by Lynn on April 16, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming for free on YouTube.

Conceived by Oliver Ward, Dennis Nicholson and André Sills.

Various episodes written by Oliver Ward, Dennis Nicholson and André Sills

Directed by Dennis Nicholson

Cast: André Sills

Oliver Ward

A terrific YouTube series about two private investigators on the case. Funny, moving and fearless in tackling hard subjects like racism, respect for others, what is the worst film ever made, the ‘N-word’ white fragility and the politics of fried chicken. Brilliant in every way.

Private Idiots is a nine-part YouTube series thatwas conceived by Oliver Ward, Dennis Nicholson and André Sills and is a perfect antidote to COVID-19 and lockdown.

It’s a series of nine short episodes, no more than six minutes each that were filmed for YouTube. The series was created by Oliver Ward (actor and film maker), Dennis Nicholson (who directs the episodes) and André Sills a theatre actor who has done a lot of work at Shaw, Stratford and in Toronto. The three creators also wrote some of the episodes and Oliver Ward and André Sills star in each episode.

The premise is that Boise Jobs (Oliver Ward) and Steve Mann (André Sills) are private investigators who usually spend their time trying to get photos of cheating husbands, etc.

But then they get a contract from a pharmaceutical company for four months work at twice their usual money, to follow a scientist who was fired from the pharmaceutical company and might be shopping the formula of a COVID vaccine to other parties.

Each episode takes place in Steve’s car (it’s also Steve’s private investigating company). Boise is either getting food for the two of them or being reprimanded by Steve for something insensitive that he (Boise) did or said. Boise works for Steve.

Each episode is hilarious. The language is punchy, sharp, irreverent, full of swearing and when you least expect it, literary allusions.  There are also serious aspects to each episode.  We get this right from the first episode, “Code Switching” (written by Oliver Ward). That first episode establishes so much about the characters, their worlds, their concerns and the way the world treats them.  

Boise is bearded, white, easy-going and a bit thoughtless and insensitive. Steve is Black, often impatient with Boise, has a moral centre and is sensitive to racism and any kind of thoughtlessness. For example,  Boise mimics the accent of the people who run the South Asian take-out where he gets their butter chicken etc. Steve berates him saying it’s disrespectful. But then Boise notes that in various phone conversations Steve has, his voice and manner change.  Steve explains that this is “Code Switching”—depending on who he is talking to on the phone, he assumes a different voice:

quiet and obedient when talking to his mother; bright and almost ‘white sounding (formal)’ when talking to the person who hired them, and then in a thick patois slang when talking to a black friend.

Steve says that “Code Switching is when you change your essence depending on who you are with or talking too”. Steve says he usually does this (talk with utmost respect in certain cases) so that “white people feel safe and comfortable.”  Boise tries that chirpy, formality with a new client but Steve suggests that Boise doesn’t have to do that kind of Code Switching performance because he’s already white.

In that first episode Steve laments that he’s tired of the kind of cases they get: lowly, cheating husbands etc. and figured that at this point in his life he would be farther ahead by now. Then Boise remembers that he has a lead for a new case from a pharmaceutical company for a four-month contract at twice their regular rate. It seems the pharmaceutical company heard how Steve and Boise solved another case and wanted them to take on this new one.

Let’s unpack this slowly, shall we? Without hitting us over the head at the inequity of the worlds of whites and Blacks writer Oliver Ward establishes that the pharma company assumes that Boise runs the private investigators company because he’s white and that Steve works for him, because he’s Black. We know the opposite is true. And imagine it: Boise gets the biggest case of the company and he forgets to tell Steve until Steve’s laments about the lowly jobs they get.

I love the subtlety of the writing throughout the series because it’s full of glints of such telling information that just slides into place without fanfare or comment, just waiting for us ‘to get it.”

There is an episode entitled simply “The twenty-fifth of May.” It is the most moving, serious episode. It’s written by André Sills. We all know that is the date that George Floyd was killed. The tone of the episode is somber.

Steve is alone in the car listening to the news of what happened to George Floyd that day.  When Boise gets in the car Steve quickly turns off the radio. Boise tries to awkwardly give comfort: “Steve, my brother….” (Steve): “Don’t do that! Not today. I can’t.”

Boise tries again and says:  “Steve, my friend, I just want you to know, I’ve got your back.” which seems better. But then Steve tries to enlighten Boise about white fragility, racism, and what is going on in the world if you are Black. That episode makes you suck air and let it out slowly.

I love that the writers don’t shy away from the awkward stuff, and I loved that there is so much subtle wisdom in each episode.  I love that the character of Steve shows people of different ethnicities respect and reprimands Boise when he doesn’t get it. Over the course of the series we see the issues that Steve has had to endure as a Black man and how he’s savvy about the world he works in. Boise makes strides slowly to be a more sensitive person.

The chemistry between Oliver Ward as Boise and André Sills as Steve is terrific. They banter, spar and lob jokes and insults that is terrific to see. And I can’t remember laughing so hard at anything; doubled over, gasping for air, getting lightheaded, and sobbing as quickly when matters turned serious.

Privae Idiots is wonderful.

Private Idiots streams on YouTube:

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Oliver Ward April 16, 2021 at 5:46 pm

Thank you Lynn! Much appreciated!


2 Lynn April 17, 2021 at 12:02 am

My pleasure, Oliver. Please, please say that there will be more episodes. It’s not as if they are difficult to write, act and produce, eh? They are only 5 minutes each. Not an hour long, so how hard can it be? More please soon. Perhaps if you wore a hockey face guard in case Steve let’s Boise have it? Just a thought.