The Clanger’s reassuring voice-over, which rejoices in the small details of our creatures’ lives. The result is something that feels as timeless as ever, because it doesn’t alter what made The Clangers special in the first place: its ability to present imagination as the most natural thing in the universe. Read our full review.
Available until: 30th August(Episode 4)
Photo: BBC/Coolabi, Smallfilms and Peter Firmin
Women Who Spit
“Your shabby, slipped-stitch mistakes make you miraculous,” spits Vanessa Kisuule in a short poem urging women to stop shrinking back and to take up space. It’s one of countless brilliant lines you’ll hear during this series of short films, which see female poets tackle topics facing young people today.
Cecilia Knapp’s explanation of why she writes is inspiring, Deanna Rodger’s look at those forced off the street is provocative, while Jemima Foxtrot’s double-performed examination of confidence and doubt is an entertaining and powerful reminder of the importance of self over surface. Each are excellent performers, leaving your tongue tripping back over syllables to savour their taste, but keep Megan Beech’s passionate cry for more women on our TV screens until last: after the previous four fantastic compositions, you’ll be hard pushed not to agree.
Important and urgent, this collection shows just how valuable BBC iPlayer can be as a platform to voices that should be heard more often.
Available until: May 2016
Photo: BBC/Thomas Caron Delion
The Titfield Thunderbolt
This classic Ealing comedy follows a group of villagers who battle to preserve the local railway line by running it themselves.
Available until: 8th September
Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave
A romance with a wool shop owner and a dog framed for sheep-rustling? Aardman’s small-screen outings for its claymation duo have never been bigger or better.
Available until: 30th September
Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers
Jewellery heists. Robotic pants. Mysterious penguins. The Wrong Trousers has it all – including a stunning stop-motion chase sequence involving a toy train set.
Available until 30th September
Adam Curtis’ bizarre, surreal, brilliant provocative documentary deconstructs the media’s presentation of politics and history with a dizzying complexity and a dark sense of humour. At over two hours, it’s a daunting watch, but an important one – not least because it showcases the potential for BBC iPlayer as a platform for bold, experimental work. (Read our full review)
Available until: 2016
Main Photo: BBC PICTURES/HARTSWOOD FILMS