‘The whole launch show is a pre-record’: we watched BBC Three’s return to TV – so you didn’t have to

Constant trailers, Netflix stars and sensitive documentaries about queer people in the Traveller community: how did the youth channel fare on its return to television?

“BBC Three gets going at 7pm.” I don’t know about you, but seeing those words back on the screen last night – as the channel returned to TV again after six years of being digital-only – provided waves of nostalgia. When I was a teenager, turning on BBC Three just before 7pm and seeing those words was a daily ritual. Snog Marry Avoid? Celebdaq? The time S Club 7 walked out of Liquid News as their PR interrupted Claudia Winkleman’s line of questioning? I was there. A good part of my youth was spent in front of BBC Three.

But does it still work to watch it in the traditional way? After all, we are now in the age of streaming, when half the shows are already available to watch on iPlayer. Only one way to find out: watch the entire evening of their launch night programming.

Oh, and full disclosure: this article nearly didn’t happen because I couldn’t work out how to re-tune my television first.

BBC Three x Radio 1: The Launch Party (7pm)

After a short skit involving Bimini Bon-Boulash as a continuity announcer (joking “are we on?”), the first show to appear on BBC Three is a show by BBC Radio 1, promoting the upcoming slate of programmes on BBC Three. This is next-level corporate synergy that would make W1A blush.

The whole launch show is a pre-record, which sucks a bit of the energy out. Then again, the last television channel that had a launch show was GBTV, and that involved Andrew Neil sat in a poorly lit bunker with his face and voice out of sync. So being live doesn’t always give you on-screen energy.

There are constant trailers. From Love in the Flesh, a show where people cop off in a hot location (Love Island, who is she?) to The Fast and the Farmer(ish), a tractor racing competition. If you’re wondering, I spoke to BBC Three’s boss the other day and they joked that they were taken by the name of the show before they had heard what it actually involves. At least, I think it was a joke.

The Catch Up (7.55pm)

RIP 60 Seconds. BBC Three’s old bulletins were someone reading the headlines as if their lives depended on it, while a lit stick of dynamite on screen flashed from left to right. The new bulletin, tonight hosted by Levi Jouavel, is longer (180 seconds!) and thankfully more informative. No more news reports that were essentially: “Happy happy sad sad terrible tragedy sad hot celebrity bye!”

A completely surreal and rather compelling sketch show … Lazy Susan debuted on BBC Three on Tuesday night.
A completely surreal and rather compelling sketch show … Lazy Susan debuted on BBC Three on Tuesday night. Photograph: Katie Churchill/BBC/Tiger Aspect Productions

Eating With My Ex (8pm and 8.30pm)

A show I didn’t realise was a celebrity special until the words “CELEBRITY SPECIAL” were printed all over the screen, Eating With My Ex has been on iPlayer since 2017. But for those of you who haven’t seen it, it is just as awkward as you might imagine. Two exes go on a date to work out whether there’s still a spark, with the rest of the restaurant seemingly full of extras getting a free meal if they talk in the background really quietly.

A few weird things stand out. One is that some of the first people to appear on BBC Three’s much-hyped launch night are two celebrities from Too Hot To Handle, a Netflix show. The second is that, according to this programme, Geordie Shore is still going, too. The third is that there is a genre of celebrity who solely go on other reality shows to talk about their relationships, which you can only make sense of if you had watched the other reality show first.

Perhaps a sign that I am falling out of BBC Three’s target demographic, the only thing I could think of while each couple was at loggerheads was “your food is getting cold”.

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Vs the World (9pm)

My flatmate and I watch Drag Race every Saturday. Over the course of the pandemic we have watched the US original, Canada’s Drag Race (two series), RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars (two series), Drag Race Holland, Drag Race Thailand, RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race (terrible) and RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under. Oh and three series of Drag Race UK. And, thanks to Drag Race US returning and Drag Race Vs the World debuting so close to each other, we’ve had three talent show challenges in just over three weeks. Being gay is exhausting.

The best thing about the various Drag Race franchises now being on television, rather than on streaming, is that you can tweet about exits without being murdered. But to enjoy them properly, you have to watch live. You also have to watch with others, so, for this new series, which pits Drag Race contestants from across the globe against each other, I ended up having to watch online: swinging by my local neighbourhood gay bar to enjoy the collective agony of watching the iPlayer livestream collapse three times due to poor wifi. At one point a punter attempted to tether the bar’s projector to someone’s phone. “Good luck, and don’t fuck it up,” narrated the bar’s drag queen. Perhaps we should have tuned in on terrestrial.

Lazy Susan (10.15pm)

Back home to watch Celeste Dring and Freya Parker in this completely surreal and rather compelling sketch show. It opens with their faces superimposed on snails to a tune by Annie Lennox. It ends with a Lana Del Rey spoof song so accurate that, if it was released as a single, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

There’s also a sketch hotline. “If you don’t like our material … or us … or both, or you think we’re ugly and need to know – don’t tweet us. Don’t email us. And don’t DM us on Instagram. Call our hotline and tell us personally.” One to look out for.

Cherry Valentine: Gypsy Queen and Proud (10.30pm)

A key reason I think this BBC Three relaunch is going to work is the fact that you’ll end up watching documentaries you wouldn’t have got around to watching if it was just available as a rectangle on a website. This is one of them: a heartfelt and sensitive series by Cherry Valentine on the complexities of growing up as a queer person in the Traveller community, and the difference you feel when you’re in drag compared with when you’re not.

Also by now I’ve realised that this is the longest time I have watched the same channel continuously since the Olympics (look, the horse dancing was engrossing).

Fleabag (11.30pm)

The first official BBC Three repeat (in fact, it’s repeats all night from here), but it’s Fleabag and I’m not the Daily Mail, so who cares? Worth staying up for Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “massive arsehole” joke alone.

Eating With My Ex (00.25am)

Do I have to keep going?

Eating With My Ex (00.55am)

I don’t keep going.


Scott Bryan

The GuardianTramp

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