W1A is good at poking fun at the BBC, but it is running out of steam (and ideas)


It’s been a difficult year for the BBC. Not only do license-fee payers perhaps doubt the value of their contributions to the funding of the corporation, but ‘Auntie’ is even under pressure from its biggest stars for, of all the complex issues that could blight a major organisation, equal pay for men and women.

Remarkably, however, it could only be the BBC that then airs a self-parody series on one of its most popular channels (even though you wouldn’t be alone in noticing that not much work has been done to promote it). After all, taking aim at the bureaucracy and ‘metropolitan bubble’ the BBC is perceived to be blinded by is not helpful at the moment…

Despite this, series three of W1A kicked off with David Tennant’s now familiar opening narration, cueing the comical entrance of Hugh Bonneville’s Director of Values Ian Fletcher into New Broadcasting House. From then on regular viewers know they are in for a programme full of outrageous characters like Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes), clever writing and directing from John Morton, and plot lines which may still make some of the corporation’s hierarchy cringe.

And to be fair, in series three’s first episode, W1A even injects comedy to present issues for the Beeb.

One could argue, as TV critic Ian Hyland does, that “if you’ve seen one episode, you’ve seen them all”. It’s hard to disagree.

In the first episode aired on television earlier this week, not only does Siobhan’s insistence on turning the BBC into a video-streaming service dubbed ‘BBC Me’ highlight the corporation’s constant desire to modernise, but the omnipresent issue of charter renewal was also addressed through the chaos surrounding a planned visit of a top civil servant to New Broadcasting House.

As well as this, the reoccurring romantic storylines involving intern Will (Hugh Skinner) and Izzy (Ophelia Lovibond), the ridiculous job titles (like ‘Director of Better’), and even the cheeky mural of national treasure Mary Berry in the background of the new ‘Renewal Group’ meeting, shows how W1A’s writers have always been able to put on a smile on your face.

However, one could argue, as TV critic Ian Hyland does, that “if you’ve seen one episode, you’ve seen them all”.

It’s hard to disagree.

There are rarely laugh-out-loud moments. The show’s humour is intertwined with corporate jargon and thus can be missed by members of the public who aren’t a part of the ‘metropolitan elite’. The existential crises, the job titles, the repetition of corporate BBC jargon at meetings (“brilliant”, “very strong”, “yes”, are a few favourites) does get old.

In season three, the sub-plot of the diversity problems caused by a terrible football pundit, who also happens to be a cross-dresser, being barred from Match of the Day failed to hit the mark. It was cheap and predictable – not something usually associated with the show.

And even Siobhan’s exaggerated control of meetings throughout the show was something we’ve grown used to. That, in her own words, could be described as an “uber-statement”.

Creator John Morton wrote earlier this week about the journey of Ian Fletcher from Olympic comedy Twenty Twelve to W1A, and how this is likely to be the last series of the comedy.

Perhaps it’s for the best.

W1A has for too long been based on giving the BBC, in the words of the Guardian’s Sam Wollaston, “a playful slap on the arse”. It could delve deeper into issues such as its disgraceful gender pay gap, something other broadcasters would do – generating far more shocking and laugh-out-loud moments the comedy is lacking.

As Wollaston adds, it speaks volumes that the corporation’s stars like Gary Lineker don’t mind appearing on the show – it’s all just a chuckle for them. Of course, the show was recorded before the pay gap storm hit; but they could give the Beeb a bit of a kicking.

In light of all this, the third series might be the right send-off for the show.

Questions still need to be answered: what will come of the charter renewal for the BBC in W1A? What will happen to intern Will’s idea of a bicycle show, or the fate of ‘BBC Me’? But not to forget the most prominent issue: will Tony himself, otherwise known as Lord Hall, make a guest appearance on the show?

All things considered, viewers of the show could perhaps Siobhan’s words of wisdom when watching the comedy’s performance this series: “We are where we are with this, guys. And that’s never a good place to be.”


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