Did we like it?
Perhaps it’s because we’re sick of prime ministerial political posturing, but while this episode was good it lacked the chilling momentum of usual, and flaws such as plot recycling, unrealistic dialogue and irritating characters punched through the TV screen.
What was good about it?
• Peter Capaldi’s central performance as the heinous Malcolm Tucker is still as hypnotic and hilarious as ever. As the numerous MPs jostled for the right to succeed the departing PM, Malcolm manipulated them – and everybody else so that he ultimately kept his place in the political food chain, even rising a few places.
• Initially fearing he was left out of the interior loop at No 10, Malcolm got Ollie to get his rival Nick to betray Tom, the favourite for the role of PM, in favour of a ‘safe’ backbencher. But once she had been frogmarched into the office of the hapless Ben, she revealed to Jamie that she had an addiction to online gambling, which was greeted with groans of dismay from everyone – except the smirking Malcolm.
• His overarching ploy was to set Tom up as PM, but to ensure that he was better placed than Nick to be in the loop by threatening to disclose Nick’s treason in switching allegiances. The only other matter was to intimidate the Daily Mail night editor into not printing a story about Tom’s addiction to painkillers and Malcolm had transferred his preponderate power to the throne of a new king.
• When the timid Robyn meekly voiced her concerns about working with Jamie to Malcolm as she found him “a little bit frightening”, he reassured her with: “Jamie has never hit anyone. Or anyone he has hit hasn’t had the balls to take it to a superior.”
• Glenn’s nervous breakdown after he was scorned by Malcolm, Jamie and Ollie, with the final straw being when the absent Hugh asked to speak to Ollie and not him. He staggered over to his desk, picked up his papers and screamed, “I am a maaaan. I’m not irrelevant, I’m not irrelevant, I’m not irrelevant.” He as calmed by Robyn and Terri before Malcolm sneeringly called him into action for the denouement of his plot to keep his hands clasped about the neck of political power.
• Julius, the Peter Mandelson figure, who had the old PM’s ear but was fighting in his own placid way to retain his permit to march down the corridors of power. Julius spent much of the fraught evening listening to the test match on the radio with the alienated Glenn, and his calm malice contrasted with the raging whirlwinds of Malcolm and Jamie.
• After Ben insults a cleaner who is appalled at the mess in Julius’s office, she says she will sell her story to the News of the World. Malcolm is forced to appease her, but in the end may have encouraged her to sell her story to discredit the inept Ben, who he had lined up as a potential leader should his plot fail.
What was bad about it?
• The disparate plotlines seemed over familiar – we’ve already seen Ollie mess up his girlfriend’s job with a deluge of disinformation before, while Jamie, riotous on his first appearance when he was even more brutal than Malcolm, was reduced to little more than a portable profanity machine nicked from Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant.
• Naïve little Ollie who was the viewers doorway into the vicious world of politics has become as corrupt and morally debauched as the worst of them. And while this is perhaps a logical character progression and Chris Addison is as convincing as ever, he has become extremely irritating.
• Usually The Thick of It is swept along by a tsunami of witticisms and Machiavellian antics that we don’t tend to notice the very tiny flaws. Perhaps its momentum has slowed to a curdled inertia or maybe it is simply more flawed than usual, but we neither laughed as much as in previous episodes nor did we marvel at the backbiting and backstabbing.
• Whereas the swearing was once an illiterate, primal substitute for more calculated language ejaculated by incandescent feral hairless apes, here it appeared that all the calculation was in the swearing and where once you could join the dots to empathise with the frustration of Jamie, Ollie et al, here it seemed to be profanities because they had nothing interesting to say.
• And this dissatisfaction with the dialogue carried over into the one-liners. Malcolm’s once more seemed to have been improvised from the monstrous maelstrom of his swirling fury, but others seemed to express themselves far too wittily. Jamie’s vocabulary is like a goat tightly tethered to the word ‘f**k’, yet he came out with two lines that were inherently funny, yet oddly didn’t even raise a smile because they seemed to be intruders from another sitcom – “There are shades of grey,” protested dull MP Cliff. “I’m looking at about 15 shades of it,” snarled Jamie. And when berating Terri for leaking his deception to Malcolm he barked: “You’re about as secure as a hymen in a south London comprehensive!”