Building, perhaps, on the success of Suspects, Channel 5 took its first steps into commissioning original comedy in 2017. And Borderline couldn’t be more ambitious. The mockumentary looks, on the surface, like a lazy clone of The Office, but this fly-on-the-wall satire (set in the fictional Northend airport) flies straight into one of the UK’s most topical and divisive issues: immigration.
We follow the UK Border Force at the airport, with staff ordered by the Home Office to crack down on things that are “out of the ordinary”. What ensues is a jumble of inept screw-ups, as they try to navigate the boundary between being alert and straight-up racial profiling.
Drug smuggling, DJs and token dimwits are present and correct, with Jackie Clune as lonely boss Linda gamely playing the fool for maximum cringe-humour. A stereotypical Scot (Grant – Jamie Michie) brings unsubtle giggles, while Liz Kingsman (aptly a veteran of Channel 4’s not dissimilar Ballot Monkeys) steals the show as well-meaning employee Andy, who comes up with a laugh-out-loud solution to daily boredom.
But it’s the underlying prejudices that the script taps into that makes this workplace comedy more interesting that it might have been. “Oh, come on,” says Grant, as he has to stamp the passport of a sheikh in full customary dress, unsure whether to wave him through without issue or grill him on the spot. Linda trying the same thing with a Norwegian is just as awkward. And then there’s the non-Muslim who pretends to be Muslim so he’s accepted by his colleagues.
Borderline is not perfect and far from even, but these are the kind of pertinent situations that occur increasingly in a post-Brexit world. Kudos to Channel 5 for attempting to tackle them. The result is as hit-and-miss as similar attempts at topical comedy, such as recent BBC sketch show Brexageddon, but there’s more substance here.
Borderline: Season 1 is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.