Review: W1A

Screen

While there’s still time before term starts, make sure you catch up with W1A. The sitcom set in the upper echelons of the BBC’s Broadcasting House had to live up to the success of its predecessor Twenty Twelve, and it has beautifully caught the modern horrors of office life and bureaucracy. Laughs aplenty, and with a spectacular comic cast, you should certainly set time aside for W1A.

Nobody likes to talk about themselves more than the BBC does. Which is probably why the comedy department gave themselves a hearty cheer when John Morton wrote a sequel to the brilliant Twenty Twelve. The former thrived on exploiting the systems of communication that afford too little representation on today’s television: the instantaneous release of information to a global audience, and the baffling office lingo designed to obfuscate rather than communicate were two key elements of Twenty Twelve, and again here in W1A. Few other shows have been able to keep pace with the rapid advances in technology – House of Cards, Sherlock, and Modern Family have made some strides. None have captured the frustratingly common factor of speaking as much possible but actually saying as little as possible like W1A.

The main comedy comes from the wonderful cast as they blunder from one gaffe to the next: Hugh Bonneville and Jessica Hynes returning, but also Sarah Parish, Jason Watkins and many more. The meticulous “umm”s and “err”s are perfectly timed. David Tennant’s voice-over, like Michael Buerk in Pineapple Dance Studios, peppers the scenes with his own comedy, as the committee descends further and further into mess. Parish and Watkins both betray a sense of malice behind their lightheartedness, perhaps indicating the cut-throat world of the BBC and the media in general.

If you’re seeking realism though, there is one issue shining through, possibly the show’s only fault. Some of the characters are totally unrealistic. You never got this with mockumentary-style predecessors. Gareth Keenan in The Office, Alan Partridge, or even Malcolm Tucker might have been exaggerated caricatures, but still representations of people in normal life. Yet it is too unbelievable to think that the well-meaning but moronic Will, and “lovely” David would ever have risen up at the BBC. We’re constantly told about the overwhelming bias towards white, middle-class Oxbridge grads, so how did “no, yeah, cool, like, yeah” Will get an internship?

In Twenty Twelve, the stakes were raised as Britain was heading for the mother of all cock-ups, and we were familiar with the issues faced by the committee due to the extensive media coverage: lack of toiletage, the legacy of the Olympic Stadium, or the use of Games Lanes. W1A has never had the sense of direction laid out in its first press release, that Ian Fletcher would be drafted in to negotiate the BBC’s upcoming Charter renewal, and discuss the future of the licence fee. The show has no focus or drive in the way its predecessor managed, but the presentation of bungling bureaucrats and creatives running the corporation does not suffer for this lack. Its slipshod scatterbrained variety of events reflects the difficulties of modern working life: too many emails to answer, too many tasks to deal with.

Four episodes was a woefully short run – were the BBC uncertain about its success? Surely those media types love the comedy more than anyone else? There are just a couple of missteps that do not place it on a pedestal with Twenty Twelve, but it’s still worth watching. It’s better than most comedies around, and through its faults, you’ll realise just how good the first show was. Here, we’re looking forward to another series, reported to feature the great Lord Director General Tony Hall himself.

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