(Un)civil service: Channel 4’s new Whitehall comedy reviewed

Written by Sarah Aston on 1 July 2015 in Culture

Channel 4’s new comedy pokes fun at Whitehall, but it’s more Skins than The Thick of It, says Sarah Aston

As part of “much need cost-cutting measures”, policy adviser Katherine is told she will be moving from Whitehall to Northampton to work on one of the government’s latest programmes, the Immigration Pathway. “Not…Northampton Northampton,” she says in horror.

So starts Channel 4’s new series Not Safe for Work, a comedy drama centred on civil servant Katherine (Zawe Ashton, pictured), who not only finds herself forcibly relocated to the East Midlands but also having to work for her own former employee Danny (Sacha Dhawan, pictured) who – despite spending most of his time playing video games and taking drugs – has recently been appointed head of the programme. 

Like Armando Iannucci’s cult sitcom The Thick of It, DC Moore’s Not Safe for Work centres on life in a fictional department, its comedy deriving from the often ludicrous scenarios thrown up by an excessively bureaucratic working culture. 

Unlike Iannucci’s interpretation, however, it often relies on extreme storylines, farce, and a brand of black comedy more akin to the teenage drama Skins. As a result, some of the writer’s more pertinent points about government policies and structures, as well as a disillusioned workforce, are lost. That’s not to say it can’t be very funny: Moore perfectly captures the fallout of what happens when Whitehall wires get crossed. 

Other enjoyable scenes revolve around “Jeffries” (Anastasia Hille), the permanently bewildered head of HR, and naively eager official Nathaniel (Samuel Barnett), whose policy recommendations include the provision of basic camping equipment to immigrants, because camping is very English. 

Overall, while Not Safe for Work is easy to watch and at times highly enjoyable, it is let down by certain scenes that require disbelief to be suspended entirely.

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Anonymous (not verified)

Submitted on 3 July, 2015 - 20:04
I watched the first episode and I found it astounding that the culture of the civil service is portrayed to be quite corporate. Not being a civil servant, I don't know what civil service culture is really like. I found Danny more likeable than Katherine. Katherine gave the impression that she did not support funding camping equipment was immigrants because she was pro austerity. She also went on about having to repay her student loan. Because she acted like a typical inwards looking generation Y person, I felt like I could not relate to her. Katherine also acted immature in the way that she criticised current processes and said that there needed to be change. It seemed like she would not be considerate to how change could affect others negatively by disturbing the flow of how things are currently working.

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