ITV has never been a broadcaster renowned for its comedy. Over on channel three, they’ve been quite happy churning out period dramas like Downton and crime series like Scott and Bailey for years. Until now, that is. You see, ITV have decided to dip their toe in the pool of comedy by commissioning two new sitcoms, airing on Monday nights. One is Vicious, a good old-fashioned sitcom about a couple of elderly gay men. The other is The Job Lot, a fly-on-the-wall comedy inside a job centre. I watched the first episode of both, but only one has kept me tuning back in.
Whereas Vicious was predictable, static and felt outdated, The Job Lot was slicker and less obviously gagging for laughs. And while it may not have the theatrical heavyweight of Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi behind it, it does boast some familiar comedic faces. Russell Tovey is very likeable as everyman Karl; Sarah Hadland perfectly embodies Trish, the flustered, motivational manager; and Jo Enright is marvellous as robotic jobsworth, Angela. Lols are few and far between, but I was quite content to be gently amused as I watched the story of each episode unfold.
The problem with The Job Lot is its lack of continuous plot. Each thirty minutes functions as a stand-alone episode, with very little detail developing as the series progresses. Make no mistake; this is a character-based comedy. I found myself disappointed that issues which were brought up in one episode were forgotten by the next. I wanted to see how Sunil from the first episode managed to adjust to life unemployed. I wanted to see whether a love story between Chloe the temp worker and Karl would blossom, or the fallout from the nearby spate of factory redundancies.
There are stock jobseekers who reappear, such as Graham, a permanently bewildered, semi-naked man and Bryony, a gobby teenager whose has been doled out the role of work-shy scrounger. These are not the characters I am interested in seeing. I know what stereotypical benefits claimants look like. And whilst The Job Lot has tried to give viewers more nuanced examples of jobseekers, it seems to lack the confidence to make them regular characters.
Most people on benefits are not there by choice. Living off state welfare is gruelling, no matter what some media outlets and politicians might propagate. The current economic climate means highly qualified staff are being laid off daily. Seriously disabled individuals are being subjected to Work Capability Assessments and deemed fit for work. The Job Lot has the potential to channel this despair and anger into a powerful, unique comedy show.
Misfortune is at the heart of many a fine comedic moment, and it is easy to see how a place as soul-sappingly depressing as a Job Centre might make a great sitcom setting. But instead of reflecting the poignant humour of life, this is a show content to bumble along with its shirkers and eccentrics, populated by an almost entirely white cast despite being set in the West Midlands. Come on.
I like The Job Lot for what it is. But I think it could be more. I don’t think ITV viewers are ready for this jelly. But they should damn well suck it up.