HOME FREE REVIEW: Hugely Life-Affirming and Heartbreakingly Honest
Home Free Channel 4, 10pm ★★★★
It’s a milestone depicted in decades of TV shows and novels: the moment a parent drops off their child at University, or helps them move out into their first flat. The offspring leaps down the corridor with glee while their mum or dad scramble around for a tissue and down a large coffee to get over the shock of it.
But what’s it like to say goodbye to your child if you never imagined they’d be able to live independently at all? Two-part documentary Home Free followed a group of young people with learning disabilities who were all about to leave home for the first time to start a new part of their lives in supported accommodation.
One of the best things about the film was the inclusion of the parents, who were heartachingly honest about how they’d assumed their child would never leave home, and were terrified to let them go – but now an opportunity for council-funded flats had come up, they’d be selfish to not encourage the move.
Doctors had said that Jade, a 25-year-old woman with cerebral palsy, would never be able to walk or talk, but here she was years later, jokingly squabbling with her mum over which cheddar to buy in the supermarket for her new fridge. “You’re being a big banana” she teased when hugging her tearful mum goodbye, her very own apartment key on a string around her neck. Later that night, Jade was the one who was suddenly tearful, but had a support worker to soothe her fears.
Home Free was hugely life-affirming, warm and non-patronising. It showed how, with the right help from loved ones and councils and brilliant support workers, more people might be able to enjoy the thrill of having their own space for the first time, of deciding to eat only pizza for two nights in a row, of unfettered silliness with friends. The scene in which 27-year-old Curtis, who has Down’s Syndrome, fried an egg for himself in his kitchen for the first time, showed beautifully that what seems like an ordinary rite of passage to some, is for others agreater cause for celebration that we can imagine.
Jerk Wins Representation of Disability Award at MIP
Reed MIDEM has announced the winners of the MIPCOM Diversify TV Excellence Awards 2019, held in partnership with A+E Networks and Diversify TV, and Jerk scored a nod for representation of disability (scripted).
Jerk is written by Shaun Pye and Tim Renkow, and is a co-production between Roughcut TV and Primal Media for BBC Three. The Executive Producers are Ash Atalla and Alex Smith for Roughcut TV, and Mat Steiner for Primal Media. It is produced by Roughcut’s Rebecca Murrell, and the Commissioning Editor for BBC Comedy is Alex Moody.
Primal Media Hires Ben Riley as Head of Development
Primal Media has announced a key appointment to its senior team.
Ben Riley will join the business as Head of Development. Formerly Head of Entertainment Formats at Lime Productions, he was behind recent commissions in the UK and US including True Love or True Lies? for MTV and #Dating No Filter for E!.
Prior to that, Ben was based in Australia where he produced The Voice, Big Brother Australia and Beauty and the Geek and headed up factual entertainment development for Matchbox Pictures. He was previously associated with senior production roles on I’m a Celebrity…,Big Brother UK and 71 Degrees North.
Of his appointment, Ben said: “I am very much looking forward to joining Mat and Adam and helping to build on Primal’s brilliant slate. They make exactly the type of shows I like to watch – like unscripted movies – and whether it’s entertainment, reality or factual I relish the challenge of creating these types of ambitious projects”.
Mat Steiner, Managing Director of Primal Media, said: “The prize for bold content that can break through the noise and keep audiences addicted is higher than it’s ever been. The addition of Ben’s creative DNA to ours is very exciting”
It was recently announced that STV Productions has acquired a majority stake in Primal Media. This follows the formation, earlier this year, of a strategic programming partnership between both companies to support STV Productions’ growth ambitions.
Last week, Channel 4 confirmed Primal Media has been commissioned to make coming of age, two-part documentary commission Home Free which will follow a group of young people with learning disabilities who are leaving home for the first time and moving into supported living apartments that offer up the chance of independent living.
Home Free will follow a group of young people with learning disabilities who are leaving home for the first time and moving into a supported living apartments that offer up the chance of independent living. This coming of age moment, a big step in the lives of most young people, is a huge leap for this unique group.
The families have given extraordinary access to this incredibly significant moment in their young lives. The 2 x 60 min series will feature laughter, new found friendships, blossoming relationships and at times heartache and tears. Home Free will be packed full of wonderful characters, great actuality and some truly unforgettable moments.
Channel 4 Commissioning Editor Emily Jones said: “We feel incredibly lucky that we have been able to follow these young people as they begin their exciting new lives. This series is a moving account of the challenges faced by those for whom independence is no guarantee. But it is also a joyful reminder of how brilliant and fun life can be when you are young, among friends, and starting out on your own.”
Primal Head of Factual Vicky Hamburger said “This has been a huge passion project of mine for a long time and I’m so proud of the films we have produced. Home Free is an extraordinary celebration of life and I hope we can learn so much from the fantastic housemates featured in these films.”
STV Productions acquires majority stake in award winning unscripted producer Primal Media
STV Productions has acquired a majority stake in innovative unscripted producer Primal Media. The deal will enable STV Productions to realise full value from Primal Media’s current and future programming slate. This includes current comedy series Jerk for BBC3 and two new programmes, both currently in production, for Channel 4.
Founded in 2016 by Adam Wood and Mat Steiner, Primal Media is behind a range of successful formats including RTS Award winning Release the Hounds for ITV2, Rose D’Or winning Bigheads for ITV and Carnage for Sky One. Before Primal Media, Wood and Steiner developed and exec produced hugely successful formats including Cash Cab (over 5000 episodes worldwide), Gamesmaster (seven series for Channel 4) and international hit, Survivor.
The acquisition follows the announcement earlier this year of a strategic partnership between both companies to co-develop formats to target UK and international networks and is the latest step in STV’s ambitious plans to grow STV Productions into a world-class production company with a multi-genre slate of returning series under the leadership of managing director, David Mortimer.
Under the terms of the deal, Lionsgate, the previous majority investor in Primal Media will retain a minority stake in the business, with the founders holding the remaining equity.
STV Productions already has an established track record of success in entertainment as producer of seven series of Catchphrase for ITV, game shows And They’re Off…for Sport Relief for BBC One and Babushka for ITV Daytime, several series of Safeword for ITV and MTV/VH1 in the US, as well as The Dressing Room for UKTV’s entertainment channel W, and Sex Tape, a four-part relationship series recently aired on Channel 4.
David Mortimer, Managing Director of STV Productions, said: “I am delighted to forge a closer relationship with Primal Media, which complements the strong track record in entertainment we have thanks to the work of Gary Chippington and his team. I’ve known Adam and Mat for many years and have always thought of them as two of the UK’s most talented entertainment producers.
“I’m looking forward to working on bringing some really ambitious unscripted projects to screen with them and their fantastic team.”
Adam Wood, Joint Managing Director of Primal Media, said: “When we started talking to David about a regional partnership earlier this year, it quickly became apparent that our goals and strategies for growing Primal were very closely aligned. We are delighted that this relationship has rapidly developed and now look forward to creating new hit shows.”
As part of BBC Three’s new slot on BBC One, the first episode of Jerk got its broadcast premiere on Monday (March 4), having been available on BBC iPlayer since February 24. The seriously dark comedy now deserves to find a bigger audience.
Created by Tim Renkow and expanded from his one-off pilot in 2016, Jerk sees the comedian (who has cerebral palsy) play a heightened version of himself. The Tim in the show is an art-school dropout who knows he can use his disability to get away with doing just about everything, from being lazy at work to taking advantage of a refugee charity.
Jerk sets its stall out in the very first scene. In a cafe, Tim notices a douchebag go into the disabled toilet, so he intentionally spills a glass of water on his trousers and stands outside the toilet to prank the guy as he comes out.
You’d be forgiven for describing Jerk as Curb Your Enthusiasm with a disabled lead. Tim often isn’t remotely likeable, revelling in making people around him feel uncomfortable and saying things like he won’t lose his job because his hiring means “they don’t need to hire a transexual”.
But that’s the point. With Jerk (and his own stand-up comedy), Renkow wants to show that disabled people, like anyone else, can be utter douchebags too.
“Often with disabled people [on TV], that’s what defines them,” he told Joe. “That’s why the character is such a lazy piece of shit – because every other sitcom character is. I feel like disabled people are never allowed to be human. So he is just a human, with a lot of flaws.”
In an interview with The Guardian, Renkow explained that he also made Jerk as he’s “trying to find a group of people that I’m not allowed to make fun of”. And he definitely takes aim at a lot of different people and cultures.
Episode two, for example, sees Tim pretend to be a Syrian refugee called ‘Mohammed Ali’ (who also happens to be an ex-skateboard champion), just to get some free food. The breathtakingly un-PC episode sees Tim end up in a charity campaign video, led by a fame-hungry charity worker, and finishes with a final scene that’ll leave you stunned.
Jerk isn’t just about Renkow taking potshots at other people, though, as he happily turns the spotlight on himself.
Largely this comes from a wonderful performance from The Sopranos star Lorraine Bracco as Tim’s mum, who regularly mocks him for his laziness, but Britain’s Got Talent winner Lee Ridley also gets in on the act in episode three as Tim’s nemesis.
Alongside Bracco, the small regular cast features My Mad Fat Diary‘s Sharon Rooney as Tim’s dreadful carer Ruth and Rob Madin as the hapless Idris, one of the few nice guys in the show, although even he gets his moment to be selfish in the final episode.
And while the series does come to a fitting conclusion, we really hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Tim and his horrible ways.
Jerk is available to watch in full on BBC iPlayer and continues on Monday (March 11) at 11pm on BBC One.
BBC Three has come up with a pocket-sized gem in Jerk. Following a one-off pilot in 2016, this is only a four-part series but there’s a surprisingly pleasing arc to it as we go from squirming at the main character Tim’s behaviour to cheering him on at the end. As they say, we laugh and we learn.
Stand-up Tim Renkow plays Tim, who, like Renkow, also has cerebral palsy. But that doesn’t mean the real Tim is quite as inappropriate as the fictional Tim. In the first episode, for example, he lands a job with a trendy card agency called Anarchy Hamster – think Moonpig for hipsters – and although he is clearly a talented artist he can’t resist talking about and drawing shit and discussing other bodily functions. Inevitably this gets him into trouble and eventually the sack, when he says of a breastfeeding colleague that “I didn’t think you could eat lunch at your desk.” This gives him the perfect chance the berate his brief boss for only employing him to tick diversity boxes.
Episode two has something of a Curb Your Enthusiasm feel to it as the perpetually barefoot Tim accidentally ends up pretending to be a middle eastern asylum seeker when he sneaks into a food bank for refugees to grab a free meal. Inevitably he has to keep up this pretence much longer than is actually necessary, eventually inventing an entire backstory when an entitled hooray Henry wants to make a documentary about him.
In episode three we have a bit of a cerebral palsy face-off when Tim meets Lee Ridley (Lost Voice Guy) who plays a rival artist. Their spat in the street in particularly hilarious as they hurl insults at each other, Ridley via his iPad, Renkow while wobbling about in his walking frame. Things look up for Tim, however, when he has a date, but when he takes her to Ridley’s art opening things don’t pan out as expected. Just to make things even more awkward, Tim’s American mum – played by Lorraine Bracco from The Sopranos – has come over to visit him.
In the final episode it turns out that Tim may have to be deported. His visa has run out and, unless he can very quickly get married or find a long-lost Egnlish relation, there isn’t much chance of him being able to stay in the UK. Will he be able to set up home here? You’ll have to watch to find out.
Tim seems like an unlikely hero at first, but one soon warms to him. The ruder he is, the funnier he is and weirdly the more amiable he is. He uses his disability to take advantage of people who dare not answer back. If there is a message here it is that people with cerebral palsy can be arseholes too.
Renkow, who wrote this with Shaun Pye and Stu Richards, is well-supported by Sharon Rooney as his gobby carer Ruth, Rob Madin as the wimpish Idris, whose thankless job is to fix Tim up with a job. Familiar comedy faces Luke McQueen, Lauren Pattison and Karl Theobald also pitch up. It would be good to see more of this – unlike Tim’s boss, let’s hope the BBC hasn’t commissioned this to tick diversity boxes.
Watch the full series of Jerk here and weekly on BBC One on Mondays at 11pm.
Jerk review: Tim Renkow has created a Larry David for a new generation
The conceit of this dark comedy is that having cerebral palsy means you can get away with anything – which our antihero duly does …
Tim Renkow is my new hero. He doesn’t get out of bed until his mum shouts him into action over Skype. He turns up to work barefoot and in pyjamas. He foments staff dissent by opening payslips and blabbing about who gets paid what. He sets off the fire alarm, causing mass panic. Best of all, when he goes to an ideas meeting, he is asked to suggest how working practices could be improved. How about, he offers, all of you get some self-respect?
To be fair, those to whom Tim is appalling deserve it. He has been hired by a greeting card manufacturer called Anarchy Hamster. The boss, Sean, who intolerably styles himself “chief lunatic”, has created a work environment of teeth-clenching, compulsory fun. Anarchy Hamster is a company devoted to flooding the world with fatuousness. So, when Tim discloses he may or may not defecate in his boss’s desk drawer, we may well think Sean has it coming. (If Tim has, which he hasn’t.)
The conceit of Jerk (BBC Three) is that Renkow’s cerebral palsy means he can get away with saying what others dare not. He is Larry David with a twist – nobody risks confronting him because he is disabled. He is cerebral palsy’s James Bond: he has licence, if not to kill, then to wound by being awful to all-comers. He is to political correctness what Boris Johnson is to statesmanship. He is a sociopathic American who parlays his palsy into guilt-tripping PC Britons – which, as you know, is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.
There’s another reason I like Renkow. His on-screen mother is Lorraine Bracco, who has moved from one toxic relationship as Tony Soprano’s shrink to another as mother to the most unpleasant American living in Britain (a hotly contested title). We see Bracco only on Renkow’s laptop, exhorting her son to get on with his life in the hoarsely captivating voice that still reduces me to jelly even when she is speaking such unsexy words as: “I can tell you as the world’s leading authority on cerebral palsy, that being a pussy is not a symptom.” And yet, despite this sensible advice, Tim remains a pussy and a jerk: he is never going to get a worthwhile job, a date or a visa with those twin attributes.
Part of the pleasure of the opening episode is watching Renkow do everything he can to get fired, knowing that his bosses will do all they can to keep him on the payroll. “I think I’m on some sort of quota scheme, so they don’t have to hire a transsexual,” he muses sourly.
In this, Renkow is akin to George Costanza in the Seinfeld episode in which he feigned disability to get preferential treatment (including the keys to the executive washroom), knowingly exploiting bosses’ awkwardness about disability. But, while Costanza was a phoney asshole working a guilt-ridden system to his advantage, Renkow is no phoney, but all asshole. When Sean asks Tim if he has any special needs, he demands a chair made of salmon leather, new shoes and a bigger desk. Bigger than hers, he says, pointing at Anne who sits opposite.
Of course, it is wrong of him to mutate into Nigel Farage with nice but invertebrate Anne. When she breastfeeds her baby in the office, he sarcastically complains: “I didn’t think you could eat lunch at your desk.” Less wrong of him to suggest a new line for her greeting card. “Hello baby! Bye-bye wallet,” she suggests. “Bye-bye perineum,” he counters.
How can disability be funny? Jerk suggests one way, not by making us laughing at disability (that, as you know, is wrong), but by exploiting the comic potential of a situation in which a jerk uses their disability to yank someone’s chain. Renkow gets his kicks from making others feel bad about his disability. Typical is the opening gag in which a man comes out of a cafe’s disabled toilet to be confronted by Renkow, who has thrown a glass of water over his crotch and gives his adversary a how-could-you? stare.
The first episode is mostly a delight, although Renkow could have made more of the scene in which he struggles to get his walking frame into the office through the only entrance, a set of rotating doors. Also delightful are the two sidekicks Renkow and his co-writers Shaun Pye and Stu Richards have created. Idris is a geek who tries and largely fails to be Tim’s employment consultant (there is literally nobody on British TV less like Idris Elba than him), and my other new hero is Ruth, Tom’s epically careless care-worker. Ruth is a bigger jerk than the eponymous jerk himself, getting one client (Renkow) to make her sandwiches while she chillaxes, deferring her visit to another, incontinent, client. “You’re so emotionally retarded,” he tells Ruth. “Tim,” she replies tartly. “You know we don’t use that word.” “Sorry. You’re not emotional.” “Thank you,” she replies. Just possibly, the jerk has met his match.
“I think I might be a superhero.” That’s Tim Renkow in Jerk, BBC Three’s hysterical new sitcom. The show follows Tim (Renkow), a young man with cerebral palsy trying to get through life in a world where everyone treats him differently. He knows they all judge him based on his appearance, and he also knows that they judge him incorrectly – because underneath it all, he’s a total dick. And so he goes through the day-to-day routines of jobs and friendships making everyone uncomfortable – and he does so entirely on purpose. “I think I might be a superhero,” he declares. Then adds: “My super power is I can’t be sacked.”
That simple principle is behind all of Jerk’s humour, and it paves the way for a complex show. On the one hand, it exposes how society is so intently politically correct that it’s unwilling to criticise a person with cerebral palsy for their behaviour. On the other, it shows that there’s more to our lead than his neurological condition, and Tim makes the most of that opportunity to be as much of a jerk as possible.
From hitting on people to playing pranks on them, not to mention lying his way through job interviews, he’s entertainingly, intelligently, brutally cruel. He blags a role at a greeting cards company (“Anarchy Hamster”), only to draw poo and genitalia all over their products – much to the dismay of co-worker Anne (a wonderfully stoney-faced Cicely Giddings) and the nervous prevarications of middle-management Shaun (the always-enjoyable Karl Theobald). Renkow, meanwhile, grins with a laugh-out-loud brashness, pushing every boundary he can, as he rails against a company that is only trying to fulfil their quota of diverse employee demographics. It’s a righteous cause, but one that he tackles in all the wrong ways, and that juxtaposition is where Jerk succeeds as something deliciously unique.
Tim’s equally dismissive of the young worker at the job centre (the likeable Rob Madin) trying to help him out. His name’s Idris, but he “definitely isn’t no Idris”, in the disappointed words of Ruth (the excellent Sharon Rooney), Tim’s care worker. They’re the ones, tellingly, who stick around with Tim, because they treat him as the selfish, immature jerk he actually is. Rooney’s Ruth is amusingly caustic at every opportunity, spending more time sending Tim to the shops on her behalf than actually offering any kind of support. Idris, meanwhile, just desperately wants to do the right thing – not least because Tim’s visa is coming up for renewal imminently.
Tim, meanwhile, is too busy pulling any prank he can to avoid worrying about getting a girlfriend or making sure he’s allowed to say in the country. And so we watch him as he throws water over his crotch in a cafe to guilt-trip a guy who used the disabled loo and destroys pieces of art with his walking frame. By the time we’ve reach the end of the final episode, it’s almost not a shock that he’s pretended to be a refugee to get free food.
Renkow and co-writers Stu Richards and Shaun Pye (who also gave us the brilliantly honest There She Goes) have a glorious knack for escalating events just far enough to be awkward and hilarious at the same time – there’s a Curb Your Enthusiasm-esque vein of humour running through each episode, while one sequence between Tim and his nemesis is the kind of timeless comic set piece that could have come right out of Naked Gun. Lorraine Bracco, as Tim’s mum, dives right into that careful balance, popping up over Skype (or into his bedroom) to get him out of whatever mess he’s in (including his bedroom), quiz him on his love life or simply insult him – something she does with an impressive sense of genuine affection. “I’ll come visit you in Guantanamo,” she signs off after one conversation, all brash, loud words and undeniable heart.
Throughout, Renkow’s performance is a fiendish delight, balancing that humour and wickedness with a hint of tragedy, as we watch Tim become a master of his own downfall, simply by shirking the important things in life he has to address. “I want to be a stunt pilot,” he tells Idris, with a flawless deadpan stare. “Do you have experience?” comes the reply. “How do you think I got like this?” he quips back, relishing the expressions that play across Idris’ face. Clever, sweet and gleefully dark, this is one of BBC Three’s best comedy commissions to date. Watch it immediately.
Jerk is available on BBC iPlayer until July 2019.
Review Overview –
Cast – 9
Script – 9
Laughs – 9
Rating – 9: Unique, sweet and gleefully dark, this is one of BBC Three’s best comedy commissions to date.