Did we like it?
We’re only a couple of days into 2007, but we may already have seen its comedic peak.
What was good about it?
• The absence of Hugh Abbot (Chris Langham) was smoothly navigated, as the inept minister was on a break in Australia.
• The manner in which the government and opposition were joined at the hip in the form of Ollie and Emma, a relationship founded as much on Machiavellian scrambling to the political zenith of Number 10 as lust.
• Emma was the first to plunge a dagger between her lover’s shoulder blades when she nicked a policy Ollie had devised for the gibbering wreck of Hugh’s “night watchman” Ben Swain to launch in Newsnight, but he was too busy blinking under a fierce Paxman onslaught and was cut off before he could blurt it out.
• This caused Ollie to dump Emma, but he had to fawn to her once Malcolm had told him he needed Ollie to leak the retiring PM’s legacy policy to the opposition to scupper his glory as a spiteful revenge after the PM told his slimy special adviser the retirement date but not him. When this plan too crumbled, a distraught Ollie wailed at Malcolm: “I’ve booked a weekend in Venice for this!”
• Peter Capaldi was once more a searing, sore red eye at the heart of the political hurricane as Malcolm Tucker. He snarled at everyone when he learned that another of the PM’s minions would be operating a “two tick system” to approve press department decisions. But ultimately his plots failed, and he was only saved from a political lashing by the PM’s unexpected resignation after “stepping off a plane in Sunderland”; an act that unified he and his nemesis Julius in a cesspit of indignation.
• David Cameron’s hackneyed and insipid “modernisation” of the Tory party provided the writers with a whole armoury of satirical ammunition. This “modernisation” was encapsulated in Stewart. Recruited from advertising, his job was to distil hard policies into tepid, voter-friendly “policy flavours”, all the while encouraging bumptious, braggart shadow minister Peter Mannion to appear more accommodating and relaxed. He even had his own catchphrase, “not tie”, and it was such a ‘policy’ that impressed even the granite-hard features of Malcolm and Jamie.
• Peter Mannion himself is a grotesque of a Tory anachronism, desperately trying to keep with the times even if it means superficially sacrificing some his ingrained bigotry for egalitarian harmony. “I’m very modern,” he flustered. “I say ‘black’ instead of ‘coloured’; I think women are a good thing; and I’ve no problem with gays.” And he is packed off to an immigration office to work “at the coalface”, where his true derision for immigrants is revealed.
• Ben Swain’s interview on Newsnight in which he was ripped to shreds by a barely-trying Jeremy Paxman, with the junior minister reacting to stress by furiously blinking his eyes.
• Peter Mannion’s blog, written by the toadyish Phil, that soon attracts vitriolic abuse about his adultery (“but that was 12 years ago!”), raping cats and denying the Holocaust. “That’s the problem with the public,” he wailed. “They’re f**king horrible.”
• Stewart’s awful lexicons of corporate speak that grind down the old-fashioned Peter’s resistance to the dreadful new world of Conservatism. “Are you an Ameri-can or an Ameri-can’t?” Peter: “That’s not even a word… I’m an Ameri-can.”
• The slow metamorphoses of Malcolm’s abusive adjutant Jamie from merely echoing his master’s vilifying voice to his efforts to usurp his throne when he realises Malcolm is losing the plot. But it’s also shown that Jamie lacks Malcolm’s acid tongue as sometimes his insults are very weak, and indicative of a permanent underling. Such as when he greets Ben after the Newsnight debacle with: “What’s your favourite group? Blink 182?” And after Ollie is responsible for leaking a policy that enables the Tories to announce it first Jamie called him “the worst James Bind ever, you’re David Niven”.
• And it’s this skill in sacrificing potential laughs through these feeble barbs while building up character that defines just why The Thick of It is so very good, so that the when the incompetent characters struggle to come up with a suitably witty riposte it’s their lack of verbal dexterity that is so much funnier than any acute putdown. Ollie suffered from this when he stormed out of Emma’s flat and raged impotently at the gloating Phil: “I hope you go to jail for libel and you get nobbed in prison by men!”
• Julius’s refusal to repeat Malcolm’s incessant torrent of profanities. “We will look like gurning w**kers,” screamed Malcolm. “We will not look like gurning… people.” Julius responded calmly. And: “Malcolm, will you tell me what the f-word is going on?” It was only as the credits rolled that the despondent Julius feeling betrayed by the PM after his shock resignation that wasn’t the date he had been told that he uttered: “I can’t believe he didn’t tell me the f**king date. That is f**king rude.”
What was bad about it?
• Jerky camerawork is always annoying, even when it appears on such a fantastic show as this.
• That the political set-up is portrayed in the same way as Catholic parishes in Father Ted, with a hopeless figurehead and two cronies.