Meet Borderline, the British Comedy Skewering Brexit (and Trump)

Comedy Reviews Borderline
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Meet <i>Borderline</i>, the British Comedy Skewering Brexit (and Trump)

This could be a very simple article. Hell, it could’ve been a tweet (and probably was a number of them) from me. There’s a show on Channel 5 called Borderline that is a mere two seasons in, and it is on Netflix right now, and it is a comedy that you’re really gonna love. It’ll be one of those shows you introduce your friends to and then, a few weeks down the line, they’ll be all like “Hey man, thanks for that. You’re actually a really cool dude. I don’t know why I didn’t think so before, but now? Now I know.” What I’m saying is that you’re going to come back to thank me.

Again. Borderline is on Netflix. That’s the general thrust here.

The more complicated part is that Borderline is a workplace comedy that is doing a better job of satirizing the American right’s fear of immigrants than anything currently on American television.

Created by Chris Gau and Michael Orton-Toliver, Borderline is The Office but in an airport. You don’t need much more than that. If you watch Superstore and you love that show despite the number of storylines recycled from The Office (U.S.), then Borderline is that same but for The Office (U.K.). It’s not just the same style of workplace interactions—it’s the same characters, often saying the same lines, and building towards similar conclusions. But what is there to be upset about if it rekindles the same magic as a show that’s now 18 years old? If anything, the number of Office-like shows has created its own genre akin to comfort food television. Borderline would already have been well-served in that way, taking the place of any of the NBC sitcoms on Netflix I usually fall asleep to. But Borderline goes bigger and bolder and darker and more… pertinent… er.

Borderline is an improvised mockumentary single-cam focusing on a fictional version of the UK Border Force at the fictional Northend Airport—the northernmost U.K. airport and the country’s main entry point for immigrants. There’s a Pam and a Jim and one of the best Dwights imaginable, along with a Michael Scott-esque boss-type played to perfection by Fringe star Jackie Clune. This TSA-ish group is at the whims of government bureaucracy that cannot keep up with the evolving needs of the world. And that bureaucracy is supposed to be enforced by middling-at-best workers who are under-informed, over-tasked, and completely checked out from the politics governing their every move.

It seems obvious that the show, when it kicked off in 2016, was in many ways reacting to the encroaching threat of Brexit and all Brexit stood for. But it serves as an equally excellent parallel for American fears, by which I mean xenophobia, by which I mean racism. If you remade 95% of this show line-by-line and set it on Trump’s border wall, it would work flawlessly.

The characters have their own interplay, timing and development that makes this a sublimely unexpected heavy-watch at points. It’s just an exceptionally good show in that way, and it makes me shout-laugh with a consistency that nothing has since, I’ll say, Parks and Recreation? And it’s fitting that this would be a similar show about the ineffective nature of government mixed with the stupidity of people in positions of power, despite their mostly positive intentions. The first episode, “Profiling,” opens with a mandate from the Home Office that more travelers be detained for advanced inspections. Faced with a dearth of suspicious travelers, our heroes struggle to meet the demand either through blatant racial profiling or by attempting to set up their targets with deliberate sabotage. It’s a direct line-in to how poorly trained government employees with quotas for the vague concept of “security” are the absolute worst candidates for this kind of job—and, more importantly, how the job itself is designed to punish anyone with any element of otherness. And when your characters are also dealing with issues like mental illness or alcoholism, you’ve got a frighteningly realistic setting for a workplace comedy.

The series itself, at only 12 episodes, sustains a nearly constant plateau of comedic consistency. There are a few incredible highlights, such as the episode where a traveler claims asylum and no one is quite sure what asylum even is in 2018. Season two does take an unfortunate misstep involving a transgender traveler and and the airport’s most idiotic agent, but why don’t you just just go ahead and skip that episode (2.04), you’ll be a happier viewer for it. Even that low point, however, highlights how fear has come to replace common sense and humanity. In a world steering more right-wing with each passing year, Borderline feels like an important comedy in a time when more obvious #Resistance entertainment falls completely flat.

Also there’s a baggage handler named Sujan Stevens. If nothing else I’ve said here today sold you on Borderline, maybe that will.

Brock Wilbur is a writer and comedian from Los Angeles who lives with his wife Vivian Kane and their cat, Cat. He is the co-author (with Nathan Rabin) of the forthcoming book Postal for the Boss Fight Books series.