The Worst Experience: E4's New 'Reality Sitcom' Undermines the Integrity of Seeking Work Experience

10/12/2012 15:01 GMT | Updated 06/02/2013 10:12 GMT

You've probably realised that just about anyone can get into university these days.

Whereas a degree used to be a rare commodity, and a 2:2 enough to secure someone a pretty comfortable path in life, these days having one has become the norm, and a 2:2 will likely leave you abandoning your dreams and scrabbling desperately for any form of paid work you can possibly get your hands on within a few months of graduating.

This is the sad, but widely true state of affairs. A degree just isn't enough to get you a good job anymore; the thousands of pounds of debt you've racked up over the course of your university life does not guarantee a speedy return on investment unless you go out there and do something extra to sit alongside the hat, gown and precious piece of paper.

This is why work experience is so crucial, a way of demonstrating a passion for a particular career choice, showing employers you mean business and, as the name suggests, getting some invaluable experience of your potential professional sphere before you apply for a job.

This in mind, even the adverts for E4's new 'reality sitcom' The Work Experience seemed in pretty bad taste. As a channel whose target audience is largely of the age where work experience is key, should they really be making jokes out of young people who have gone out of their way to try and get some kind of start in life?

For those who haven't seen it, the premise of the show is that each week, two young people undertake work experience at London based fashion PR company Grade PR, thinking they are being filmed as part of a documentary. What they do not know, however, is that the entire world around them has been fabricated; the company does not really exist, all the staff are actors and the whole thing has been set up to make a mockery of them.

What goes on is pretty shocking. To give a few examples, in the first episode one of the interns is made to fire a dwarf for being too short, before being made to chase him down the street to re-hire him as an elf. The other is made to stand with the wireless router above his head as it "needs to be high up for the WiFi to work." They are constantly chastised and treated in a generally abusive manner until being fired at the end of the show.

Prejudices aside, the show is just not very funny. It seems to work more on shock factor than with genuine comedy, but that's not really the point. The point is that, ironically, the only people who gain anything positive out of the entire show are the 'interns'.

Thankfully, E4 arrange a paid internship with a real fashion PR company to 'make up' for their victims' horrendous experiences at Grade PR, but this does not take away from the fact that they are still presenting the world of work experience in this way and are still trying to create comedy by exploiting ambitious young people in a way that, frankly, some who have undertaken genuine work experience may not be totally unfamiliar with.

A quick internet search will bring up a whole host of stories similar to the ones you see on the show, so whilst E4 are trying to construct an experience at the bottom end of the 'worst internships' scale, the fact that their victims are buying it, are believing they are still doing genuine work experience and worst of all, are so willing to do these ridiculous tasks, shows that the show is not that far off what can really happen out there.

That's the saddest thing, that these young people are so keen to make something of their lives in a difficult job climate that they will happily act as a wireless router or chase a dwarf down the street to get somewhere, and that employers will happily exploit this to avoid having to do the dirty work themselves.

Perhaps if these types of employers saw The Work Experience they might have second thoughts about exploiting their interns, or more likely, perhaps they're the sort of people who would actually find the show funny. It's irrelevant anyway, as they are not the people who settle down to watch How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory when they get home each evening before finding The Work Experience has popped onto their screens. Perhaps, Channel 4, a genuine documentary on the subject would have been a better option, not this laboured excuse for a sitcom.