The Thick of It ”“ Series 4,
Episodes 1 and 2 review,
ӬBBC2,
8th and 15th September

The latest series of The Thick of It began a couple of weeks ago. Fergal Kinney’s been watching it & here he gives us his opinion of how he thinks the series is going.
 
The shift in the perception of British politics over the lifespan of ”˜The Thick of It’ has proved uniquely startling. When the first series aired in 2005 with the Blair government’s seemingly slick machine of well managed media moves which was an example of a government at least able to give the impression of order and direction. Fast forward to 2012 & the once private chaos and confusion of government is now incredibly public ”“ the ”˜omnishambles’ term first coined in ”˜The Thick of It’ is now a commonplace byword for the Coalition. Real scenes play out across rolling news that seem to almost outdo Armando Iannucci’s satire at its own game, and because of this you’re left wondering where is there for ”˜The Thick of It’ to go?
 
The fourth series ”“ by all accounts expected to be the final ”“ starts with an episode devoted entirely to the new government, a bold move as many of the most popular and longest serving characters belong to the other camp. Peter Mannion, The jaded political relic with more than a hint of Ken Clarke, finds himself  blundering through the job of Secretary of State for the doomed fictional Department for Social Affairs and Citizenship, promoting policies he doesn’t understand with the kind of people he’s devoted his adult life to keeping out of government. Described as both “the Inbetweeners” and “basically a couple of homeless guys we invited to Christmas dinner”, the junior partners of the Coalition deal aren’t all too pleased about the situation neither. They’re enduring their best ideas being taken by the Conservatives and the humiliation of endless compromise which adds insult to the injury of having to share a department with someone who “can’t even right click a mouse” – let alone grapple with the idea of smartphones or the pronunciation of ethnic names.
 
In the opposition camp, the Labour party still seems in shock from a defeat it never really expected to arrive nor knew how to address, with a new leader neither the party nor the leader herself remotely believes in. In its fourth series, ”˜The Thick of It’ is imitating reality much closer than it previously has done; as time has gone on the series has shed its more general approach to satire in favour of a more reactionary model. Whilst the dialogue is mostly typically expletive laden and impeccable (“What the fuck is this? Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Cunt?”), a tendency to be cleverer and funnier than real life and the way people actually interact with one another is one criticism of the newer episodes that does dilute some of the charm of the earlier series’, in which humour would come from the inability of bitchy special advisors to think of anything remotely clever. This is a problem that dogged recent US translation ”˜Veep’, a strangely disappointing outing that proved that the US simply has too many political sacred cows for it to be effectively lampooned, let alone by British writers.
 
For a political satire, ”˜The Thick of It’ is oddly sympathetic to the bulk of its targets ”“ an attribute which may go some way towards understanding the decision to award Iannucci with an OBE recently. The programme portrays some level of idealistic faith in the political system, and seldom depicts its politicians as anything worse than incompetent or childish. Nicola Murray is shown as someone whose ascension to leader of the Labour party may be a mystery to herself and those around her, but is ultimately doing her best. Similarly, Peter Mannion, like the excellent Hugh Abbott before him, is incompetent more through world weariness than any malintent. Instead, the brutal end of Iannucci’s wrath is doled out largely to the unelected figures setting the agenda, be it the grotesque (yet uniquely popular) spin doctor Malcolm Tucker or the heavy ridiculing of ”˜PR guru’ Stewart Pearson with his paisley shirts, herbal tea and technology obsession (“He took the morning off when Steve Jobs died”).

The return of Malcolm Tucker in the new series resists the temptation to over egg the pudding of his popularity, and boldly removes the character of the situation and power that gave him his savage appeal to viewers. Instead, Tucker now cuts a somewhat unimportant figure, castrated by the limitations of opposition under a hapless leader who he has to begrudgingly answer to ”“ though it appears that Tucker is planning to change this situation very swiftly and with all Machiavellian schemer and calm. Armando Iannucci’s endeavour to give this series of ”˜The Thick of It’ an overarching theme and central storyline playing out over a series is unusual territory for the British sitcom, and certainly for Iannucci’s own writing, but seems the latest in a long, long line of successful ideas from the ”˜I’m Alan Partridge’ and ”˜The Day Today’ producer. With a Leveson style enquiry promised for the end of this series, it’s clear that if our own real life politicians don’t get there first, the remaining weeks of ”˜the Thick of It’ should be a fantastic statement of everything right and wrong about modern British politics.

All words by Fergal Kinney. You can read more from Fergal on LTW here.
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