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W1A: Hugh Bonneville returns in amusing BBC2 mockumentary
The cast of BBC comedy W1A. Image. BBC
In W1A, Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville), the former Head of Deliverance for the London Olympics, joins the BBC. His new role as Head of Values is at the centre of this sequel to fly-on-the-wall mockumentary Twenty Twelve.
The observations of labyrinthine corporate life, from jargon to management structures, is spot on once again. No one does bewildered and bumbling better than Hugh Bonneville.
What didn't work
The media in-jokes walked a tightrope at times, and there isn’t yet anyone to really root for. The theme tune (from 1970s children’s favourite Animal Magic) is already driving me nuts.
With BBC Three’s days numbered, the future of the licence fee apparently under discussion and Noel Edmonds threatening a takeover, the timing of W1A, one of the corporation’s increasingly frequent bouts of self-flagellation, is either acutely brilliant or acutely awful.
Either way, it adds intrigue to a deceptively ruthless satire. Twenty Twelve, John Morton’s smart, funny mockumentary covering the build-up to the London Olympics, coasted on an undeniable goodwill towards the event it was documenting.
"It adds intrigue to a deceptively ruthless satire."
One can’t always say the same of the BBC, but it’s hard to hold much against an organisation so ready to take itself to task.
Ultimately, however, W1A is a comedy. Dealing promptly with the darker corners of Auntie’s recent history (‘recent learning opportunities’), silliness rapidly descended in the opener.
Bonneville’s Ian Fletcher may have a new – if equally meaningless – job title (Head of Values), but otherwise, he remained as inept and confused as ever, grappling with his fold-up bike and bluffing his way through meetings as the BBC is attacked for displaying anti-Cornish prejudice.
New faces and old faces in W1A
Jessica Hynes also makes a welcome return as aggressively blank PR expert Siobhan Sharpe, while David Tennant’s narration remains deliciously arch.
But while Anna Rampton (Sarah Parish) may be imposing, Lucy Freeman (Nina Sosanya) brusque and Simon Harwood (Jason Watkins) slippery – and each beautifully performed – you couldn’t call any of them sympathetic.
The BBC of W1A is exclusively peopled by the venal or the idiotic (and Hugh Skinner’s vacant intern Will sweeps all before him in the latter department). What’s missing here is someone an audience can cheer on; Twenty Twelve gave us Olivia Colman’s gauche, lovelorn PA Sally and there’s no one at this early stage with comparable emotional depth.
Like its predecessor, W1A provides a steady source of chuckles without prompting belly laughs. However, the blend of wordplay, character comedy and sight gags was deft and those paying full attention were rewarded; did you spot the incomprehensible subtitles during Ian Fletcher’s ‘digital handshake’ session?
The dangers of tail-chasing self-referentialism, meanwhile, were more or less negotiated: a game cameo from Carol Vorderman (drafted in to replace Clare Balding as Alan Titchmarsh’s co-host on Britain’s Tastiest Village) and a hilarious, blissfully brief tête-à-tête between Alan Yentob and Salman Rushdie (arm-wrestling to an opera soundtrack) were the only moments where smugness threatened to intrude.
Corporate jargon, meanwhile, becomes an ever more insistent presence in our lives: a depressing prospect, to be sure, but shows like W1A at least allow us to laugh through the tears.
- Verdict: Not all good, but not far off.
What other reviews say
The Telegraph - "On the evidence of this opener, though, W1A doesn’t have the charm of its predecessor. In Twenty Twelve."
Herald Scotland - "The first episode of this new 'mockumentary' was a pale and sorry copy of The Office."
What people on Twitter said
@abcedminded - "I assumed Twenty Twelve was the apex of middle class, metropolitan naval-gazing and that was that. But no, here comes W1A! Thanks, BBC!"
@PhilipGHarris - "OMG #W1A is better than #TwentyTwelve I can't stop giggling. Brilliant BBC."
@padster - "BBC show #W1A one of the funniest things I've seen in ages. The nightmare of corporate management doublethink! Brilliant stuff. Thx Auntie!"
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