Why Everyone Who's Sad, Drunk and British Should Be Watching 'Not Safe for Work'

If you don't have enough money, frequently feel cheated by the world and drink too much, it could be the dark Channel 4 comedy for you.

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14 July 2015, 4:15pm

Since Lena Dunham unleashed Girls onto the world back in 2012, officially two million think pieces have been written about how "Sex and the City has finally been re-imagined for Generation Y" and, "Jesus Christ, isn't life a sorry state of affairs for the privileged under-25 females of the developed world?"

Four seasons and counting later, the column inches have dwindled (slightly), but it's still largely Dunham's observations of what life is like for young, ambitious women trying to make it in the Big Bad World that dominate popular culture. And while we'll always have a soft spot for Hannah Hogarth's neuroticism and irritating upward inflection, we're ready for something else now. Something more able to tease out the nuances of what it means to be young(ish), broke, rudderless and hungover in Britain today.

And that's exactly why Channel 4's latest comedy, Not Safe for Work, with its merry cast of dysfunctional characters bandying their drug and alcohol dependencies about, couldn't have come sooner. Granted, this show isn't just about the women, but its central character makes Hannah Hogarth look like Katherine Heigl. And the rest of the female characters all seem fresh, and will no doubt speak to the Girls fans who are over watching people eat brunch in New York.

For those who've yet to see it, NSfW (yeah, OK, the title's a bit eye roll-y) stars Zawe Ashton as the perennially fucked off Katherine – a civil servant who, along with several others, has been corralled in a bleak-looking building in Northampton while her boss attempts to "streamline" the workforce.

Ashton's putting a brave face on what is, to be frank, quite a shitty time. Episode one sees her finalising her divorce before getting shipped out of London to live in a house share in Northampton, and episode two – SPOILER ALERT – sees her celebrating the first birthday of her stillborn child with a stranger.

Best known for playing literature student Vod in student comedy Fresh Meat, it's slightly strange to see Ashton bypass her mid-twenties as she's fast-tracked straight into the shoes of an emotionally over-burdened and underpaid adult. But then you realise that, actually, they're essentially the same person, it's just that one wears a blouse now. There's still little ready cash, unresolved emotional issues, unwanted housemates and a heavy reliance on alcohol to contend with. For Katherine, life appeared to start, and then stalled again. Sound familiar? Thought so.

It's fitting, then, that Channel 4 has chosen the word "jilted" to describe this generation. A generation that – like any other – was promised the happy-ever-after, only to be left at the altar with nothing but a shitload of debt, few job prospects and little hope of ever being able to afford to live anywhere nice.

Because it's not only Katherine that's having a shocker in this show. She's not an anomaly. There's the unpalatably sweet Jenny, whose twitchy, high-pitched persona is dangerously close to betraying how close she is to a full-blown meltdown – especially if boss Jeffries gives her the boot.

Jeffries isn't exactly having a good time of it, either. She might be older, and thus more "sorted", but she's stuck in that buttock-clenching position of being everyone's financial lifeline, while knowing she's going to have to cut at least one rope. Plus, she just really wants to be liked.

And then there's Angela, whose main job appears to be to stagger round the office pissed, having stayed there all night drinking and getting high. When asked what she brings to the team, her answer is simple: "Class." You get the feeling that she's actually the only one who might be alright.

"Not Safe for Work is really about someone who feels that their life is over before it had a chance to begin," the show's writer, DC Moore, told the Guardian.

"We're constantly told that you should get a partner, have a kid, buy a house, and that defines how you live your life but what if you can't do any of that? People who work in the private sector are completely loaded and on the fast track. They have their kids quicker. They buy houses earlier. Most people I know can't do that."

That's why comparisons to This Life (made mainly by those who can remember watching it), fall a little flat. For one, the characters in This Life got to live in a four-storey town house in south London on next to nothing. They were building careers with prospects (the world will always need lawyers, kids). And it made taking drugs at work look cool. In contrast, the characters in NSfW have to live in Northampton (sorry, but...), they vomit over themselves after all-nighters and are constantly being threatened with unemployment from a job they hate, but desperately need.

They're all lonely as hell, and desperately don't want to be. They're getting a little bit bored of living like it was still ten years ago. In short, like a lot of us, they're terrified.

And it's funny and it's sad and it's all too true. Watch.

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