Prison Drama Meets Workplace Comedy in Screw

It is a well-known phenomenon that some inmates may come to prefer the prison environment to life outside. It is less common for this experience to be shared by their guards. But the first time we meet Surveillance Officer Leigh Henry (Nina Sosanya), she is well locked in a cell of her own. While it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of comfort, furnishings, and greenery – and is located in a tough neighborhood – it offers a convenient commute. Besides, the word on the aisles is that Leigh prefers inmates to her colleagues.

It’s not hard to see why. The eponymous Screws in Channel 4’s new six-part series are an unsuitable group of large, often squeaky character types more typically found in a workplace sitcom than in a prison drama. Joining the distant but kind Leigh, Ali, plagued with logorrhea, Jackie, the teacher, disengaged former Don and Gary boorish, is the new recruit Rose (Derry Girls‘s Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), who may be more savvy about criminals than his recklessness suggests.

The opening episode follows his hectic first day at the men’s establishment, which involves getting rid of a contraband item (or rather, a creature) and spreading a hostage situation that arises after removal. apple crumble from the menu. Maybe prison food isn’t a culinary nadir after all.

The pudding manifestation isn’t played for laughs, but it captures the essence of a show heavily invested in the mundane aspects of life behind bars. A break from the tired genre of hard-hitting prison thrillers, Screw is refreshing in its low-key approach, taking into account events such as inmates wanting to change rooms and open their packages to Leigh trying to pass an inspection that could bring promotion.

While there is a certain levity, it’s not quite the warm and whimsical prison of Paddington 2. There are times when violence threatens to erupt, and there are times when one reluctantly gives in to it. But these cases are less about aggression than about vulnerability or insecurity. As Leigh said at one point, “These are not bad people, these are people who have done bad things.”

But where the easily comparable Netflix series Orange is the new black successfully proven that comedy and drama can be compatible cell mates, here uneven and overly insistent attempts at humor can strike scenes of sincere compassion and sensitivity. It’s a screw to tighten in an otherwise promising show.


On Channel 4 from January 6 at 9 p.m.

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