When BBC Three moved online in February last year, many (including myself) thought it would be the end of the channel and their high standard of programming. How wrong could I have been?
Stacey Dooley and Reggie Yates stayed with the channel and regularly tackle tough subjects in their respective documentaries. Whilst Thirteen and Clique proved to be great new dramas for the channel and comedies Fleabag and This Country have both won critical acclaim.
As well as Dooley and Yates, when BBC Three moved online, it brought two comedies with them; People Just Do Nothing and Murder In Successville. Both had big fasbases and I’d argue now have even bigger fanbases due to their almost constant availability online, their contractual BBC One repeats and of course the fact that they’re both brilliant.
Only this week the latest round of BAFTA TV nominations were announced and BBC Three picked up eight nominations, two of which were for People Just Do Nothing. Sadly, Murder In Successville didn’t pick up a single nomination, despite definitely deserving recognition.
Budgets aren’t the biggest in TV, that’s a given. It’s probably, and I’d imagine they’re even smaller for BBC Three. Yet year after year Tom Davis and the incredible team behind Murder In Successville deliver a show which attracts great talent and looks great, thanks to 360 Degree sets and some very clever CGI.
The easiest way to understand what the show is, it to watch an episode and you’ll get it. But in a nutshell, Tom Davis plays DI Sleet whose job it is to solve more crimes against the world of celebrity in the fictional town of Successville.
Week in week out, Sleet is joined by a new rookie recruit, played by a different celebrity, who with no script and no idea, has to meet with various celebrity suspects, played by some of the finest impressionists in the country. It’s then the job of the rookie to decide who’s guilty of murder in the episode’s final scene. They do so by pointing a gun at the guilt celebrity and pulling the trigger.
It’s then up to police chief Gordon Ramsay (Liam Hourican), to reveal whether or not the rookie was correct and had picked up on all the write clues, or if indeed they had just shot an innocent celebrity.
For example, in the first ever episode, Made In Chelsea’s Jamie Laing was tasked with solving the murder of Bruno Tonioli and had to choose from a line-up of suspects that included Darcey Bussell, the Carr Twins (Jimmy & Alan) and Harry Styles.
And last series, Emma Bunton had to investigate the death of North Successville cop James May, whose suspects included Katy Perry, Ian McKellen and Louis Walsh.
This time around, DI Sleet is joined by a stellar-line up of rookies; Richard Osman, Martin Kemp, Lorraine Kelly, Reggie Yates and Professor Green.
In the opening episode, The Brass Gnome, Richard Osman joins DI Sleet as a priceless piece of art is stolen from right under their nose and Bjork (played brilliantly by Ellie White), is murdered in the process.
Wading into art’s black market underworld, Sleet and Osman are on a mission to catch their culprit. They’re sure that if they find the art, they’ll find their killer.
Along the way they meet with three suspects; avant-garde art collector Arsene Wenger (Luke Kempner), cat burglar Zayn Malik (Jamie Demetriou) and art teacher Hilary Clinton (Cariad Lloyd).
One of the many things I love about Murder In Successville is it’s commitment to showcasing new talent on screen. Talent that other broadcasters and programmes criminally shy away from.
The series does very well in giving up and coming comedians and impressionists a chance to shine.
Luke Kempner is someone I’ve admired for a long time and in the opening episode of this new series he plays Arsene Wenger, an avant-garde art collector whose new gallery is opening at a suspiciously convenient time.
This leaves Sleet no option but to send Osman undercover as a turtle-necked arty type to get some answers. The rest of the series will see Luke play backwards hillbilly Declan Donnelly and new police commissioner Bear Grylls.
Jamie Demetriou is someone who I believe to be on the brink of breaking through and his scene-stealing performance as cat burglar Zayn Malik is a great example of why I think he’s so great.
Sleet and Osman break into a creepy paint factory to give Zayn an old-fashioned roughing up after finding him a little down since being thrown out of his old gang. Struggling to put coherent sentences together, Zayn admits to hanging around in bars to see what real lads are saying in order to mimic them.
I’m sure a few One Direction fans may not take too well to Jamie’s depiction of Zayn, but during a recent press screening for the new series, I was in tears of laughter during Jamie’s performance and it’s just as funny the second and indeed third time around.
Cariad Lloyd has put in a fantastic turn since the first series playing Claudia Winkleman, Miley Cyrus, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and this time around she’s playing art teacher Hilary Clinton.
It’s during Hilary’s art class that Osman gets, shall we say, rather close to Sleet. Much closer than I expect he ever thought he would get to him. Of course, I wouldn’t want to give it away but there is blowing involved. Make of that what you will.
Other impressions throughout the series include Tony Way and Terry Mynott as best friends Jamie Oliver and Jonathan Ross, Jessica Kennedy and Dominque Moore as sister assassins Venus and Serena Williams and Colin Hoult as corrupt business mogul Piers Morgan.
Also, look out for Lydia Fraser as newspaper reporter Beyoncé, Kerry Howard as recluse Madonna, Marie Lawrence as local brothel landlady Paloma Faith, Tom Bennett as hotel manager Michael McIntyre, Perry Fitzpatrick as Phil Neville and Samson Kayo as science professor Will.i.am.
Episode two, A Murder in Ye Olde Successville, pays homage to the likes of Peaky Blinders and Ripper Street as the episode goes back in time to Victorian Successville where guest rookie Martin Kemp is tasked with solving the very first Murder in Successville.
Local lady of the night, Rita Ora has been found slayed in an alley and DI Sleet and Kemp are tasked with retracing her last steps around the cobbled streets of Successville. Those in line for her murder are science professor Will.i.am (Samson Kayo), who has always got the better of Sleet, the landlady of the local brothel Paloma Faith (Marie Lawrence) and Jonathan Ross and his good friend Jamie Oliver.
Look out for a fourth-wall breaking scene featuring DI Sleet which occurs after Will.i.am tricks Sleet into drinking truth serum.
When I first saw Martin Kemp on the list of rookies for series three, I admit I was a little worried as during my many chats with Tom Davis, the aim has always been to not invite actors onto the show as rookies as they’ll be too wise to it all or try and play a part.
But of course, it wasn’t long into Martin’s episode that Martin Kemp the actor disappeared, leaving an often corpsing Martin Kemp.
As an actor, Martin is used to being in control, here he clearly wasn’t. It’s only Sleet and those around him that have a script and an idea of where the episode is going.
To give you an idea of just how much Martin let go, there came a point where he couldn’t even remember his own name. This is a serious contender for ‘Best Scene Ever’ as it reveals a truer (no pun intended) Martin Kemp than we have ever seen before.
Whenever I speak to anyone who has appeared on Murder In Successville or has worked on the series behind-the-scenes, the response is always overly positive. They always say how much of a brilliant time they’ve had making the series and whilst it’s a cliché thing for people in this industry to say, when they talk about Murder In Successville I believe them.
Why? Because I’ve met Tom a few times now and he really is one of the nicest and funniest guys in the industry and the chemistry he has with each celebrity really comes across on screen.
There’s nothing better than watching DI Sleet and his latest rookie unable to continue a scene because they’re laughing. Often theses scenes would be cut in other comedies or dramas but I’m glad they decide to keep some in for this.
So as long as they continue to enjoy making it and we enjoy watching it, I can’t see Murder In Successville in some shape or form going away anytime soon. But will it return as a series?
The sixth episode of series three does feel rather final, but of course the end of series two felt kind of final too so you never know. I did manage to ask Tom this at the screening and he definitely hinted at a future for the series:
“I think we’ve worked out a way of doing it as a feature length film. There’s been quite a lot of interest with just the style of what we do, with improv and corpsing, so it’s a difficult one.
This series was incredible. It was so much fun upscaling and building it so it’s natural to start looking to what the next step is. We’re all ambitious. We try to not stand there and go “well that’s worked”, but instead we try to grow it.
So, I think the next thing would just be trying to add to that really and make it bigger and crazier. Bring it all back… serial killers… explosions… But like I say we’re all very ambitious and think that there’s a way of doing it for over an hour.”
Fingers crossed then for more from DI Sleet, Sid Lowecroft and Gordon Ramsay. Long may it continue!
Murder In Successville returns Wednesday 19th April on BBC Three