a tendency to paint bullies as innately evil, since that’s how many of us
remember them, without entertaining the idea that their lives could be worse than their victims'. Bartlett seems content with the former analysis; and
yet, despite these issues, the series finds an immersive pulse. At times, watching Sticks and Stones is like squeezing a
spongy stress ball.
Thomas (Ken Nwosu) starts confidently, but workplace bullying breaks him down
Bartlett introduces the to-be-bullied sales associate Thomas
(Ken Nwosu), following him with a montage of over-confident clichés.
He reads a guide to fortune called ‘Millionaire by Forty’, drives passed a conveniently
placed billboard stating ‘Build Your Future’, and saunters into his middle-management
office with a spring and a smile. But things go downhill when his pitch-meeting
fails, with excruciating results, leading to his project team bullying him because of the failure.
a bit of a jump to believe that his team would suddenly turn cruel. Bartlett
explains this later, as the company comes under greater pressure — catalysing
all the workers to conduct devious schemes and acts of psychological warfare. Thomas’s
team wear him down with insulting questions, repetitive mind-games, and condescending
sticky notes, which he laughs off initially before realising the bigger
problem. We’re plunged into his anxiety, thrown into the deep end, and the paranoia
slowly sets in.
bullies — chiefly the annoyingly masculine Andy (Sean Sagar) and the mockingly
inquisitive Becky (Ritu Arya) — aren’t drawn with many dimensions; they exist
only to cause Thomas pain and fulfil the show’s themes. But Bartlett’s writing appropriately
cringes through these scenes of verbal abuse; every veiled insult and
intimidatory question filled with their own horrible sting.
After the pitch-meeting goes badly, Thomas's team degrade him for it
also affects his daughter, who’s mocked at school for being deaf. When
the struggling Thomas signs to her that she should ignore them, she signs back:
‘Doesn’t work’. She knows it, he knows it, and anyone who’s suffered or
suffering because of bullying knows it too.
Sticks and Stones travels on a continuum of misery, reflecting Thomas’s anxiety,
but leaves little room to breathe. He rarely gets a break, constantly sneaking around razor-sharp eggshells, and this breaks much of the series' watchability.
Bartlett throws his stones close to home, and, in some ways, it’s refreshing to
have a series that shows the mental effects of bullying rather than treating it as a
comedy bit. With gloriously hilarious shows that craft eloquent humour from
bullying like Succession and The Thick of It, the more anguished,
more human cases are left under-explored.
Even though Bartlett doesn’t examine
these bullies in any great depth, he provides a much-needed shout-out to the
nice guys in the office; those not built for abusive office politics. They
deserve a voice.
Sticks and Stones airs Monday 16 December at 9pm on ITV, continuing on Tuesday, and concluding on Wednesday.
|What||Sticks and Stones, ITV review|
16 Dec 19 – 18 Dec 19, 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information|