So, you’ve finished The Wire, Breaking Bad and The Killing but you’re still hungry for more boxsets. Fear not, Standard Issue writers are on the case with some hidden gems you might not yet have seen. This week, Lucy Reynolds says, “Fuck it, watch The Thick of It.”
Ever watched Question Time and wondered when your body will be kind and let you just die from boredom? Politics, on the whole, can be pretty dry stuff unless, that is, a politician has been caught by a tabloid wearing nothing but a nappy and a shit-eating grin in a Soho brothel. Then my interest is piqued.
When I was much younger, if I heard the theme tune to Newsnight, I’d willingly put myself to bed without the need of parental coercing, for that sound was a death knell to fun and enjoyment. That view of politics stayed with me into my early 20s. That is, until I watched The Thick of It.
The brainchild of all-round comedy genius Armando Iannucci, the satirical series won BAFTA and British Comedy awards and revived the career of Peter Capaldi who plays Malcolm Tucker, the spin doctor from hell and one of British comedy’s greatest anti-heroes.
The action takes place mostly behind the scenes of what we get to see on TV, showing the back-stabbing and machinations that happen in and around the corridors of power. But don’t think this is The West Wing: there is nothing slick, sexy or cool about what happens within the offices of The Department for Social Affairs and Citizenship (or DoSAC for short).
“The Thick of It made creative swearing an art with ‘You look like you’ve shat a Lego garage’ and ‘Take this note, ram it up his hairy inbox and pin it to his fucking prostate’ standing as two of my favourites.”
In fact, it ranges from farcical to humiliating and downright ugly. Series one and two see Minister Hugh Abbott (Chris Langham) bumble his way around his duties with all the finesse of a drunk baby elephant in a Fabergé egg shop. Flanked by his willing but useless aides, he desperately tries to keep his job in every episode, while dodging increasingly creative threats of violence from the sadistic Tucker.
With amazing comedic turns from a young Chris Addison who plays Ollie Reader, a witty but wet behind the ears intern, and Joanna Scanlan, playing the gossiping Terri Coverley, the acting is top class and often spontaneously improvised by the cast during filming (if you get the DVD boxset, watch the behind the scenes features – they’re funny and fascinating).
Series three introduces the fantastic Rebecca Front as the beleaguered new minister Nicola Murray who is constantly hounded by mishaps, gaffes and attempts to discredit her from the opposition and even her closest advisors.
However, the standout star is Capaldi, who plays Tucker with vicious and acerbic aplomb. He is the scourge of the hapless politicians, as sly as a fox and with a mouth so filthy that he’d make sailors blush (or as Murray dubs him, “the Prime Minister’s all swearing eye”). He stalks around the offices, waiting to pounce and rip everyone in his way a new arsehole while spinning the truth around so fast, no one really knows what is real and what isn’t. With Jamie MacDonald (Paul Higgins) who becomes part of ‘The Caledonian Mafia’, Tucker and his partner in crime make The Krays look like The Chuckle Brothers, working their way around the Houses of Parliament, ferociously threatening and caustically belittling anyone who they encounter.
It is frighteningly quick, witty and moreishly cruel. Whether it’s calling a rather foppish advisor to the opposition “Shiteshead Revisited” or telling Ollie, “Feet off the furniture you Oxbridge twat; you’re not on a punt now,” Tuckerisms have now become part of the comedy canon of quotes. In fact, The Thick of It made creative swearing an art with “You look like you’ve shat a Lego garage” and “Take this note, ram it up his hairy inbox and pin it to his fucking prostate” standing as two of my favourites. This was probably why Capaldi seemed to be an unusual choice for the 12th Doctor, probably amid parental fears his opening lines might be “Oi, Daleks… come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off!”
It also spawned the neologism ‘Omnishambles’ which is now a widely agreed term used to describe a balls-up of monumental proportions. Probably the thing I like the most about The Thick of It is that, as with any satire, it is toe-curlingly close to reality. Within its seemingly ridiculous plot lines you can spot elements of British politics that have become an accepted reality, like the endless changing of the guard in terms of ministers ‘standing down’, often before some embarrassing incident is leaked by the media.
Iannucci had former MPs advise him on the political elements of the script, which does makes you wonder: how much is comedy and how much of the lunacy shown on screen is actually real?
The Thick of It is hilarious, irreverent and addictive, and it’ll make you look at politics in a whole new light.1987 Views
Lucy is a teacher whose dream as a child was to be WWE Wrestling Champion. That dream is still alive.