“Sometimes you are just fucked, alone and doomed,” Zawe Ashton’s brusque young professional bleakly opines at one point in Not Safe For Work, a decidedly downbeat comedy drama that began on Channel 4 last night.
It’s a rather depressing statement, sure; but it’s also one that perfectly sums up the hopeless mood of award-winning playwright DC Moore’s series, which intelligently captures, with a scathing poignancy, the anxiety-ridden mindset of thirtysomethings in modern Britain by following the lives of a bunch of young civil servants working in Northampton.
Ashton, best known as Fresh Meat’s Vod, plays Katherine, an ambitious Londoner whose recent divorce is just the start of her troubles. Soon after, she’s reluctantly selected to join the exodus to Northampton, where her department is dumping the worst of its staff in order to cut costs in a time of austerity.
Her first task upon arrival is to help her feckless, drunken boss Danny (Sacha Dhawan), and his equally useless colleagues, cover up the fact that the department has not done any work in the past two years as an important briefing looms.
It’s easy to see the parallels Moore is drawing between his characters and the so-called ‘unluckiest generation’ as he depicts a group of rootless graduates left treading water and unable to grow up due to the crushing effects of rising rents, student debt and government cuts.
The series features countless people who are struggling to keep it together in the face of the gathering storm. Ashton is superb as Katherine, bringing a surprisingly soft, vulnerable side to contrast her character’s outwardly frosty manner, while Sophie Rundle’s Jenny portrays a gratingly chipper personality to mask her inescapable loneliness following the collapse of her marriage.
It is of course Dhawan – who is seemingly ubiquitous on television these days – who is the standout performer with his irredeemably broken Danny, introduced here urinating into his office before passing out in front of an employee, grabbing most of show’s pathos and nearly all the funniest moments too.
Not that there are many laughs to be found in this opening episode. While Moore tries to undercut the bleakness with wit and dark humour, such as a brilliant Wolf of Wall Street-aping sequence in which a coked-up Danny struggles to navigate the traffic lights of Northampton, for the most part NSFW comes across as far too negative to be enjoyed.
The jokes are too few and far between and the characters lack the necessary warmth to truly make us care about their plight. All of which makes Not Safe For Work a difficult and really rather joyless watch.
Click here to watch a trailer for Not Safe For Work