Like the BBC, W1A series three is easier to admire than to love - episode one review

Michael Hogan
Scene stealers: Hugh Bonneville and Jessica Hynes in the BBC satire  - BBC

"How about a BBC News forecast app? Like the weather forecast but with emojis. Each day, it’ll be, like, Italy: smiley face. Syria: droopy mouth. Russia: angry face.” Unfold your Brompton bike because W1A (BBC Two) was back for a third series of self-reflexive BBC satire and management gobbledegook. 

In a critical year for the Corporation, the Charter Renewal Group – chaired by head of values Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville, sporting a sharp new haircut) – was launching the “More of less” initiative. Its mission: “To identify what the BBC does best and find more ways of doing less of it better”. 

W1A Credit: BBC

As always, scenes were stolen by monstrous PR guru Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes), who airily declared that “nobody watches TV anymore – that’s not an overstatement, it’s an uber-statement”. She proposed turning the Beeb into a YouTube copycat called “BBC Me”.

It was all bitingly written, beautifully observed and brilliantly performed (oh, the things Sarah Parish and Monica Dolan can do with a brief pause or flickering facial expression). Broadcasting House was a place of frantic buck-passing and right-on red tape. A place where job titles included “director of better” and “head of strategic governance”. A place of pointless meetings on dog-shaped designer chairs beneath a Mary Berry mural. 

Sara Pascoe, Alex Beckett and Joel Fry Credit: BBC

However, I found it easier to admire than to love. Writer-director John Morton’s script made you smirk at its cleverness, rather than chuckle aloud at its gags. Laugh-out-loud moments were rare amid all the spoof corporate-speak. I sometimes wondered how in-jokes about viral memes, skinny flat whites and silent discos would play outside the (incoming cliché) metropolitan liberal elite.

There was also a rather clumsy sub-plot about a cross-dressing pundit on Match of the Day. Instead, the highlights of this opening episode were the will-they-or-won’t-they romances. Intern Will (Hugh Skinner) and his boss Izzy (Ophelia Lovibond) have become a sort of “meedja” version of Tim and Dawn from The Office. Yeah, sure. No, cool. Say again? 

Hugh Skinner, Ophelia Lovibond and Jonathan Bailey Credit: BBC

Meanwhile, the permanently exasperated Ian could never quite express his feelings for “head of inclusivity” Lucy (Nina Sosanya) – just Olivia Colman’s PA Sally couldn’t with him in W1A’s predecessor, London Olympics-organising mockumentary TwentyTwelve. When it uses its heart as well as head, W1A goes up a gear. 

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