Written by @EllieDangerous
'Not Safe for Work' is a new Channel 4 comedy drama that doesn't finish its sentences. It's funny but culturally and politically familiar, and that makes it grimmer than a Tory social policy. Our lead is Katherine, played by the singular Zawe Ashton. Katherine is sardonic, smart and a bloody mess, and she's also us; you and me and the rest of the Millennials. In the first series she faces a professional nightmare; seizing responsibility only to realise how twisted and complicated that responsibility is.

Spoiler Alert
It begins in Whitehall, here in the 21st century where we’re all kind of screwed. Katherine is a dynamic young office sort who loves the speed of the city. She’s a policy advisor with a dream: an “Immigration Pathway” designed to help those less privileged than herself. It’s no wonder we very quickly hear the soft snip snip of those familiar Conservative scissors…

A victim of public spending cuts, Katherine is sent to the lesser Northampton office, where "everything you've got is shit". She doesn’t belong there, and perhaps doesn’t belong anywhere; hence her quiet passion for the Immigration Pathway and the good it could do for people who feel they don’t belong.

Indeed, she’s optimistic to begin with, hoping like the rest of us that we really can make a difference if we feel it. She’s keen to take responsibility for this change in her life. Carpe diem, right? Pluck the day, for it is ripe. But one responsibility Katherine is less keen on is managing her own managers. Enter Danny, her new boss.

To Katherine’s horror, her initiative is being headed up by this wasted waste of space, an incompetent but vulnerable stoner who worked under Katherine back in Whitehall. He’s only the boss now because, in Danny’s words, "they had a big push, yeah? For, like, minorities to go on all the management training shit". Katherine is forced by her own sense of duty to take responsibility for him, and it’s an interesting dynamic; Danny is not a villain but a lost kid.

It’s not long before Katherine’s ill-favoured responsibilities careen beyond the professional. Many of her new colleagues look to her for a say in their relationships; her "more than a little brusque" intervention brings Jenny and Nathaniel awkwardly together, and Jeffries and Martine may be on the mend thanks to sparks set off by Katherine. But her own life needs much more than just a nudge in the right direction.

Katherine takes responsibility for her disastrous marriage, her dysfunctional affair with Anthony, and tragically, her miscarriage. Perhaps that’s why Katherine seems at times like a full bottle about to crack. It’s not because these things happened to her; it’s because she insists upon taking responsibility for them. She grabs the weight of the world, heaves it up onto her shoulders, and breaks every bone in the process.

She deserves some good things. That’d be nice. “Probably won't happen”, admits Katherine. “But you've got to try, haven't you.”
It got horribly politicised, everyone ignored all my ideas, then kicked it out to the regions to become a dumping ground for the worst staff from every team. Like evolution in reverse.
Katherine: "Fuck."
Jeffries: "Well, perhaps. Who can say."
Ellie Ball is the founder of Good Characters, and someone who enjoys coffee cake a great deal. She is a graduate of the Scriptwriting MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. For fun and respite, check out her TV analysis articles on Bang2Write or tweet coffee cake at her @EllieDangerous.
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Published on 13 August 2015

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