Two Jo Brand comedies in one year?! 2016 really is spoiling us, although her latest comedy Damned has been a long time coming.
Originally conceived at the BBC, Damned made its way onto Sky Arts back in June 2014 for a pilot as part of their Playhouse Presents series and almost two years on it was announced that Channel 4 had agreed to pick up the series, this time offering it a six-part run.
In the pilot, Jo Brand and Alan Davies played two stressed social workers struggling to keep control of their private lives whilst working in a chaotic office and were joined by Kevin Eldon and Georgie Glen.
Brand, Davies, Eldon and Glen all return for the series with Jo Brand and Alan Davies reprising their roles as Rose Denby and Alastair Kavanagh. She’s often late for work and he has a very demanding fiancé back at home.
Georgie plays Denise, who runs the department and is forever trying to keep her unruly workforce in check. Whilst Kevin plays Martin Bickerstaff who despite spending months signed-off sick continues to come to work with a fake work pass.
Swimming against a tide of bureaucracy and pedantry, and contending with the absurdities and irrationalities of life in a county council office, they’re part of a team of dedicated social workers in Children’s Services at Elm Heath council.
They have to deal every day with the all too familiar social issues that flood the media; government cuts, huge levels of stress-related sick leave, useless temporary staff and an ever increasing client list.
Whether it’s someone wanting to know the recommended alcohol consumption for a twelve year-old, or a girlfriend calling up to say her boyfriend will hurt her because she won’t do anal (like in porn) or a mother wanting them to look after her kids whilst she goes on holiday. It’s safe to say the calls they receive are nothing if not varied.
And if it isn’t the clients, it’s the ex-clients. And if not them, it’s their private lives that are giving them grief.
Romesh Ranganathan and Rebekah Staton, who both starred in the pilot sadly won’t be returning. I can only imagine that this was down to work schedules as Romesh’s star continues to rise and Rebekah Staton is about to star in the next series of Ordinary Lies on BBC One.
Instead, Himesh Patel (EastEnders) and Isy Suttie (Peep Show) will be joining the cast, playing Nitin and Nat the temp. Sorry, interim worker.
Quite how long she’ll last I’m not quite sure. She’s easily distracted and struggles with the very basics, such as answering the phone.
The character is a slight variation on the role played by Rebekah Staton in the pilot and evidently written with Isy’s strengths as an comedy actress in mind.
As for Himesh, I feel like Nitin is a brilliant first role for him outside of EastEnders as it separates him from Tamwar, a character he played for nine years.
In the first episode, Nitin is tasked by Denise to grass on the rest of the team and Himesh proves himself to be a great comic actor.
I’m sure this is only the start of an incredible career for him outside of the soap. I also hear that he’s a keen writer too, so we might even see him pen his very own sitcom one day.
Also, look out for a great cameo from Aisling Bea (Trollied) in the first episode, as she plays a single mother with a slightly unhealthy obsession with Al.
I can only imagine the delight Brand felt when Damned was finally given the proper green light. And thank god it did, because the end result proves that Damned has all the ingredients for a long-running comedy.
One that’s funny, warm and, as is the case with all of Jo Brand’s work, incredibly well observed.
When asked at the press launch for Damned why she decided to create a comedy about social workers, Jo Brand revealed how it’s mainly down to her mother being a social worker.
“Her job was part of my life, since I was a small child. I think through her and kind of through the press, I’ve had a kind of wish to redress the balance a bit. And make social workers seem like real people.
Anything that you see in it, what’s actually happened to generate that idea is actually much much worse. We’ve made it nicer, so if you think any of that’s bad… it’s not!”
And that’s perhaps why, whilst in a similar vein to Getting On and Going Forward, I don’t feel as though Damned makes such an overt political statement about social workers as Getting On did about the NHS or Going Forward did about care workers.
That’s not to say that Damned won’t make you view social workers differently. Perhaps it will, but it’s very much a comedy first and any political statements you may take away from it are very much secondary. Something Jo Brand herself acknowledged at the launch:
“I don’t think we’re trying to hit people over the head with it, but the reality of what’s going on is in there. Budget cuts do inevitably result in the service being weakened. That’s a reality. If there’s any political message, I wouldn’t say it’s a direct political message although I have never voted Tory!
Humour enables you to get across a message about something that’s actually really awful. I know from when I was a nurse that humour relaxes people and it’s either that or smoking sixty fags a day.”
With this and National Treasure both on the same evening on Channel 4, you’re going want to cancel your plans for the next few Tuesdays.
Damned begins Tuesday 27th September at 10pm on Channel 4