ITV has been trying recently to produce more original programming, presumably because there’s only so much Simon Cowell bullshit you can put on TV at any one time. The Job Lot is one of these new programmes, a comedy set in a jobcentre, and while it’s early days, I think it’s looking pretty good.
The opening to episode one was captivating in an understated way, introducing us to the characters and hinting at backstory, while the directing was nice and smooth and the choice of music – Willie Nelson’s version of Bring Me Sunshine – worked well with the scene.
The main character is Karl, an art graduate who hates his job finding other people jobs, who is surrounded by various strange characters, including his neurotic boss, his lazy co-worker, the centre’s security guards, and the regular job seekers.
The characters are all quite interesting. I’ve been waiting a while for a comedy to deal with the huge number of graduates in the UK working jobs they are completely over-qualified for. There’s a rich seam of humour in that. Also good is Angela, a former employee sacked and then reinstated after winning a labour tribunal. This is a really neat idea because it creates a premise that can be consistently funny throughout the series; the job centre’s manager being afraid of, and completely unable to discipline, her work-shy employee who has a don’t give a fuck attitude.
Trish the manager must have been a tough character to create, because workplace bosses have been so overdone in comedy. You have to stay far away from David Brent, and The Job Lot has managed that, creating a character closer to Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation but with a stress level that suggests she’s on the verge of a breakdown.
There are a few funny moments in the first episode that will probably become recurring jokes. One character spends the whole episode struggling with the idiotic bureaucracy of signing-on, which is a joke I look forward to seeing more of, because illogical bureaucratic rules and my infuriating experience with them is something that has kept me up at nights fantasising about nuclear holocausting the planet.
I also liked the regular job seekers; the shirtless idiot and the work avoiding young girl. I really hope though that the show avoids demonising those on benefits. And it doesn’t have to be malicious to do that; it just has to go to that comedy well too many times. Comedy should be used against the powerful and the strong, whether that’s people or ideas or institutions or whatever. UK TV comedy has a bad record over the last decade of targeting those easily mocked people at the bottom of society. I hope The Job Lot avoids this.
There’s not much plot in episode one, but the first episode of a new show is usually about introductions and table setting. This episode introduced a lot of promising characters, and there’s some depth to the show as well; the struggling graduate, the dead-end jobs and the job centre where nobody wants to work, and where those looking for jobs can’t get past the Kafkaesque paperwork and rules. I’m looking forward to the next episode, and that’s all I hope for at the end of a new show’s first episode.
- ‘Graham, why did you need to find John to write the letter?’ ‘Because John’s got me pen.’
- ‘The thinking is now that it was probably a dream. So the answer to your question is no; I haven’t had any job interviews. Unless you count dreams. Do you count dreams?’ ‘We don’t, no’
- ‘I admire your work ethic Paul but it has no place in this jobcentre.’
- ‘Argos?’ ‘I’ve got a thing about little pens.’
- ‘There’s a bloke over there who drove here. Drove. In a Volvo.’
- ‘Can’t apply for any jobs now.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Just caught MS.’
- ‘It’s a date.’ ‘It’s not a date.’
- ‘At this point I’d say to the customer, hypothetically, see you in the car park in ten minutes.’
- ‘Oh, are you off Angela? It’s not quite five yet.’ ‘No, but it’s nearly five.’ [Walks out door]
- ‘You tell me about your biscuits and I’ll tell you about my night terrors.’