Spreadable British Youth Drama: BBC Three’s Overshadowed (2017)

Curator's Note

My In Focus piece discussed the BBC's youth channel BBC Three and its 2016 move from linear channel to online-only 'platform neutral' brand. This move was accompanied by an increase in BBC Three's commitment to short-form content (primarily documentary and comedy), as it sought to increase the spreadability of its public service broadcasting. BBC Three's short-form content is hosted on both the BBC's VOD platform iPlayer and the channel's branded YouTube page. This use of a global media giant allows the British channel to spread into the social media spaces its hard-to-reach target audience frequents.

Overshadowed (BBC Three, 2017) is the channel's second drama series commissioned specifically for short-form distribution. Continuing the channel's commitment to developing new voices, it is the first TV project of writer Eva O’Connor and director Hildegard Ryan, adapted from their stage play of the same name. Unfolding over 8 x 10 minute episodes styled as teenager Imo's personal vlog, it follows her swift envelopment by an eating disorder. The drama personifies the eating disorder alternately as an undermining friend and fearsome shadowy figure, sharing some DNA with E4 drama My Mad Fat Diary's (2012-2015) aestheticizing of teenage mental health crisis (Woods, 2016: 92-4). By styling itself in the popular vlogging format, Overshadowed's structure and aesthetic draws on the medium specificity of YouTube storytelling. Here it follows popular vlog-style web series such as The Lizzie Bennett Diaries (2012-3), which exploited the intimacy and limited perspective of the vlog form to build intense audiences relationships (Stein, 2015:160-5). The limited aesthetics of the vlog format allow BBC Three to produce new drama programming on a (noticeably) low budget, taking risks with creators new to television. The intensity and intimacy of the vlog format continues recent British youth drama's interest in affect and emotion-led storytelling. At the same time, it builds connections with BBC Three factual programming, which centralises of youth perspective and point of view. Overshadowed suggests how BBC Three can work within its now limited drama budget to embrace the medium specificity of the short-form format, whilst also continuing British youth drama's socially-invested, affectively driven storytelling.


It's great to see the development of more youth programming online, since the relevance of film and television (and even more so print) are clearly waning for young people. As you point out, 'Overshadowed' in many ways follows familiar themes and employs relatively conventional narrative forms, but the target audience is far more likely to see it on their computers (or really, phones) than the dominant media outlets of the ancient 20th century. I hope these new shows encourage further creative endeavors for youth themselves, and can minimize the consumerist and commercial impulses that have corrupted most of the products geared toward children for the past century.

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