“Like The Office on acid” is how Channel 4’s drama boss Piers Wenger describes Not Safe For Work, the new comedy drama fronted by Zawe Ashton.
The actress best known as Fresh Meat’s Vod plays Katherine, a young professional who is first seen signing her divorce papers and then being told by her bosses that she is being moved to Northampton to work on an immigration initiative.
Said initiative is being led by the hopeless drunken coke-snorting Danny (Sacha Dhawan), which is annoying enough. Even worse, she then meets an old flame who was partly responsible for her marriage break up.
And the other colleagues aren’t much cop either in a show which, while it tries to be funny (and sometimes succeeds), offers quite a downbeat view of the life of thirtysomethings in modern Britain.
“Sometimes you are just f****d, alone and doomed,” her character says at one point, which gives some indication about the tone of this piece.
But Ashton herself is very happy about it.
“The emotional journey does belong [specifically] to a woman and I thought that was something I hadn’t read for a long time,” she says brightly. “That’s what felt so refreshing and exciting when I read the script.
“What I like about Katherine – now I have done it, and looking back – I really like what she’s aiming for and her super objective which is ultimately to help people who feel displaced in their lives. I really admire her that she keeps striving for that even though she feels cut adrift and misplaced herself.”
The actress admits her experience of the grinding numbness of office life is absolutely zilch and it took some getting used to acting the part of someone who clocks in and out of her work life.
“I read the book Jilted Generation and it was nice to have some facts and figures and tangible stuff to explain the invisible anxiety that you are perpetually living in when you are part of this generation.
“A huge part of what we talked about together as a cast was finding the truth of handling a 9 to 5 job. We have been creative for most of our professional lives and there are so many assumptions you make about people who work in office jobs.
“There are a lot of people going in and sitting at their computer and not doing much at the beginning of the day and they might get up and open some files and then you make it seem you are doing a lot more than you are.
“[Actors] are from an industry in which people use different kinds of self-medication to get them through…”
Not Safe for Work begins tonight on Channel 4 at 10pm