Siblings, S01E01

by Joshua Gaskell

By Keith Akushie and Daran Johnson
Bwark Productions for BBC Three
Thursday, 7th August 2014

So, the three of them go in the bank. They just look like normal guys – you know: glasses, trench coats. Then the girl drops her bag and suddenly it’s like [impersonates machine-gun fire].
Wait, wait, hold on – when did this happen?
Uh, 1999 I think. Then they did Reloaded and then Revolutions.
Have you just been describing The Matrix to me for twenty minutes? You said it was a real story!
I said it could be. That’s sort of the point of the whole film.

The first voice is Dan’s (Tom Stourton) and the second Hannah’s (Charlotte Ritchie) – they’re the twenty-something flatmate siblings of the title: he stays at home and does nothing (‘I am exhausted. I’ve spent the whole day looking for people to hang out with’), while she goes to work and does none.

Or rather, that’s what she’s accustomed to doing – for the plot of this opening episode hinges on the fact that Hannah’s alcoholic, Brent-like boss has just been fired and replaced by new broom Annette (Tracy-Ann Oberman). By way of ingratiating herself, when Hannah finds out that Annette’s son is disabled, she lies and finds herself saying that her brother Dan is too.

Naturally, a dinner date is planned for the four of them, and Dan takes to his new wheelchair qualmlessly.* Moreover, when Annette’s son Charlie (David Proud) politely assents to Dan’s theory that ‘every Keanu Reeves film is actually set within the Matrix’, Dan practically falls in love with him. The friendship briefly blossoms – Dan: ‘[I’ve] got you a little something […] it’s a locket. Inside there’s a picture of me and you. I used Photoshop so we’re both dressed as pharaohs.’ Until, that is, Dan gives the game away by means of an inevitable accidentally-rise-up-and-walk moment, which occurs at a wheelchair basketball match.

Meanwhile, at an insurance conference, Hannah and Annette get drunk with the hotel barman and, er, lie down with him à trois. So when Annette finds out the truth about Dan, Hannah uses the unbossly indiscretion as leverage in avoiding the sack – each of them has something on the other. This is a clever way to end the first episode of a new sitcom: an equilibrious state of prolongable tension.

Setting Siblings alongside the disappointing online-only Comedy Feeds that BBC Three uploaded to the iPlayer last month, we’re presented with a case of the medium as the message: that is, despite the digital-first line used to justify the plan to make the whole channel online-only, in terms of quality things are still very much digital-second. Whereas the YouTubular Feeds are a perfect example of commissioners giving what they think the yoof wants and thereby creating a fictitious demand for lower standards, Akushie and Johnson are aspiring to the better BBC Three shows; the ones which, though often crass, are nonetheless quality programmes with good writing at their heart. Siblings may not be Pulling or Ideal, but at least it didn’t make me feel like Malcolm Muggeridge watching Life of Brian.

* While perfectly able-bodied, Dan’s moral compass is – to use a PC phrase with which he’s surely unfamiliar – less able. He’s not so much politically incorrect as a-correct – a second cousin of Fresh Meat’s JP or High Renaissance Man, perhaps. It should also be said that, for what is inherently quite an audacious conceit, not quite enough work is done to get Dan into the wheelchair – less, for example, than in ‘The Work Outing’ episode of The IT Crowd, in which Roy’s quick spin is used to greater effect than Dan’s.