The Thick Of It
Political satire is a bad thing which we don’t like to encourage at Aerial Telly. Mainly because it gives the green light to turds like Rory Bremner to spew their vile filth about the place.
"Political satire…gives the green light to turds like Rory Bremner to spew their vile filth about the place"
It’s bad enough that that fraud wins awards and plaudits for his godawful Drama Soc Revue bollocks – give everyone else a go and it’s turning into an industry. An industry whose key elements are: stating the frigging obvious, sanctimonious piffle and piss weak polemic about the Kyoto agreement or whatever issue the arsepieces have got their panties in a bunch about this month.
“Sir Humphrey’s semantic swordplay replaced by a blizzard of four-letter tirades and Govan glottal stops.”
But game recognise game and Armando Iannucci’s Whitehall comedy The Thick Of It began its second season with a near universal endorsement for its brand of realpolitik vérité.
Whoever thought you could portray Whitehall staff as foul-mouthed, lecherous and borderline incompetent? Pretty much everyone, I imagine.
Different from the stylised brilliance of Yes Minister, The Thick Of It portrays Whitehall as a childish boys’ club peopled by an alarming number 1 of aggressive Scots who attack their roles with near homicidal intensity. Sir Humphrey‘s semantic swordplay replaced by a blizzard of four-letter tirades and Govan glottal stops.
It follows MP Hugh Abbot, cutely played by Chris Langham with his signature air of confused, strained politeness. Abbot contends with the perils of staying permanently on-message and with Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) the Campbellesque Number 10 enforcer ("I’m a man of principle. I like to know whether I’m lying to save the skin of a tosser or a moron").
Starting as he means to go on, Abbot kicks off the season by using his mobile phone to film a happy slapping assault upon Ollie his Junior Policy Advisor by his Senior Policy Advisor, Glenn Cullen. Starting to see how the hierarchy works?
Ollie is quickly seconded to Number 10; he naturally assumes he’s being groomed for greater things though it turns out it’s because he recently had sex with a shadow defence employee and they want to pump him for political intelligence.
"Malcolm Tucker ‘I’m a man of principle. I like to know whether I’m lying to save the skin of a tosser or a moron’."
"So, I’ve been given a desk at Number 10 to ring my girlfriend?" he asks. Well, it certainly looks that way, buddy. He needs to quit whining – some of us would quite like that job.
Hugh and Glenn visit a factory where Hugh is accosted by an irate member of the public asking him "have you ever had to clean up your own his mother’s piss?" Not a devotee of the David Frost School of questioning clearly.
“‘Have you ever had to clean up your own mother’s piss?’ Not a devotee of the David Frost School of questioning clearly.”
The dialogue is partially improvised with the intention of Keeping It Real and the action does have an on-the-hoof feel, ministers lurching from one crisis to the next. It gives a sense of what it must be like to be a politician in the public eye, desperate to appease everyone but just as prone to weaknesses and your own feeble nature as anyone else.
Yes Minister was largely apolitical in that it was really a classic character clash – conflict was interwoven into the characters and the story. The observation of Whitehall machinations was brilliantly acute but it was the characterisation that made it come alive.
"that shitbag Bremner… Every single sketch, every tortuous one liner is suffixed with an implicit "no, but seriously folks" and it’s horrible."
And the problem with stuff by that shitbag Bremner is that it’s like having a political bookshop emptied over your head. People like him actually think that their prime objective is to make a difference. Every single sketch, every tortuous one liner is suffixed with an implicit "no, but seriously folks" and it’s horrible.
The Thick Of It isn’t preachy and it remembers to be funny for its own sake and that character and story rule. The politics are subservient to the laughs, which is as it should be.
It reveals the corridors of power as a workplace much like any other – filled with bullies, egotists, time-servers – all of them just scrabbling around trying to do their best, all the while watching their backs for the next sneak attack.
“Britain’s malcontent, lazy arsed, low-productivity workers have a political class that truly represents them.”
That’s the thing. There is no pointless smart-arse cynicism passing itself off as political comment. The Thick Of It humanises the Whitehall worker drones by revealing them as fallible, under pressure, exasperated – much like the rest of us.
The crowning irony is that in the first decade of the millennium, Britain’s malcontent, lazy arsed, low-productivity workers have a political class that truly represents them. Let us rejoice at our malevolent shiteness.
The best thing about it: Puerile schoolboy gags – they never get old.
The worst thing about it: A few too many shouting Scots
The verdict on The Thick Of It: It’s not Shakespeare but it’s laffs
Marks out of 10: 8
1 Two is an alarming number of Jocks. As is one.