Why are BBC 3’s twencoms failing so hard?
A running punchline among my friends is the ‘twencoms’ of BBC 3. Why in the name of Rik Mayall would you give a 64 year old Etonite the reigns on a current, edgy sitcom for The Youth?
There are a whole box of terrible, one series flatmate sitcoms aimed at twenty-somethings on BBC iPlayer. You can just tell a middle aged demographer has marched into a boardroom, totally fucked on merlot, and slurringly asked for ‘flatmate sitcoms’.
“Yah, well, they are super populah with the young people,” he probably said, pushing his thick glasses up his nose. “They are cheap to make, and they are so bloody relevant because-” he pauses, ignoring the thudding headache from last night’s Soho dinner party. “Young people live in flats.”
And so, the joke came to be. Piles and piles of scrawled out sitcoms of four boring people living together and squealing about technology in a way that looks like your grandmother wrote the screenplay. Want to write your own failure BBC 3 sitcom? Here’s the recipe:
Uber HipHoppin’ Flatmatez, The Twencom
- Take four to five bland male and female urban youth characters who are supposed to be 20 but are obviously 29 and from Buckinghamshire
- Tokenise a British-Pakistani or British-Caribbean character, but be too lazy to give them any personality traits or funny lines, taking care to make them the mouthpiece of dull normal views like ‘gay people are fine.’
- Have them talk about Snapchat, Tinder and Twitter constantly. And FaceTime endlessly. It’s what the youths do.
- Unconvincing bland love triangle.
- Use hilariously out of date slang that no one has heard since 2009. (Peng, minging, brethren, whacko)
- Act astonished when no one under 30 feels represented or interested. Serve in a slapdash, critically panned way.
They really, really don’t seem to get that we don’t want productions made only to please us, to meet our views or boost the number of PoC on TV. If you are going to write BAME people into a sitcom, do it in a way that is interesting, thoughtful, funny and clever. Give them some depth, some problems and some interests. You might as well just have a cardboard cut out of Idris Elba in the back saying “See, we aren’t racist!”
It’s embarrassing, truly, to see so many churned out market tokens in these disastrous sitcoms. It’s okay to have a black villain, or a muslim with a snack addiction. If you don’t give them any character arcs because you are worried you’ll look bad, you are a lazy writer. Same goes for women, as I’ll rant about now.
Did you know you can write a female character without having her make a big speech about womanhood and girl power? Yeah, you actually can. Because we don’t just go through life as The Girl characters. We worry about work, rent, hedgehog numbers and a whole range of problems that boys do too. And no one says “Girl Power!” unironically. Please stop doing that.
I get you want to talk about feminism but doing it in a 2D way, without any nuance or complexities makes it feel more like a PSHE anti-bullying video than a clever comic commentary. Give me a female character with flaws, who says the wrong thing, doesn’t feel bad about eating a whole tube of Pringles and fights with her mum. As with above, all too often women are blanketed as angel straight women, which sucks for any interaction-comedy.
Also, perhaps the most frustratingly, flatmate sitcoms are becoming boring.
They are boring to look at, they are boring to watch, and they are boring to get engaged with. Friends was good, but it was over 20 years ago. We’ve moved on, we’ve seen it, give us something else. Show me Versailles and a good old fashioned farce in beautiful costumes. Take me to the highlands and show me some rebellious sheep farmers. Get me on a boat in the atlantic hunting a mythical octopus. Just for the love of God, don’t keep showing me a studio room filled with what a 50 year old from Durham thinks a twenty year old’s shared flat looks like (it isn’t that tidy or big).
The BBC was good at youth comedy once, because it hired young talent. It let us decide what we wanted to do with a project and let us play fast and loose with demographics and data. There wasn’t a set genre requirement and a grid of data behind a project proposal.
The Young Ones was brilliant because it exposed the idiocy, hilarity and weirdness of being a failing student at an awful university with bad student politics. It wasn’t patronising, it wasn’t a moral fable. Blackadder was good because it had carefully thought through scripts and awesome sets and costumes. More recently, Miranda was ravenously consumed by myself and my teen female peers because it showed a woman who wasn’t perfect, glamorous or sexy. These were all different, eye-catching and memorable. I’m sure you can quote an episode back at me.
Just hire some young people and see what they come up with.
Because right now, you and the whole channel are a joke.