In this series, Man of Many takes a look back at a great TV show or film that may have slipped under your radar. Given the near-limitless entertainment options in the Netflix era, it’s easy to overlook amazing content in favour of the latest hit. For every Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad or Stranger Things, there’s another thing equally worthy of attention and we make the case for why you should watch it and where you can find it.
‘I’ve come across a lot of psychos in my time, but none as fucking boring as you. I mean you are a really boring fuck. Sorry, sorry, I know you disapprove of swearing. You are a really boring F star star CUNT.’ – Malcom Tucker, The Thick of It
A BBC political comedy in the vein of ‘Yes Minister’ that ran for four seasons from 2005-2012, ‘The Thick of It’ was a sophisticated and sharply-funny satire of the oft-ridiculous goings-on in British politics.
It was created by Armando Iannucci, most famous for his work on radio with Chris Morris and with Steve Coogan on ‘I’m Alan Partridge’, it loosely followed real-world developments in the British Government and is notable as a masterful skewering of modern politicians and the political system itself.
Shot using hand-held cameras and without the use of non-diegetic music, ‘The Thick of It’ played almost like a fly-on-the-wall documentary – a fictional expose of the types of political faux pas, personal point-scoring and petty squabbling that are rife in the political world.
Written by Iannucci and a slew of successful comedy writers, the show was a mixture of scripted and improvised dialogue from the cast, famed for it’s naturalism and propensity for strong language. It even hired British TV writer Ian Martin to act as ‘swearing consultant’ and punch up the script with added profanity.
This was no more obvious than in the case of Malcolm Tucker (played by the brilliant Peter Capaldi), the Director of Communications for the British Government, whose raging temper and expletive-laden diatribes are the stuff of legend within the halls of Westminster. A veritable treasure trove of hilariously angry putdowns, Tucker is an instantly-memorable anti-hero and the undeniable star of ‘The Thick of It’.
Whilst the show mirrors the real-life changes in the British Government, Tucker remains a focal point as the Prime Minister’s enforcer whose tasked with making wayward ministers tow the party line and calm any potential media storms. His work centres around denizens of the fictional Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship, a mixture of self-serving policy advisers, bumbling civil servants and inept MPs whose comical misjudgements propel most of the plot throughout the show’s four seasons.
Given the unexpected success of the ‘Brexit’ campaign and the subsequent EU Referendum result, as well as the media circus that is the current US Presidential Election campaign, ‘The Thick of It’ seems more prescient and relevant than ever – a satirical lens on a political system beholden to superficial demagogy at the expense of serious governing.
The show spawned a film spin-off entitled ‘In The Loop’ in 2009, directed by Iannucci and starring Capaldi and a number of the original cast alongside the late James Gandolfini. It follows the story of a British minister whose off-hand remark in a radio interview sparks a furore when it’s used by the British and US Governments to push for a controversial war in the Middle East and is characterised by the same wry observational humour as ‘The Thick of It’.
Iannucci also found success with the similarly-styled ‘Veep’ on HBO, which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the American Vice-President and has been ordered for a sixth season. After achieving widespread critical acclaim for his portrayal of Malcolm Tucker, Capaldi went on to become the twelfth Doctor in the BBC’s long-running ‘Doctor Who’ series.
‘The Thick of It’ is a show that manages the almost-impossible – excelling as both a believable satire and a hilarious sitcom – and one that achieves it with characteristic adroitness.
‘The Thick of It’ is available on Netflix and Stan.