W1A's mix of physical, visual and verbal slapstick is as pin-sharp as ever - episode 2 review

Priyanga Burford, Nina Sosanya and Ben Batt - BBC
Priyanga Burford, Nina Sosanya and Ben Batt - BBC

The great thing about W1A (BBC Two), John Morton’s parody of life at the not-so-beating heart of Broadcasting House, is that it can appeal to both lovers and haters of the BBC in equal measure. The former can sit back and giggle and see it as the tongue-in-cheek love letter to the foibles of a great national institution. While the latter can take it literally, harrumph loudly, and cite it as yet another reason for objecting to the licence fee. 

Ben Batt and Nina Sosanya - Credit: BBC
Ben Batt and Nina Sosanya Credit: BBC

In the second episode of series three, the BBC’s put-upon head of values, Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville), was once again heading up the swarm of variously pointless and useless department heads wrestling with the publicity fallout of having cross-dressing football pundit Ryan Chelford (Ben Batt) on Match of the Day. Of course, this being the cradle of the liberal elite, the issue was not that Chelford was a cross-dresser, but that he’d proved to be the world’s most boring pundit. So the next move was to find a safe place for him elsewhere “in the BBC family” in order to avoid drawing accusations of discrimination. 

The situation wasn’t helped by Chelford having just signed Siobhan Sharpe (the brilliant Jessica Hynes) as his agent, a woman who not only sees the BBC’s future as being a kind of user-led adjunct to YouTube, but a gender fluid one at that. Or that a visiting deputation the “Department of Culture, Media and, for some reason, Sport” was sitting in on the meeting. 

Nina Sosanya and Ben Batt - Credit: BBC
Nina Sosanya and Ben Batt Credit: BBC

The mix of physical, visual and, above all, verbal slapstick was as pin-sharp as ever. Skilfully choreographed by a uniformly superb cast who perhaps enjoy the acid-tipped silliness all the more for having experienced it first hand themselves. Of course it’s all terribly self-referential and self-indulgent but that is the point. 

In the end, W1A is a celebration, in the tradition of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, of the way in which, in so many institutions, language is the weapon of choice for giving the appearance of progress while also ensuring that nothing of any substance ever actually happens.

The best TV shows of 2017
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