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30 November 2016

“I want to be a cat mum!“: indie web series Ackee & Saltfish comes to BBC Three

“Since when do we answer the door, please?”

By Anna Leszkiewicz

“Know what? I’m not even going to get into this with you.”

“Lord Voldemort have mercy on us!”

“These times, you don’t even understand the complexities and nuances of cat communication, so…”

Meet Rachel (Vanessa Babirye) and Olivia (Michelle O Tiwo), the stars of Cecile Emeke’s Ackee & Saltfish. A short film turned web series celebrated by the New York Times and Indiewire, the show today comes to BBC Three as part of the channel’s “Comedy Feels” season – pilots for “breaking new comedy talent”.

The premise of this ten minute short is simple: two housemates sit at home arguing about each other’s domestic fixations – Rachel’s plants and Olivia’s new cat. The vast majority of the action is restricted to their (absolutely gorgeous) Stoke Newington home; we build up a sense of the larger texture of their daily lives as we watch snippets of their good-humoured bickering unfold through irregular fast cutting.

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In fact, Rachel and Olivia never say a kind word to each other once in this short. But their dialogue has an ease that is immediately captivating, and the depth and warmth of their friendship becomes inescapable. Their constant teasing and frustration speaks to their closeness in a way that feels more authentic than, say, the Broad City character Ilana’s larger-than-life love for Abbi (a more exaggerated show with a female friendship at its heart).

There will inevitably be comparisons of Ackee & Saltfish to Broad City and other comedies centring on the daily lives of fashionable, funny young women in big cities. Unlike these shows, Emeke’s work is rooted in black experience. But, as she told the New York Times in 2015, “I don’t want to create a black version of anything that already exists. I want to create something completely new.” And she has.

Emeke has a knack for capturing everyday conversations, as she did in the web series, and in her short documentary film series Strolling. As a result, the most mundane of daily interactions here sparkle with humour. Tiwo’s perfect delivery of the line, “Since when do we answer the door, please?”, or Babirye’s dramatic reading of a web page asking if plants can feel pain, are just as funny as the farcical conclusion of the new cat plotline.

In short, like all great comic writers, Cecile Emeke locates her comedy in the fundamental relationship between her characters, creating people that you recognise and laugh with, and whose lives you want to return to again and again.

Ackee & Saltfish is available from today on iPlayer.

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