‘Damned’ review – Jo Brand’s social worker comedy missed the mark

I was looking forward to Brand's take on our profession and the gallows humour that comes with it but the opening episode left me underwhelmed

A promotional shot for Jo Brand's Damned sitcom

As the show opened with the familiar social work hubbub of constantly ringing telephones I was hopeful that we were about to see a fair representation of child protection on British television. After years of being caricatured as ‘child catchers’ in the soaps, I was looking forward to a comedy portrayal that took the genuine gallows humour in our profession and used it in a positive way.

The pedigree was there with a cast of familiar faces including Jo Brand and Alan Davies. Brand, whose mum is a social worker, talked the show up in her promotional interviews by sharing her worries about child protection professionals being demonised in the press. How disappointing it was to then see her character use the term ‘balls deep’ in conversation with a client, flippantly discuss her past use of Class-A drugs in the office and act in a terribly unprofessional manner during a home visit that reeked of collusion.

When it comes to social work humour there’s a fine line between crass and clever. Sadly, the first episode of this show veered on the crass side by relying on swearing, unprofessional behaviours and inept workers to get a laugh from the audience. Watching it with a group of non-social workers, not one person laughed and their attention soon drifted from the screen to their mobile phones. When I found humour, it was in the familiarity of seeing the character ‘Al’ dressed like me and hearing the word ‘quorate’ (a term I’ve only ever heard used in child protection conferences) on the telly.

Missed opportunity

For me there was a missed opportunity to find genuine warmth in the situations the characters found themselves in. A particular low point here was when the character ‘Al’ told a former client ‘it’s not my job to care’ when it could have been a poignant opportunity to explore the contexts of these relationships (there is surely scope for humour here as well… how many of us have had to hide from service users when out for a drink with friends and slightly worse for wear?).

Although there were some serious issues raised regarding 50% of the workforce being on sick leave and people needing practical help instead of helplines, these were lightly touched upon as the set pieces of the show focused on negative humour. Again, there is lots of scope for humour in these situations (the farcical nature of some lengthy referrals to other agencies, agency workers who come into the office and disappear hours later etc.) but the show, for this episode at least, missed the chance and apparently failed to set up the scenario for such jokes in future episodes.

Running a live discussion as the show aired, the vast majority of fellow professionals watching shared similar views, with people commenting:

“Having watched “Damned” I’m left wondering if doctors watching Holby City have the same overwhelming sense of despair?!”

“Just what our profession didn’t need ….. it was diabolical”

“They had so much opportunity with a comedy about social workers to bring out the humility and brilliance in the professionals. it was naff in too many ways”

However, there were some more positive points from people reminding us this was supposed to be a comedy after all:

“I think it has potential. It wasn’t ‘laugh out loud funny’ but I warmed to it, especially Jo Brand’s character, by the end. Sitcoms are inevitably about people being inept and failing. Name one sitcom where people are amazing at their jobs?”

I had high hopes for this show but, on the strength of the first episode alone, I feel decidedly underwhelmed by what I’ve seen so far. Stale cardboard cut-out characters (the mean boss, ditsy secretary, jaded radical) and crass humour that relies on a lack of professionalism leaves me praying for a drastic improvement over the coming weeks.

Do you agree with Social Work Tutor’s take on Damned? Leave your comments below.

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37 Responses to ‘Damned’ review – Jo Brand’s social worker comedy missed the mark

  1. Lesley W September 28, 2016 at 11:57 am #

    I was hopeful this would hit the mark and strike a good balance between seeing the funny side of our job and a realistic portrayal of what we do. I was left feeling it did neither. What it showed would, I think, have reinforced the opinions of any viewers who weren’t social workers that we are a bunch of incompetent, unprofessional idiots!

    • Ruby September 28, 2016 at 2:25 pm #

      I think you missed the point of the programme…….. COMEDY.

  2. ANDREA September 28, 2016 at 12:10 pm #

    I was not expecting an accurate portrayal of my profession in ‘Damned’ because let’s face it there would be nothing funny about the reality of working 50+ hours per week portraying our colleagues sitting at a computer crisis managing via proxy…instead of actually getting to work in a real preventative way with children and families to effect positive outcomes. I was however; expecting to find some dark base humour, hilarious toe curling humour which rather than debase the people we work with or charecturise our profession; illuminated the tragic humour that comes from often dire realities. If Jo needed some inspiration, I’m sure we all have excruciatingly funny experiences’ self depricating’ verging on the hysterical that we would have willingly shared with her. ( annonymised of course)

  3. LongtimeSW September 28, 2016 at 12:15 pm #

    Jo – Why, Oh Why, Oh Why?????

    Social workers are generally (over?) optimistic me included. This is/was an opportunity missed – the setting and background were instantly recognisable – opening scenes raised expectations . . . then the running theme of stereotypes including a not very kind or clever focus on a character’s name left me uncomfortable and then angry. Most places I have worked would not have allowed such prejudiced comments to go unchallenged.

    Yes there were one or two funny moments – but specific to social work, which is how this was ‘sold’?

    Maybe that is the problem – that a commercial, albeit sympathetic, channel aired this show.

    There were one or two pinpoint accurate moments (a mother in rehab, father cleared off and extended family trying to cope out of love with little or no support because they were scared the children would be taken – it didn’t need the artificial creation of a prior personal relationship to make a comedy point)

    I hope this is taken in the spirit it is meant, but I fear unless there is a real sea change it will be a turn off for professionals in social care and ammunition for those that see us as the guilty for social failings.

    2 1/2 stars – just about.

    BTW – I hope this is taken as being from a ‘critical friend’.

  4. Gavin Jinks September 28, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

    It is possible to find no end of humour in the madness of the systems within which social workers operate and the lack of resources at their disposal. Instead the humour was directed towards ineptitude and incompetency of the social workers themselves. And therefore Damned is looking far less challenging and radical than it could be. It simply reinforces the idea that social workers are buffoons when what we need is a show that lampoons the madness of the world in which social workers carry out their duties.

    • Carolyn Dodd September 29, 2016 at 7:59 pm #

      Excellent. I could not agree more.

  5. LI Mdh September 28, 2016 at 12:24 pm #

    I agree – this was a great missed opportunity – and my concern is that, this may add on to the perceptions of social workers.

    The programme needs to do more research and talk to people in current practice – rather than people who have not been in practice for many years.

    – let’s hope it improves for TV and for social workers.

  6. Imelda September 28, 2016 at 12:45 pm #

    UNDERWHELMED is exactly the term I would use to describe this show, as well as NOT FUNNY (ok that’s 2 words) and MISREPRESENTATIVE. I think that all us social workers can find humor in our work. When you work with people and have such intimate relationships with families and fellow professionals there are bound to be situations or stories that offer a more amusing and entertaining slant to our work. This didn’t!! I must admit that I switched off but that was after I saw Jo Brand show someone how to use the telephone. I didn’t know about the series and switched on by mistake at this point so I appreciate that my review isn’t as full as it could be. However, sit coms are meant to keep to tuned in and wanting more. Sadly, this didn’t. I love Alan Davies and Jo Brand and some others in the cast but I was sadly shocked by this portrayal of my profession. Was any research actually done to ask us what we have found funny? I know I have a few tales, as I’m sure every social worker in the land does!!! C’mon Jo, you can do better than this!!

  7. Brenda Lane September 28, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

    I was not only underwhelmed but surprised, disappointed and disgusted in the portrayal it gave of social workers; and only served to add fuel to the fire of those who consider us inept and unprofessional. I had understood a lot of research had been undertaken and time was spent in a social work office to enable accuracy.. All I can say is if this is a true portrayal of the goings on in an actual social work office then a massive shake up is required as I have never worked anywhere like it.

    Absolutely shameful Jo Brand

  8. Steve September 28, 2016 at 1:10 pm #

    It wasn’t funny, and relied on lazy stereotypical representations.

  9. vanessa Fryer September 28, 2016 at 1:10 pm #

    Lost opportunity to portray the true role, responsibilities and professional and supportive nature of social work. Comedy for sure but more slapstick than genuine social work humour.
    Jo Brands mother was a social worker I wonder how she feels about seeing her profession portrayed in such a negative manner. Very disappointed with the first episode which I suspect has set the scene for the rest of the series…. Lets hope I am wrong.

  10. Wendy September 28, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

    I was horrified by this so call comedy I did not recognised any team or acts of professionism in this show. What was Jo brand character doing on that home visit. The public already have a bad view of social work this so call comedy first viewing did not help.what social work professionals did they consult before making this programme.if it continues more social work professionals have voice their discontent. .comedy what comedy?

  11. Jenny September 28, 2016 at 1:18 pm #

    Felt really disappointed by Damned and it will do nothing to raise the morale of social worker or the public perception. Social work is not understood by the British public and this will just reinforce all their stereotypes . It also isn’t funny.

  12. Steve September 28, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

    I’d suggest waiting for the whole series to pan out before passing judgement, knowing Jo’s passion for social justice, I’m sure she will pull it all together at the end.

  13. Social worker September 28, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

    I was genuinely surprised and pleased with the first episode. It felt warm hearted and ‘real’, although the ‘I don’t care’ comment was the one piece I saw as conflicting with my personal values – however, for the purpose of it sending the audience a message that social workers are, before anything else, human, I think it set a good scene and believe some exaggerations are needed to get a clear message across.
    Keep it up Jo!

  14. Atoosa September 28, 2016 at 2:29 pm #

    Believe me or not, it was typical of a specific failed local authority under improvement plan.
    I observed how a couple of Social Workers started running coffee selling business £10 per packet and car selling as well as Avon products.

  15. Milly September 28, 2016 at 2:29 pm #

    I wish there was some representation of Adult Care Social Work. Might be easier to find humour too.
    The office in ‘Damned’ looked like the offices I remember in the 1980’s, but in this era of hot desking and computerised everything it looked very dated. And the term ‘clients’ is old fashioned too. And if you knew a service user personally you would leave. But I will keep watching .

  16. Hels September 28, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    Rubbish I wasted time watching when I could have completed work !!!!!

  17. Philip September 28, 2016 at 2:43 pm #

    As a person sitting on my sofa watching the telly I found it funny with moments where I thought yes, as Social Work manager too, I recognise that. That said it I did think it drew on experiences of 20 years ago but that was okay as still made me giggle.
    Overall a good watch. From the comments on this story so far one would think as social workers we are super human or saints or something instead of ordinary people working hard like most other people. Laughing at oneself and the profession is something we should do more ofton.

  18. Chris M September 28, 2016 at 2:56 pm #

    Gavin’s earlier remark was spot-on.( today 12.17) Huge Comic potential in ‘ hotdesking’ to save office rental and expecting miracles from committed resource-starved professionals all trying to make bricks without straw.
    Stereotypes about inept incompetents won’t win us any allies – and as far as hopeless inadequates are concerned our political masters are making that role their own, we don’t need to broaden that particular target!
    The austerity agenda is so surreal what we really need is a social work cartoon series; the fly on the wall cinema verite look is so last year,darling.

  19. Jenny Eckersley September 28, 2016 at 3:58 pm #

    Yes, but oh no! There was the occasional remark that made me laugh. The humourless manager reminded me so much of previous bosses of mine. Jo Brand’s home visit was farcical. Under normal circumstances, if would have been an “oh shit” situation, and no social worker I’ve ever known would have stayed.
    The casual cruelty of some of the remarks made to Nitin were about right, although he too obviously deserved them.
    You would not let ex-clients ,(service users) into the office.
    It was very close to the mark, but a miss is as good as a mile in a “comedy” like that. No attempt to show the sadness and frustration that so many of us felt when at work.

  20. GJPowell September 28, 2016 at 4:07 pm #

    I did laugh loudly at the “three fingers under his helmet” line!

  21. Ann Edwards September 28, 2016 at 6:24 pm #

    Such a pity that no one did the research for this programme. If it truly was a comedy about chill care social workers then the scenes should have carried some reality about life in children’s social work. My colleagues and I have so many funny stories to tell. The only time I laughed ( as related in a previous comment) was when the chair used the word quorate. I cringed a lot of the time, especially during the home visit. A waste of talent as Jo Brand and Alan Davies are usually great in everything they do.

  22. Tharrison September 28, 2016 at 7:53 pm #

    Just watched Damned and it’s not often I disagree with SWT but on this occasion I need to. I found that it was very similar to “getting on” it was satire. I laughed & thought yea we are human we do have to juggle our lives while trying to manage a full time job. I think it will explore a bit more as it goes on.. Am going give it a chance!

  23. John Burton September 28, 2016 at 8:13 pm #

    Oh come off it, this was just a funny programme with some brilliant caricatures of people you’d find in any dysfunctional group of workers with a devious, bullying boss carrying out orders from above. It was fun. “Clare in the community” on the radio is fun too and occasionally hits the mark. They are not meant to be real but contain much that is real. Committed social work teams who are struggling to do a good job in the face of cuts and poor management have nothing to fear from this portrayal. Some of these comments suggest that people were expecting an advertisement for social work with humour attached – and that would make very dull viewing.

  24. Blair McPherson September 28, 2016 at 8:54 pm #

    It was “The Office” with out David Brent.

  25. Dawnie September 28, 2016 at 9:08 pm #

    Can’t believe the criticism I’m reading. Come on guys lighten up! OK so no SW would take on a case where you know someone nor would you have ex husbands in the office and I’ve never heard a sw say it’s not their job to care but you gotta love the relationship between Al and Rose. Not sure what’s going on with Nitin Being a snitch for the manager but the constant ringing of phones, the state of the fridge, half the staff off sick, the quorate line , the dragon of a manager, all made me laugh. I think they’ve missed a trick by not hotdesking and Rose getting home in time for tea with her kids, come on we all know that never happens…

    Roll on next episode

    Oh & I didn’t get the 3 fingers under his helmet joke…

  26. Social worker September 28, 2016 at 11:48 pm #

    Well I thought it was good and my friends and family who also watched it and are not social workers also found it funny. They kept asking me is that what it’s really like? I did see some characters that I recognised in our field, these are characatures, it’s a comedy. I am not sure what all the negative responses are about. There are comedies about bad teachers, awful doctors, dopy army soldiers, and rude bosses. I don’t watch them thinking that is a genuine reflection of their profession. I watch comedies as escapism and to laugh. I wonder if the other professionals moan about the way they have been represented or if they take it in good humour? I am really proud that our profession has actually made it into the public eye and we are being shown as something other than extras or the child snatchers the public normally get to see. I thought one of the opening lines about a parent demanding that children’s services care for her child so she can go on holiday was particularly funny as that is just how it is. The security door was also very recognisable as were the constant ringing phones. Maybe it was not the funniest episode of all time but lets see what happens as the characters grow and develop. I hope that we can laugh at ourselves and how others see us. I think Jo Brand has taken a great big step forward in making a comedy about us and I think it would be really sad if our profession writes this off because we don’t like what we see. I liked it.

  27. David the SW Tutor September 29, 2016 at 1:02 am #

    I do find some of comments above somewhat ‘harsh’ as we should wait for the entire series to unfold before passing our critical judgements… After all it’s meant to be comedy not a gritty critical docudrama.
    It’s not quite ”The Office” but did recognise the dynamics of team meeting plus the office politics and personalities. However, since the widely unpopular introduction of ‘hot-desking’ across many SW departments (rightly criticised by Munro et al.) the crucial informal support / supervision / comradery / banter shown in the 1st episode will surely be a thing of the past?

  28. Glenys Turner September 29, 2016 at 10:19 am #


  29. TC September 29, 2016 at 12:50 pm #

    I think the author of this piece needs to go to the local Spar and buy a sense of humour. For me the most poignant line was Alan saying it wasn’t his job to care, as he delivered it with such aplomb realising what he was saying. One of the finest pieces of advice given by an IRO of some repute is a heated exchange between an irate parent and social workers when the killer blow of “You only care coz you’re paid to care” was to acknowledge that fact. They were quite right, he said, none of us would have been in that room at that conference unless we were paid. But as we are, we do, and have a duty to. No doubt this will cause shrieks of outrage amongst the extremist social work fanatics who would do the job even if they had to pay to do it and whilst wearing a camel hair shirt and so on. Me? I take a more considered view of our role, I do it because I like helping, but I can only do it if you pay me. I digress, had Jo Brand or Alan Davis got pissed as the article suggests and hid from a client the whole rosy spec brigade would be up in arms about how awful it was using cheap stereotypes to induce a laugh etc etc.(my first practice teacher got so pissed one night she fell down the stairs and was off for 8 weeks) Jeez I remember reading an article in this magazine from an Australian Social Worker over here saying how she would use “subterfuge” to look around a house, like asking for a cup of tea or water and following them into the kitchen, oh the howls of outrage that provoked, how dare she oppress our clients, taking precious resources off them etc etc. We are our own worst enemy as far as I’m concerned, to each other and especially with regard to media, so maybe the programme title is absolutely right, Damned….Social Workers sooo want a positive portrayal to escape the child snatcher view, step up Jo Brand had the balls to make the programme (imagine selling this idea to the finance dept…I need money to make a funny programme about the most misunderstood profession in the country…) but the same ones crying over our media image are the same ones decrying this very bold attempt to show us as human beings. Final point…its a comedy…its not a documentary.

  30. Pearlene Webb September 29, 2016 at 4:50 pm #

    I totally agree with you, I felt quite uncomfortable watching it and did not find it funny. I think they could have done a better job in portraying the funnier aspects of the work. I do have a sense of humour and recalling some of the situations I have been in does still make me laugh when I think about them, e.g a client locking me inside her house and refusing to let me leave despite telling me to get out of her house. I want to see the funnier aspects of the work we do even though not crass humour.

  31. Alison September 30, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

    I think as a profession we are sometimes guilty of taking ourselves too seriously and some of the harshest critics (and some have been very harsh) have missed the point. There were some great COMEDY (that’s the point) moments and some of the politics and the dynamics between the central characters (namely Al and Rose) were extremely well observed as well as poignant and funny. When Al said his job was not to care, he obviously balked at having to say it (to a woman who was, in effect, stalking him, don’t forget) but this was portrayed in such a subtle way by Alan Davies that some of you missed it. The low point for me was definitely the home visit which was erroneous and I wish had been done differently on several levels. But, other than that, I enjoyed it and look forward to seeing how it develops. I loved The Thin Blue Line and hope the police who watched it could see the funny side. We, as Social Workers, need to do the same. Or avoid COMEDY programmes about Social Work.

  32. CT October 1, 2016 at 9:07 am #

    Well this review and a lot of the comments are really harsh. As others have said it isn’t a documentary, it also isn’t a drama, it is a half hour comedy programme. We don’t do pilots here in the same way as the US (which I think is a good thing) so we could just give it a chance to develop over the series. I loved Getting On, think Jo Brand is v talented, and hope she doesn’t read SWT scathing review as the voice of social workers. He who is so keen on everyone being kind and generous to others certainly isn’t here.

  33. JJ October 4, 2016 at 2:45 am #

    Goodness me…all the judgements…all the criticism…and many vying for SW to reach sainthood…come on responders, let’s see where it goes…let’s see how the characters develop…let’s see if we can offer Jo Brand and co support…or do we all ‘know’ everything at first glance and give no opportunities for development…maybe the storyline is a caricature of SW…perhaps it’s satire…one thing I am glad is that it isn’t being taken straight from some of these comments as they would only confirm what wider audiences already think…

  34. Ann McCabe October 5, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

    How do you think this rubbish is viewed by vulnerable families who are suffering…a shame that the programme had a great opportunity to protray professionals as caring instead it was a waste of time

  35. Merlin October 13, 2016 at 11:28 pm #

    I had a friend (50s) a very competent social worker who before he died (early I believe, due to his stressful job) told me many a tale of incompetence. Usually in managers promoted before their time. Yes lots of genuine staff up against a very difficult system (similar to many large organisations such as NHS) who are micromanaged beyond belief by incompetents that make one believe in the Peter Principle. The most unbelievable thing was a helpful man preparing files and facilitating the workers needs… I never heard of anyone like this in the service! I was delighted to see any comedy about such a tragic service.