The Ugly Truth About BBC Three


It should be obvious to regular readers of the blog that I am becoming an old school irascible git. Therefore the very idea of me settling down in front of BBC Three on the day of it’s relaunch as an up-to-the-nanosecond web-friendly zetgeistfeed should be laughable. Surely I should be comfortably plumped in front of UKTV Drama with a strong cup of PG and a couple of HobNobs, watching Tom Baker Doctor Who re-runs. Which I do, but that’s not the point here. I like BBC Three. It’s good, light entertainment programming with it’s own voice and it’s own style.
Or rather, it was. On the strength of last night’s viewing, I’m likely to be spending more time sighing over Elisabeth Sladen.

Let’s start with the basics. The cute interstitials with the monolithic Three logo and the talking blobs have gone. A shame. They had a quirky charm that got the point of the channel’s irreverant approach across well. They’ve been replaced with, of all things, a real-life continuity announcer. Sat in front of a desk and a backdrop and everything. A girl who’s maybe had a day’s worth of front-of-camera training, because she clearly looks scared out of her wits. I notice Three is running a competition to find new presenting talent, and if this is the best they can come up with, then I hope to god the competition isn’t over. At least the 60 Seconds newsblurt hasn’t been too monkeyed with. A new title, and a greenscreen background that somehow looks cheaper than the fake studio they had to use. Still, at least they haven’t tried to cut it down to thirty seconds, or speed it up.

Onto the programming. First up, Phoo Action. In theory, this should be a win-win. Based on a little-known Jamie Hewlett strip, directed by Euros Lyn of Doctor Who fame, starring Jaime Winstone in a fetching array of hot pants. Result. Right?

Did anyone see the movie version of Tank Girl?

Let’s put this in context. Get The Freebies was created by Jamie Hewlett after the collapse of Deadline, the magazine that had brought the strip to fame. It was a single page strip running on the inside back page of The Face, that enabled him to relax and stretch out creatively again. Hence a talking basketball as a villain, a freewheeling anarchic sensibility and a ton of 70’s TV and film references. The surly, spunky heroine was a spit away from a plagiarism lawsuit, but hey. It was very silly, good fun but it was doing nothing new. No-one paid a blind bit of notice. It quietly expired after a year.
Welcome to 2006, and all of a sudden Hewlett’s visual lyricism means he can do no wrong. Some dim bulb at the Beeb digs out an old copy of The Face, and sees a tentpole opportunity. BBC Scotland throw a ton of money at the idea, hire an experienced SF director, and rub their hands gleefully for being so clever.

The thing is, in one way they have genuinely succeeded. The programme on screen last night was the purest live-action replication of a comic that I have ever seen. The production design is spot on, it motors along at a decent clip, the performances are broad without being particularly cartoony, and the casting is pretty much right. Jaime Winstone does grumpy teenager with a good chunk of flair, and whoever thought of casting Carl Weathers as the police chief deserves a solid wet smacker, because he’s great.

But. Look. Okay. It’s an hour long. Anyone that isn’t so high on sugar that they’re foaming candyfloss out of their tearducts has got the patience for an hour of blipvert. And the money that’s been spent on it doesn’t disguise the rubbery nature of the villains, which instantly breaks any kind of spell. To my mind, it would have been much better as a week-long chunk of ten-minute episodes, complete with cliffhangers and previouslys, with maybe an omnibus on the following Saturday for those of us that don’t mind the visual equivalent of being yelled at by a five year old with a bullhorn. With a compressed time frame, the faults become much less easy to pick at. I’d gladly sign up to that kind of broadsheet programming. As it stood, I was bored by the forty minute mark, and back on my laptop before the end. Hardly the sign of a gripping piece of innovative TV. I hate to snark, but it just left me feeling a bit hollow and disappointed, when it could have been so much more.

Unlike Lily Allen and Friends, which was so lazy and slapdash that I had to give up on it before the end. At the the point when the Chocolate Rain guy started doing a cover version of Smile.
Basically, we were presented with a studio full of Lily Allen’s MySpace “friends”, a couple of deeply bemused guests and a wedge of YouTube clips. Oh, and at least three requests for you the viewer to get involved and send in your own ideas. For which you can read, some more YouTube clips. This is the kind of thing that Graham Norton was doing five years ago, and it didn’t work then. Any show that falls back heavily on user-generated content is frankly a show devoid of decent researchers.

I ended up feeling quite sorry for Lily, who came across as very sweet and completely out of her depth. She allowed her guests to walk all over her, had to yell over the studio audience quite a few times (reports from the shoot day are that the programme was so disorganised that half the “friends” who had been specially invited to the show walked before the end) and generally just didn’t seem to have a clue as to what was happening. Much like the guests. David Mitchell took refuge in a large glass of wine, which he ended up clutching defensively in both hands, as if he was afraid that someone would take it off him for taking the piss so heavily. Cuba Gooding Jr took his top off and kept talking about his knob. Then Mr. Chocolate Rain pitched up, and I lost the will to live.

So, this is the new BBC Three. It’s kind of like chasing down a mouthful of space dust with a swallow of Cherry Coke. The rumour is that it’ll make your head explode. All that really happens is that you get a headache and a mild sense of nausea.


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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