BBC Three TV reviews: What’s new on the online channel and what’s worth watching?
Updated 21-04-19 | 15: 00 PM | Staff Reporter
Reading time: 61 mins
In February 2016, BBC Three became the UK’s first online TV channel. The channel continues to serve up fresh new stuff every day, both long-form drama, documentary and comedy and short-form content that ranges from animations and clips to interviews and blog posts. (See our guide to what’s coming soon to BBC Three.)
The channel also offers a range of old BBC Three shows to stream – you can see our guide to which box sets are available here.
But which of the new TV shows and online videos are worth catching up with? Every fortnight, we round up the latest BBC Three titles available online and review them.
Pick of the Week: Back to Life: Season 1
This new comedy takes the tradition for flawed female characters trying to make their way in life and turns it up to 11. Daisy Haggard (who also co-wrote the series with Laura Solon) plays Miri, who is returning to her childhood home on the Kent coast after 18 years spent in prison. Getting used to how things have changed in the time she’s been inside. Her bafflement at everyone’s obsession with phones and the posters on the walls of her old bedroom – George Michael, Prince, David Bowie and Jamie Oliver (“last man standing”, as her mother [Geraldine James] calls him) – is the least of her worries. She is also returning to a hostile community who still bear a grudge for her crime and are out to make her life as difficult as possible.
The series follows Miri as she gets a job at a chippie and starts a tentative new relationship, while reconciling the ghosts of her past, and discovering what led to the incident that put her in jail. A great supporting cast, including Richard Durden as her compost-obsessed father, Adeel Akhtar as the next door neighbour who befriends her, Liam Williams as her new boss, and Christine Bottomley as her old schoolfriend, bring life to their characters, although there are a couple of subplots that don’t add much and take the focus away from the main meat of the programme. While Back to Life has been compared to Fleabag, with good reason – the programmes share the same producers, debuted on BBC Three, and takes the ‘dysfunctional heroine’ to new extremes – it is unlikely to catch the same zeitgeist, although the melancholic humour and the first rate acting will surely act as great calling cards.
Available until: September 2019
Pick of the Week: Life After My Brother’s Murder
Chanell’s brother Daniel was stabbed to death in 2006, when she was 11 years old. Now, 13 years later, as the man responsible is due his parole hearing, she must write an impact statement – but first she needs to find out exactly what happened that night, and why.
Sheltered from the stark facts at the time, due to her age, this is an affecting journey that takes her back to Nottingham, where Daniel was killed metres from his front door. She speaks to her mum and friends of Daniel, a journalist who was working on the story at the time, and the detective in charge of the case. When it all becomes overwhelming – she keeps having to take time out from filming, such is the emotion it brings up in her – she also meets up with her old grief counsellor.
It would take a heart of stone not to be moved by this documentary, or not to share the anger in the pit of your stomach as Chanell finds out the extent of the pre-meditation involved in the murder. Chanell’s mum talks about the lifelong effect Daniel’s pointless death has had on the whole family, the grief and the ruined childhood, and the impact of the loss of a child and brother. It’s not only an extremely personal documentary with real heart and soul, but an insight into the enduring pain that knife violence brings to families.
Available until: September 2019
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.
Available until: March 2020
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.
Available until: September 2020
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.
Available until: March 2020
Porn Laid Bare
With new online porn laws coming into effect next month, this series seeks to examine the effect of the consumption of X-rated content. It takes six young people with very different attitudes – from a self-confessed addict to a staunch feminist who has sworn off the hard stuff – to Spain, to learn more about the industry and to challenge their assumptions about adult entertainment.
As onlookers on various filmmaking sets, the group find that the thrill of watching people have sex wears thin fairly quickly. Over the course of the three episodes, they are witnesses to very different types of porn – from the generic (though hardcore) films, to ones in which men are invited, unpaid, to take part in ‘bukkakes’ in offputtingly unhygienic environments. They meet a feminist ‘ethical porn’ producer and a couple who specialise in acrobatic rope play in the comfort of their own apartment, before uploading it to the Internet for a fee. But they are also shown footage from ‘public disgrace’ films, which provoke strongly negative reactions.
In among all this, they meet feminist campaigners; they are neurologically tested for their levels of arousal; they are given therapy to discuss what issues they have (which brings up a shocking admission); and they observe someone having a penis enlargement. They also spend some time in their apartment talking about some of the issues that have been raised, over glasses of wine. BBC Three also surveyed 1,014 18-25-year-olds as part of the documentary, and statistics are scattered throughout the programmes. It’s an eye-opening experience for the participants of the documentary, and doubtless it will make the viewers similarly examine their own perceptions of the industry.
Available until: August 2019
The Man Who Used HIV As a Weapon
This documentary looks at the case of Daryll Rowe, who, in April 2018, became the first person convicted of deliberately infecting men with HIV in the UK. It focusses very much on five of his victims, as they speak publicly for the first time on camera.
Shortly after finding out he was infected, Rowe took to hook-up apps in order to deliberately spread the virus. After each encounter, he would wait until after the 72 hours in which it is possible to take necessary preventative medicine, before psychologically tormenting the men via text messages and phone calls, gloating over the risk he’d exposed them to. How many victims there are is impossible to tell.
Rowe’s family life is looked at – at the age of 8, having spent his formative years in care, he was fostered by a couple who speak of a loving and personable boy. They are interviewed here, and give the filmmakers access to a telephone call in which Rowe half-heartedly attempts to explain his state of mind and why he did what he did – with an added dash of victim blaming, as he accuses his former lovers of rejecting him – before swiftly going back to talking about Grey’s Anatomy with his foster mum.
But the voices of the victims are the ones that stay with you, and the psychological trauma they have endured. All of them want to know why he did what he did. It’s unlikely they will find any satisfactory answers here, but the documentary allows them the chance to tell their stories, and to speak movingly of the lingering emotional effects of his abuse.
Available until: August 2019
America’s Child Brides
This new Ellie Flynn documentary sees her travel to America to investigate the legalities which allow men to marry underage girls – specifically a law-dodge commonly known as the “marry your rapist” loophole. This means that men who have impregnated a girl by committing statutory rape are able to marry their victim, as long as they have the consent of one of her parents.
Flynn focusses on three cases. First she meets Kerry, who fell pregnant by a 24 year old just after she’d turned 15. Eager to get out of living with her alcoholic dad, she agreed to marry the man, who tells Flynn he wanted to go ahead with the nuptials in order to get out of rape charges. Kerry’s father’s permission was apparently willingly granted with the bribe of a box of beer. Next, it’s off to Georgia, where Flynn meets Zion, who says the law has worked for her. Underage when she first met her 16 year old boyfriend, they wanted to marry in order to live together on an army base.
The last case is perhaps the most extreme. Heather, from the Rocky Mountains, was 14 when she’d married a 24 year old, who had raped her when she was drunk. Although Heather’s mother wanted him charged, her father thought it would be better for them to marry, and they made a clandestine two-day road trip to Missouri, where she could legally marry with just her dad’s consent. Yet five months into the marriage, Heather’s husband was jailed for statutory rape and she now lives in fear that since he has been given parole, he will track her down. It’s a documentary built around shock tactics, and over the course of its 40-minute running time, Flynn doesn’t really dig in to understand the people beneath the story. It does, however, highlight the fact that young women are still treated like chattel, in an allegedly progressive country.
Available until: August 2019
Man Like Mobeen: Season 2
Everyone’s favourite Small Heath posse is back for a second season – just as news has been announced that a third has been commissioned. The welcome return picks up from where it left off, as reformed gangster Mobeen (played by co-creator and writer Guz Khan) tries to balance his role as guardian of little sister Aks (Duaa Karim) with the everyday trials of his own life and that of his two friends, Eight (Tez Ilyas) and Nate (Tolu Ogunmefun), all struggling to navigate a world full of British Muslim stereotypes.
Opening with trip to get his beard trimmed, which leads to police involvement as barbershop rivalries spill out onto the street, it’s a high energy, genuinely witty programme that is unafraid of looking at big issues through a satirical – and extremely funny – lens. Its subject matter, on paper, is extremely dark – buying a prom dress for Aks results in a discussion about child labour, young men produce large knives at the school prom, there are jokes about the taliban and even some sideswipes about what white people will think about Asian men hanging around with schoolgirls. Episode 2 takes place in an A+E ward and provokes discussion about NHS funding, immigration and Brexit. Put like that, it all sounds rather worthy, but it’s a genuinely joyful experience, done with a lightness of touch that belies the ‘controversial’ topics. Some of the rough edges of the first season have been smoothed out – the writing has settled into its own pace and the characters bounce off each other effortlessly. But, most importantly, it’s properly, laugh out loud, funny. A genuine delight of a programme.
Available until: July 2019
Glow Up: Britain’s Next Make-Up Star
Fronted by Stacey Dooley, this new series follows the format of America’s Next Top Model, but is hoping to find Britain’s next top make-up artist (or MUA). The 10 aspiring MAU contestants will live in a house together for the duration of the competition. Each week, they will be set a brief for a professional assignment – we are promised anything from catwalk, fashion, cinema or social media challenges. Their second task allows them the opportunity to show off their creativity and versatility, before the two who have least impressed the judges go head-to-head in a ‘face off’, the loser of which has to pack their bags and head home. The series judges Val Garland and Dominic Skinner are joined each week by a guest judge – in the first episode Lisa Oxenham, Beauty and Style Director for Marie Claire.
It’s a familiar, well-trodden set-up with a proven track record, and the hour-long programme flies by. Stacey brings her usual touchy-feely niceness to the proceedings, managing to find out the contestants’ backstories and providing hugs and support, so it looks like the Tyra-style bitchiness won’t rear its head, and the MUAs are a far cry from the kind of excitable people who tend to enter modelling competitions. The make-up techniques are impressive and yet, as a whole, the programme is all a bit bland and derivative. Still, if a format’s not broke, why fix it?
Available until: August 2019
Inside Britain’s Black Market: Who’s Selling Fake Stuff?
Livvy Haydock is back to take another look at Britain’s criminal underworld. In this newest instalment, she’s investigating our black market, where you can pick up everything from fake designer shoes, bags and belts, to drugs including steroids and xanax. Customers can now buy this knock-off gear via the internet and it’s a lucrative market for dodgy dealers.
The documentary is more or less split in two. In the first half, Haycock trawls Bovingdon market in Hemel Hempstead for some fake designer accessories, before heading to Cheetham Hill in Manchester, which has the dubious honour of being named the counterfeit capital of the UK. She meets masked men in car parks to get a look at their wares, and to find out their modus operandi – and it seems business is booming. Sadly, the fake Gucci belt she gathers for evidence falls apart as soon as she gets it to her car.
The second half of the programme sees her investigating the fake pills market. She finds a man who makes Xanax pills and steroid oil in a moveable lab like something out of Breaking Bad. His equipment, bought from China, is really impressive and he’s obviously proud of his product, although when Haycock takes some samples away to get them tested, she finds they’re actually pretty contaminated. Sadly, she doesn’t put that to him when she meets him again in another dark underground car park, although it is pointed out that when people buy counterfeit drugs from the black market, it’s impossible to know what’s actually in them.
The whole programme is underscored by an annoying sinister-sounding soundtrack, which only serves to make Haydock’s investigation seem hyperbolic and almost glamorously dangerous. Not enough time is given to either of the two strands, so the end result is unsatisfying, and something of a wasted opportunity.
Available until: August 2018
Pls Like: Season 2
The vast majority if viewers did indeed seem to Pls Like the first season of BBC Three’s short-form comedy, so Liam Williams is back for second helpings. This time round, though, things are slightly darker, mirroring the world of vlogging the series so successfully satirises. Agent James, having been disgraced by the end of Season 1, is back after a short retreat to a treatment centre in Panama, and trying to rebuild his company’s reputation – and the reputation of vloggers more generally. This is made increasingly difficult as the vloggers have got much, much worse. Now, instead of handling failing fauxmances, he’s trying to firefight for new client ‘Dump Ghost’, who physically resembles Logan Paul and who has been ‘cancelled’ by viewers after an anti-Muslim ‘joke’, which he then doubles down on by wearing a Nazi uniform and being increasingly racist.
While being rounded upon by left wing vlogger Dina Discourse, Dump Ghost has an ally in Padlock Planet – a free speech advocate who critiques feminism and shills brain pills on his channel, and a clear spoof of Paul Joseph Watson, aka. Prison Planet. The ‘Likeys’ awards bookend the season – the first episode covers the nominations announcement, while the awards ceremony itself is the highlight of the last episode. They’re also backgrounded by Liam Williams, who explores each category for each episode – a way in which he can skewer ‘clean eating’ vloggers, ASMR, the pre-teen market, and an anti-violence campaign that rails against toxic masculinity called “Let’s Punch Violence in the Head and Break its Jaw”.
In amongst this, little ‘facts’ appear onscreen – “Algorithms are named after Al Gore, who invented them in a bid to halt climate change. It didn’t work.” – mimicking the kind of ‘information’ peddled on YouTube. This is a rich area for satire and while there are some strands that work less well than others, it’s the on-the-nail look at the culture wars and the real life inspirations that make this such an effective and cleverly topical programme.
Available until: August 2019
Abused by My Girlfriend
The title of this 50-minute programme will doubtless evoke BBC3’s previous dramatisations of real-life cases (Killed by My Boyfriend, Killed by My Debt, and Murdered by My Father), but this is more a straight documentary – in no small part due to that fact that Alex Skeel is, thankfully, still alive to tell his own tale. Although it was a close call. When he finally managed to get out of the horrifically abusive relationship he found himself in, he was, medical professionals say, just 10 days from death.
The programme begins in June 2017, when his partner Jordan Worth was arrested on suspicion of assault, before rewinding to a few years earlier and the start of their relationship. Friends and family are interviewed, describing the ways in which the person who at first seemed like a ‘nice girl’ slowly started to exhibit a sinister and menacing side, and their pain at Alex’s gradual withdrawal from their lives, as she started exerting more and more domination.
After alienating him from everyone who cared about him by taking control of his forms of communication and his finances, the physical abuse also escalated. There are graphic images of the burns Alex suffered, after she poured boiling water over him, and of the scars all over his body from the knife wounds she inflicted. Finally – when he was emaciated, because Jordan wouldn’t allow him to eat properly – a policeman recognised that something was seriously wrong, and Alex was able to make his break.
It’s an emotive and upsetting journey, but the documentary is sensitively handled, highlighting the fact that abuse doesn’t easily fit into a certain stereotype, and can be difficult to recognise – and end – even with the the support and love of friends and family.
Available until: July 2019
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.
Available until: July 2019
Tagged: Fresh Out of Jail
This short series of three 20-minute documentaries follows three young men in Nottinghamshire, who have been released from prison but ordered to wear ankle tags. The tags help police maintain curfews, ensuring people are effectively under house arrest overnight, until they either come back to court to face trial or their period of punishment is over.
Sam was approved for early release halfway through his sentence and is now staying with his mum and his sister in a place he’s never lived before. Trying to stay off drink and drugs – and thereby stay out of trouble – he finds the boredom and lack of a social life difficult. Reece and Christian, meanwhile, are staying at the same hostel – if Reece, a dad-to-be, gets kicked out, there are few options available to him other than going back to prison, yet he continues to flaunt the rules. Christian, who has already been in prison 17 times in his short life, is awaiting sentencing, having being accused of burglary. Popular at the hostel, he reignites a relationship with his ex-partner, but the stress of his upcoming judgement leads him to act out in other ways.
It’s a series that charts a small sliver of chaotic lives. The wider questions of what support repeat offenders are given as an alternative to incarceration is alluded to only at the very end, when there’s a nasty jolt, as we find out what has happened since filming ended.
Available until: January 2020
This BBC Three box set centres on the busy control centre and paramedic team of New South Wales’ Ambulance Sydney Operations, and follows from the point that ‘triple zero’ calls are taken through to the on-location treatment of people in various crises.
Some of what is filmed is quite gruesome, from the driver whose forklift truck overturned onto his hand, or the motorway crash which sees a man trapped underneath his car. Others are more emotionally draining, from the elderly lady who falls in her garden, and whose husband is too frail to help her get up, to the 16 year old who is voicing suicidal thoughts to a worried family. Others are logistically challenging, such as the woman who jumps from a cliff and has to be lynched to a hovering helicopter as the tide rises and leaves her cut off from land rescue attempts. Yet others – involving babies or heavily pregnant women – take their toll on staff in more personal ways.
The programme is strangely addictive, as the paramedics rush to jobs which are unknown quantities, not sure of what they’ll find when they get there. The staff’s easy camaraderie and support for each other is captured as they sit in their cabs or answer calls at their desks, and the evident pride they take in their job – contributing positively to society on a daily basis – is heartwarming. The programme has a little of everything, making it an emotional yet endearing experience.
Available until: June 2019
Alt-right: Age of Rage
Since Trump’s rise to the presidency, a baffled media has looked for answers as to where his core support lies. This documentary, directed by Adam Bhala Lough, examines the fascist (or ‘alt-right’) contingent. Far from no-platforming the ideology, the film takes the position that we must know out enemy in order to defeat him.
Much of the documentary is framed as a battle between activist Daryle Lamont Jenkins, a committed antifascist and founder of One People’s Project, and Richard Spencer, who is here given the dubious credit of coining the term ‘alt-right’. A snapshot of 2017, the film takes us from Berkeley, California, where the alt-right and antifa clashed as Milo Yiannopoulos was due to speak, to Dickson Tennessee, where an “American Renaissance” conference took place and which clearly sowed the seeds for Charlottesville – Spencer is filmed making a speech promising that the upcoming rally “is going to be hugely dramatic and probably hugely traumatic for the liberal people of Charlottesville”. It finishes with footage of that day, where running street battles were largely ignored by the police and where a car ploughed into anti-fascist protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring others.
Cutting up that timeline are various interviews with white nationalist Jared Taylor, leader of the ‘American Renaissance’, as well as David Duke, former grand wizard of the KKK, and Gavin McInnes, here described as a “right wing provocateur” and “co-founder of Vice Media” – strangely including no mention of his involvement with the ‘Proud Boys’. Mark Potok of the Southern Policy Law Centre gives us some invaluable insight into such groups, and the history of white nationalism in America. It’s a wide-ranging and challenging documentary which captures an alarming and incendiary moment in time, the ramifications of which continue to rumble on.
Available until: July 2019
Paedophile Hunters: The Rise of the Vigilantes
With home office figures citing a 700% rise in online child abuse images in the last five years, it’s a crime that seems to be swamping law enforcement. As cuts to police forces are also on the rise, ‘vigilante’ groups have stepped in to attempt to stem the flow. In this half-hour documentary, Livvy Haydock joins two groups of ‘paedophile hunters’ – Guardians of the North in Sunderland and Predator Exposure in Leeds – to find out how they go about exposing and reporting online paedophiles.
The first step is the ‘decoy’, an adult who will post a profile online pretending to be a child. They do not initiate contact with anyone, but before too long, it seems, they become prey to online predators. Within the first few minutes of the film, Haydock is exposed to paedophilic images which have been sent to one of the accounts.
She then accompanies other members of the organisations to doorstep the houses of the men sending such images and wanting to meet up with the children they believe they’ve been in contact with. In Sunderland, police are contacted by the group to get them to come to the location should any trouble happen. In Leeds, more extreme tactics are used, as the group films the ‘predator exposure’ and stream it live online. It’s an escalation which is rife with potential problems and issues.
Haycock speaks to police and experts to find out their view of the harms and good such unofficial organisations are capable of, and also to someone who has lost a family member after he was falsely accused of being a paedophile. The documentary raises many questions – about the potential for misidentification, resulting harm and self-harm, due process being put in jeopardy and the potential for all sorts of street altercations – but it does, too, ask why such groups are put together, and in many cases, it’s because the people at the heart of them hope to save other children from the abuse they themselves had to go through. Though the documentary travels a well-trodden path, it remains a thorny issue to which there are no easy solutions, and the scale of which appears only to be escalating.
Available until: December 2019
Is This Sexual Harassment?
The burst into the public consciousness of movements like #metoo have opened up discussions of what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace, leading, apparently, to a mass confusion over what constitutes ‘flirting’ and what constitutes harassment. This new documentary format proves that both men and women still seem to struggle with basic definitions of coercion.
Ben Zand takes a group of 20 young people to stay in a really fancy house, where, over the course of two days, they watch a short film – broken down into three sections – which tells the story of fictional (yet all-too-recognisable) Ryan and Kat. Our main characters work as duty managers in the same bar, though Kat is newly employed, wanting to fit in, and reliant on Ryan to show her the ropes.
As the group is shown each part of the story, they talk about what they’ve just seen and take part in an anonymous vote over whether it establishes harassment. They’re also visited by Keith, a man who was wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, and Helen, who was targeted in her previous workplace, which just confuses our mock-jury even more. After watching the whole film and casting their final votes, a barrister pops in to school them on the law and let them know exactly what defines sexual harassment in the workplace. Cue some red faces from both men and women who have excused Ryan, but lessons are learned, with the men saying they’d think twice about their behaviour, and women saying they’d feel more confident about calling it out when they felt uncomfortable.
It’s an interesting – if, at times, somewhat enraging – watch. The ‘jury duty’ aspect of it will appeal to courtroom drama addicts, while it’s evidently a great educational tool for others.
Available until: July 2019
Inside the Real Saudi Arabia: Why I Had to Leave
This timely film follows Basma Khalifa, a charismatic fashion stylist who was born in Saudi Arabia, brought up in Northern Ireland, and who now works as a fashion stylist in London, as she takes her first trip back to her birthplace to visit her aunts, who are hopeful she can come and live there for good.
Hoping to record how life has changed for women for the better in recent times – as ‘good news’ stories are fed to the media about women now allowed to drive, and men and women able to listen to music together in public – Basra boards the plane just as the report of Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder in Istanbul’s Saudi Arabian consulate breaks. Yet, despite that, it all starts fairly well. Feeling relaxed and safe as she steps off the plane and travels to her aunts’ house, she spends her first few days reconnecting with family. She goes to parties, meets a female entrepreneur who makes Saudi-appropriate workout attire, and visits Mecca. But things soon become strained. The need to have a government fixer with her at all times, because she is filming, leads to some tension, as she is told what she should wear and what she should and shouldn’t talk about, and the film ends quite abruptly, as she is ordered out of the country due to discussing jailed female activists.
Perhaps because of its unceremonious and brusque ending, the documentary delivers an insight into a country, which, while attempting to present an outward face of modernity and reform, is struggling to deliver any real and concrete change, instead repressing any dissenting voices by any means necessary.
Available until: July 2019
I Blame My Parents
This documentary looks at the relationship between a mother and daughter who are struggling to communicate effectively. 23-year-old Dammy suffers from anxiety, and her mum, keen to help and offer support, finds herself being shut out – while Dammy needs space, her mother wants more closeness. Because Dammy feels unable to express how she feels for fear of being babied and/or upsetting her mum, they seek help from a family therapist, Hannah Sherbersky. In doing so, they delve into the mother’s childhood and find the similarities – and differences – they have experienced go some way to explaining the impasse they’ve reached in their own relationship. It’s quite a basic premise, but ultimately, it’s reasonably heartwarming and affirmative. It’s helped by the fact that the mother is an extremely warm human being whose love for her daughter is clear from the outset, and just a few minor behavioural tweaks seem to improve their relationship immeasurably.
Available until: January 2020
Bats, Balls and Bradford Girls
This rather meandering yet endearing documentary follows the first British all-Asian girls’ cricket team as they prepare for their last ever tournament, before they head off on their various journeys to adulthood. While it’s low on cricket action, the programme more than makes up for it by examining the lives of some of the team members. Focussing first on some of the blowback they’ve received from their chosen hobby – from being shouted at by various male passersby to the discrimination they’ve faced when going up against more elite schools – the girls describe how participating was liberating for them, giving them an opportunity they otherwise wouldn’t have had to go out into the world and be themselves.
The players highlighted face various personal problems. Our narrator Zainab is facing some pressure from home, as she awaits her GCSE results. Hanfia has struggled with an eating disorder and has been excluded from school for acting up. Jasmin, a talented sportsperson, has had to turn down a scholarship in the US, because it would mean moving away from a family who needs her – she is busy caring for her mother after a car accident partially paralysed her, her dad having died 3 months before she was born in a Bangladeshi refugee camp.
But it is also an exciting time of their lives, as the world opens up for them and they have decisions to make about their future. Ultimately, this a very personal look at a group of girls just on the cusp of adulthood. Cricket – and the teamsmanship that it provides – is more of a backdrop against which the girls tell their own stories at a very particular time of their lives.
Available until: June 2019
Searching for… Kanye
Kanye West’s recent forays into politics have bemused many of his fans. From the donning of the ‘Make America Great Again’ red cap (which he said made him feel like a “superhero”), to his comments about slavery (“for 400 years – that sounds like a choice”), to his various pow-wows with President Trump, it’s been quite the wild ride for the son of two Black Panthers. In this documentary, Ben Zand goes to America to talk to Kanye’s long-term friends, business associates and political figures to try to figure out what’s going on in the mind of the person who once declared on a live telethon that then-President Bush “doesn’t care about black people”.
Sadly, this documentary just repeats what fans already know or suspected. In Texas, a cousin of Kanye’s reiterates that Kanye was “born into the civil rights cause”, that his mother Donda was a huge influence on him, and discusses the impact her sudden death during a cosmetic surgery procedure had on him. A friend of his mother’s describes her, saying she would be scratching her head at some of his choices and, commenting on his marriage to Kim Kardashian, that Donda would probably have preferred him to marry a “black queen”.
But it’s when Zand slips into talking about Kanye’s mental health – the rapper has talked publicly in the past about being diagnosed as being bipolar – that things get problematic. It’s Twitter gossip writ large, and it doesn’t go down well when Zand speaks to right-wing organiser Candace Owens, who abruptly halts her interview when he asks if she thinks Kanye is mentally unwell.
All in all, it’s a rather unsatisfying and superficial documentary, which leaves us with more questions than answers.
Available until: November 2019
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.
The Naked Truth
Last year, BBC Three released a 10-minute documentary titled “The Naked Truth about Obesity”, in which five people were filmed talking about their relationship with their body, while naked. It was viewed a million times in its first week on Facebook, so the channel have commissioned this second season of four short films, based on the same format. In the first, a group of people who have lost weight talk about how they feel about their loose flesh, while naked. In the second, five men talk about male body image, while naked. In the third, titled ‘Bionic Men’, people talk about their prosthetic limbs, while naked. And finally, tattoo fans talk about their various tattoos, while naked. Towards the end of each programme, a couple of the people being interviewed get to have a conversation with each other, while naked.
You get used to the nakedness fairly quickly, and it’s the first episode that seems the most voyeuristic, as people hold up arms and cup their stomach to demonstrate which parts of their bodies they’re most unhappy with. But the issues discussed in the programmes feel like they’re not breaking any new ground, and have been gone over before – just not necessarily while naked.
Available until: December 2019
People Just Do Nothing: Season 5
Kurupt FM goes from strength to strength with every new season of BBC Three’s laugh-out-loud mockumentary. Except, of course, Season 5 picks up as the pirate radio station is far from strength of any kind, as the station’s HQ has been raided, leaving the boys with no way to broadcast. And so they turn to a last resort: a car boot sale. It’s an old-fashioned sight in a modern age, but it’s perfectly fitting for BBC Three’s comedy, as the whole thing becomes an opportunity for Chabuddy (Asim Chaudry, stealing every scene he’s in) to use his equally old-school entrepreneur skills to bag them the best stall possible – while Steves (Steve Stamp) is hilarious as he attempts to use his very limited number of brain cells to outsmart the people running the event. It’s testament to the show’s depth of talent that both supporting characters can step into the spotlight so effectively, without taking away from our leads Grindah (Allan Mustafa) and Beats (Hugo Chegwin). With each one at their understated, tragically sincere best, the opportunity to catch up with Kurupt FM one more time is an absolute treat. What a shame it is that this final season is our last chance to do so. Words: Ivan Radford
Available until: May 2019
Ellie Flynn returns with this half-hour documentary based on the dubious thesis – propagated by various councils, police forces, and right-wing media – that begging on the streets is (in the words of one Cambridgeshire police sergeant) a “lucrative opportunity”, and that people will pretend to be homeless to get in on the action. Just the very existence of this programme suggests there is a case to answer, with Flynn herself saying that she’s seeing reports of people using a chip and pin machine to “fleece” the public out of money and that “people have just had enough”.
Naturally, Flynn’s discovery that it’s slightly more complicated than that should come as no surprise to anyone with more than a few functioning braincells. Why it takes over half an hour of ‘investigation’ – including unsubstantiated reports from a random pub doorman that people are making £200 a day by sitting on a freezing street corner before getting a taxi back to their luxury lifestyle, and a self-appointed homeless vigilante, who went around his town taking photos of people on the streets to verify whether they were actually sleeping rough or not – is beyond us. Furthermore, as the BBC is doing its bit to promote the programme with clickbait and clips from ‘real’ homeless people, the only actual effect one can imagine this having is making others less generous and more suspicious, just as the temperatures are dropping and the homelessness epidemic is being highlighted by charities.
Nothing in the documentary looks at the causes of homelessness or how we got into this situation – rather, we have police telling us that no one should be sleeping on the streets when there are enough hostel places to accommodate official figures. Flynn does visit one such place, where she finds – to no one’s shock – that there is a waiting list and that they are unable to provide enough beds needed, because of a lack of resources. One can only wonder at why this documentary was commissioned, filmed, aired, and promoted. A heinous misstep for everyone involved.
Available until: May 2019
Adapted from her stage play, Diary of a Hounslow Girl, this new comedy pilot was written and created by Ambreen Razia, who also takes a starring role. It introduces us to Shaheeda (Razia), Tash (Mandeep Dhillon) and Leonie (Robyn Cara), three Muslim girls who just wanna have fun. Setting the scene for what’s to come, we are introduced to the friends in a mosque class, as the girls scroll their iPhones and try to plan a night out behind their Qurans. Navigating family pressures with the everyday pressures of teenage life, the characters are boldly drawn and extremely relatable, exchanging rapid-fire dialogue as they scheme to get the money together to go clubbing.
Razia has spoken about the need to smash damaging stereotypes of Muslim women, who are generally portrayed as either passive victims or vaguely sinister. Following the three main characters as they verbally spar their way through the streets of London, it’s clear that she’s succeeded. That being said, the pilot is still finding its feet as a cohesive comedy. Shaheeda’s sister’s wedding planning treads rather more familiar BBC sitcom waters, and slows down the hi-jinx of the leading trio. But such teething problems are to be expected, and many will hope the programme makers will have the opportunity to sort them out.
Available until: 3rd May 2019
Ryan Tricks on the Streets
This six-episode box set sees magician Ryan Tricks visit various London community projects, where he learns a little about what they do before blowing their minds with his magic and mind-reading. First up is a Brixton soup kitchen, set up over 5 years ago by the charismatic Solomon Smith, who, with his crew, provides food and clothes to people in need. Tricks does a trick that demonstrates ‘the power of belief’ by turning a tin of baked beans into jelly beans.
Then he’s off to South London to visit an organisation that provides work experience and support to people with learning disabilities, before heading East to delight participants of ‘Cracked It’, which helps young people get skills to start their own businesses to help them stay on the straight and narrow. A trip to the National Army Museum, then to St Joseph’s Hospice, where people who are terminally ill socialise and are cared for, is topped off by Tricks joining a group of mums who are having a picnic in the park. While Tricks’ trick aren’t particularly flashy, as a journey around London to see what people are doing to help their communities it’s fairly interesting – magic with a social conscience, if you will.
Available until: October 2019
Car Crash – Who’s Lying?
At 11.17 on Saturday 23rd January 2016, a speeding car carrying a group of teenagers skidded off the quiet Hampshire road it was travelling on and crashed into a tree. This documentary by Chloe Campbell details the investigation into the collision, which killed one teenager and left another with a brain injury.
The story unfolds gradually, via the police investigation and interviews with the family and friends of the victims. It begins with shocking footage taken from the body cams of the first responders, as they rush to the scene to find someone sitting cross-legged on the top of the upturned, mangled vehicle. This is Dannylee Ross Barringer, who is filmed dazed and clearly traumatised, as police try to ascertain what happened. Seemingly unable to answer simple questions like how many people were in the car with him, and what their names are, he watches the rescue efforts from the sidelines. Finally admitting that he was driving the car, yet changing his story the next day, the police investigate what happened that night, and find the facts are far from clear-cut.
The film is essentially a suspenseful detective story, and doles out its truths slowly, keeping the viewer engaged until the end. The effect the events of that night had on the community – specifically the loss of 19 year old Luke Fletcher – is handled sensitively, but what stays with the viewer are the shocking images of the immediate aftermath of the crash.
Available until: May 2019
Freshers 2018: In Our Own Words
September saw a new influx of students coming to university for the first time, and all that this rite-of-passage entailed. BBC Three gave seven young people the opportunity to document their own freshers week, and this half-hour programme is the result of their iPhone footage. While the students are all going to different universities to study different subjects, their experiences prove to be very similar. Excitement about moving out and going to a new big city mixes with trepidation about making friends, acceptance, and being away from their family for the first time.
They join societies, settle into their new digs, and get to grips with cooking for themselves, from preparing instant mac and cheese to the difficulties of coordinating their potato smiley faces to come out the oven at the same time as their chicken. Problems range from finding someone to play Dungeons and Dragons with to the ethics of stealing milk after their own has gone off. One of our motley crew has to phone their dad to talk them through opening a bottle with a corkscrew.
There are, too, more serious problems, including one student who wants to embrace their true gender identity but finds themselves dead-named on their student ID. In between the drinking parties and the hangovers, there are poignant moments of homesickness and loneliness.
Because of the short running time and the amount of people to pack in, not much time is spent on each, making it slightly hard to get a grip on who is going through what. But as a cumulative experience, it’s an effective way to convey the chaos, the mixed emotions, and the excitement of starting this new chapter in life.
Available until: October 2019
This series follows young activists as they try to bring awareness to their various causes, self-filmed over the summer. First up is Brexit, as staunch Brexiteer and young careerist Steven Edgington documents his summer’s activities – creating an income for himself via his YouTube politics channel while visiting ‘enemy territory’ at the protest against Donald Trump. He shares the episode’s running time with Madeleina, whose alter-ego is ‘EU Supergirl’. She says she was turned into an activist overnight, thanks to the Brexit result, and now travels up and down the country – and further afield – wearing her costume while singing self-penned protest songs at pro-Europe rallies.
Climate change is covered in the second episode, which follows Robin, who quit university to campaign full-time. Concentrating his efforts on the Heathrow expansion, he is arrested for chalk-spraying a pavement, before starting a hunger strike and storming parliament. Animal rights is up next, with our youngest activist, 15-year-old Bella Lack, visiting Thailand to expose cruelty to elephants, while 26-year-old Phoebe tries to convert meat eaters to veganism through various protests. The fourth episode follows Fox and Owl, a non-binary couple who spend their days raising awareness and policy advising, before coming home to fire-fight the rising transphobia witnessed through the hate messages they receive. The series is a bit hit-and-miss, a problem doubtless stemming from asking the subjects themselves to document their activities and having no crew to really probe them, resulting in a somewhat superficial look at the various issues.
Available until: October 2019
What with Housing Week on the go, one would assume this is some sort of Location Location Location type of programme, but it’s actually a new dating show. Hosted with much gusto by Internet comedian and musician Yung Filly, the concept is fairly original. He introduces us to 23 year old Lam, who must choose between five prospective suitors, purely by perusing the state of their homes. In the first round, Lam is shown pictures of some possessions of the men who are hoping to land a date with her – clothes, shoes, books, the empty bottles some men refuse to throw away, preferring to display them as macho ornamentation. After she’s binned two of them (one on the state of the the duvet cover alone), she’s allowed into the bedrooms of the three remaining would-be suitors. Bursting out in laughter at bedroom number one – complete with gaming chair, Fifty Shades books, a collection of figurines, and a blow-up sex doll (“I feel like he’s the guy from the 40 Year Old Virgin”), she’s then able to eliminate one more, before being shown the rest of the house in which the final two live.
While it’s bizarre to consider the thought of letting a TV crew into your home without even a cursory tidying up – one place boasts torn condom wrappers and nappies at the bedside (the presence of which is never explained) – it results in an entertaining half-hour, the credit of which can be placed on the shoulders not only of its host but also of the no-nonsense Lam. As the rest of the week’s BBC Three programming suggests, though, the housing crisis probably means that future programmes won’t feature many luxury homes.
Available on BBC Three’s YouTube channel.
Death on the I-95
The I-95, which travels up America’s east coast from Florida to Maine, gives cartels easy entry to major cities, leaving devastation in their wake. The influx of the cheap synthetic drugs – far more powerful than heroin – has seen the US death rate soar. This sobering documentary is a follow-up to a 2016 programme, which took the BBC crew on the road to investigate the growing epidemic.
We’re told at the start of the film that every 11 minutes, someone in the US dies of an opioid overdose, with overdoses now the leading cause of death for people under 50. The film looks at the people behind these statistics. Anna in Baltimore is fresh out of a two-week stint in prison, after being caught doing sex work. She’s still with her boyfriend David and doesn’t see much of a future for herself. In Florida, they meet up with Brittney, who completed a successful rehab at an addiction recovery centre, but had a horrific relapse soon after having her baby, and who now realises how much she has to risk. We’re shown round the Kensington neighbourhood of Philadelphia, which has been declared a disaster zone, and where people stumble about or take shelter in tents. There, the crew meets up again with Alex, who has been using heroin for 20 years and who has to score six times a day just to function. One of the last stops is in Manchester, New Hampshire, the state where more people have died of fentanyl ODs per capita than anywhere else in the US.
In among this all are disturbing 911 calls and footage of the fire department, as they attempt to revive people. The personal stories of these addicts and the people who are trying to help them are depressingly similar, bound together in hopelessness and the grief at so many wasted lives.
Available until: September 2019
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.
Available until: 27th March 2021
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
Available until: 31st August 2022
George Shelley: Learning to Grieve
On April 27th last year, Harriet Shelley was knocked over in a freak traffic accident and later succumbed to her injuries. She was 21. In this documentary, her brother George – member of The X Factor band Union J – opens up about the effect the loss has had on his family, and his personal journey through the grief process. He speaks to others who have gone through bereavement, including Beth, who founded letstalkaboutloss.co.uk after her mother died and noticed that there wasn’t much help for young adults grieving a loved one. He also goes to a therapy group for people who have lost siblings and bonds with them over their shared experience. He visits the grave of his sister with his mum and gran, and speaks to his father – who himself found his life turned upside down after a motorcycle accident left him with partial paralysis and brain damage. It’s a long and meandering documentary with no clear resolution – much like grief itself. It’s heart’s in the right place, though, and although obviously an emotional topic, it is handled with an admirable restraint. While not an easy watch, one hopes it’s helpful to other people in the same situation to know that they are not the only one going through such a bitter experience.
Available until: August 2019
Jonathan Pie: Back to the Studio
For the blessed few who haven’t yet heard of Jonathan Pie, he’s a fictional news reporter, an allegedly comedic creation portrayed by Tom Walker. He’s appeared on the Russian news channel RT and at the Edinburgh Festival, but most people know of him through his Internet presence. Now, his stand up – filmed at the Hammersmith Apollo – is being screened on BBC Three, and it’s not difficult to see why he’s (slightly) more palatable in short clips. Watching his show is an experience akin to being ranted at by an pub bore for an hour and 15 minutes. Describing himself (repeatedly) as a “classic liberal”, Pie is angry at many things, yet much of his ire seems to be directed to those to the left of him. For ‘balance’, presumably, he starts off his set shouting furiously about the Tories, but less than 10 minutes into the show, he’s going on about the ‘snowflake generation’. Raging about Trump’s tweets (extremely easy targets he insults without the slightest hint of wit or originality), he’s soon going on about people ‘taking offence’, the importance of free speech (he’s a big fan of Orwell, specifically 1984), and talking about identifying as a woman twice a week to get access to the female toilets. His ‘woke-a-lator’ is a mechanism to allow him to go off on the topics of ‘mansplaining’, diversity, and cultural appropriation, amongst other things, before ending the show blasting the notion of white male privilege, which – for some reason – he seems to take extremely personally.
One of the most baffling things about all this is that there’s an actual paying audience clapping along with him, even as he tells them how stupid they all are. It’s anathema even he points out, in pretty much the only interesting minute of the show. Still, if you can’t wait until Christmas to be shouted at by your racist great uncle, all your impotent rage needs are met here.
Available until: September 2019
Students on the Edge
Coinciding with a new intake of university students, this series of short films takes a look at the various issues young freshers might have to face. In Life as a Campus Drug Dealer, Harry (not his real name) shows us his drawer full of knives and knuckledusters, all the better for defending himself against rival drug gangs and territorial wars. Having started dealing to fund his own cocaine habit, he’s escalated and is now under pressure by his suppliers to continue. Though he wants to get out the game by the time he’s finished Uni – so he can get a ‘proper job’ – this serves as something of a warning to people who can find themselves in over their heads.
The second film features ‘Jane’, who found her life turned upside down after a sexual assault, and she calls for more education on consent, while the third looks at “essay mills” – where students can buy ‘advisory essays’, if they submit their requirements. Speaking to someone who writes the last-minute essays, we also meet a user of the site, who tells how he was blackmailed and eventually investigated by his university for plagiarism. It’s quite fascinating and serves as something of a cautionary tale.
If new students weren’t apprehensive enough at the prospect of moving to new cities to start independent lives, they might be by the end of this series. But it effectively highlights the pitfalls of 21st century university life.
Sex Map of Britain: Season 2
The Sex Map of Britain is back for a second season, the first episode of which looks at polyamory. While it starts out a little on the voyeuristic side, what actually develops is an intimate portrait of one such relationship, and the insecurities and jealousies that can arise. It’s an effective way of looking at the subject, one which forefronts emotions rather than the sexual aspect of it.
While Rae (who has seven partners currently and is interviewed with two of them, James and Hannah, who were a long-term monogamous couple before introducing others into their relationship) is very happy with her current set-up, she recognises the pitfalls and where things can go wrong. Total honesty, apparently, is key to successful polyamory.
Which is something that Joss and her two partners Mike and Jaz, are discovering. Much of the programme looks at their threesome, which, in polyamorous terms, is called a ‘V’, meaning there are two unconnected partners who are brought together by a third, the ‘pivot’. As Joss (the pivot) refuses to allow Mike and Jaz to develop their relationship, preferring to keep them separate, problems arise. The fallout, when they go against her wishes and start texting and communicating without her, becomes the heart of the programme. Feelings are hurt, and people start to question whether polyamory is in fact for them after all. The programme becomes an in-depth look at a specific time in its subjects lives, and is richer for it.
Available until: 28th August 2019 (Episode 1)
Train Surfing Wars: A Matter of Life and Death
When Nye Newman died after sustaining a catastrophic head injury on the Paris Metro on NYE 2016, many were quick to link it to his well-documented love of free-running. Having created a parkour team ‘Brewman’ with his partner Rikke Brewer, he was known for his terrifying stunts and viral videos, including one which saw members of their team ‘train surf’ in Paris just weeks before his death.
Though it turned out that Newman was not free-running at the time of his accident, it remains an abiding and pervasive narrative. This film speaks to Brewman members, who travelled around the world together filming their escapades, which they made into a way of life.
Combining old footage of Nye and Rikke – who, for much of the documentary, remained an elusive figure – with clips from some of their videos, as well as new interviews, the film takes us through their adventures, and the impact Newman’s death had upon their friendships and lives. It cannot seem to help but glamorise the more dangerous aspects of this type of illegal parkour – the voiceover tells us at the start that “risking death makes them feel alive” – yet at its heart its about how the young men, who felt themselves to be misfits, found a connection and a future with each other and within the sport they loved.
Available until: 6th August 2019
Exorcism: The Battle for Young Minds
In this 40-minute documentary, journalist Andrew Gold goes to Buenos Aires to meet Padre Manuel, who has gained international fame by performing extreme and violent ‘exorcisms’ on troubled – and extremely vulnerable – people. Since one such exorcism went viral, he’s a regular guest on TV gossip shows, where he chats with celebrities and promotes his school for wannabe exorcists.
Opening with the exorcism of a woman named Natalia, Gold then meets 17-year-old Candela, an anorexic and bulimic with a history of self harm, who has recently attempted suicide. While psychiatrists want to keep her in a clinic, her increasingly desperate family go to the Padre for help.
Gold speaks to doctors, journalists, and the Padre’s assistants, before witnessing the ‘exorcism’ of Candela. The financial aspect of the whole affair is touched upon, as is the Padre’s relationships with the people who work, unpaid, for him. It all ends rather explosively, as the Padre, seemingly suspecting that Gold is not a believer, becomes first evasive and then confrontational.
Gold is a documentary maker in the style of Louis Theroux – he has a deadpan, skeptical style, and a relaxed way of interviewing. While it’s clear he feels uncomfortable from the outset, he allows the subjects to speak for – and in some cases, betray – themselves.
Part of The Big British Asian Summer, a strand bringing programmes centred around British Asians to BBC Two, Three and Four, this short, three-part box set introduces us to brothers Kash and Shabs, who run a ‘supercar garage’ in Essex. Having started fixing up cars while in their teens, the brothers grew the business and now have a super-rich clientele. 37 year old Kash describes himself as “the real life Vin Diesel”, while 35 year old Shabs thinks the programme will show “what people can have too if they work hard at it”.
But the working part of their lives is just a small part of the programme – much of it, in fact, revolves around their personal life and their extended family. Business success has not yet seen either brother get out of their family home, where they live with their parents and sister, Mari. Shella, Kash’s wife, is keen on them getting their own place, but Kash seems more interested in splashing out on cars. Single Shabs is thinking about getting married to a woman he was introduced to by his family. Mari, meanwhile, has been picked up by a small modelling agency, and we follow her to her first photoshoot.
This is really a show about a British Asian family set against a backdrop of car shows and races. As Shabs gets cold feet about his upcoming nuptials and Kash starts a new phase in his life, it’s hard not to get sucked into this Essex family’s dynamics.
Available until: July 2019 (Season 1)
This series of 5-minute programmes – part of The Big Asian Summer – sees three generations of various Asian families get together to discuss topics ranging from dating outside your race to cultural stereotypes, prompted by various pop cultural references. While the title of the strand suggests something more confrontational, the discussions arising from the film and TV clips they are shown are nuanced and good-natured. It’s agreed that Apu from The Simpsons isn’t a fair representation of Asians, although it’s also agreed that he’s pretty funny. A joke in Man Like Mobeen about a suicide vest doesn’t go down well – as one panellist says, Asian people are generally portrayed as either shopkeepers or terrorists. The evolution of Asian comedy is explored, and while it seems things are getting a bit better, it still has a long way to go. The concept of traditions – when they should be challenged and when they should be upheld – is prompted by a clip of The Big Sick, while the expectations of family, and the generational and gender divide in relationships, is provoked by The Boy with the Topknot.
It’s quite difficult to find the episodes – they’re buried in Facebook and YouTube posts – but they’re well worth seeking out. It’s a bit like an Asian version of Gogglebox, but with more thoughtful analysis.
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
Available until: June 2019 (Season 1)