The Thick Of It series 4 episode 6 review: The Inquiry

Review Louisa Mellor 20 Oct 2012 - 16:09

The Thick Of It's brilliant sixty-minute inquiry special is highly evolved comedy. Here's Louisa's review...

This review contains spoilers.

4.6 The Inquiry

Who would have predicted that Malcolm Tucker’s most quotable line in an episode of The Thick Of It wouldn’t be a graphic disembowelling threat or a cruel nickname, but a rousing reprimand of a society and political class that’s exchanged morality for popularity? The Thick Of It’s audience has long been moved to air-punch along with Malcolm’s tirades, but can never have felt so justified, or such fellow-feeling, in the act.

Peter Capaldi this week - in an episode full of brilliantly nuanced, layered performances - was outstandingly good. He went from acid-tongued charmer to wicked manipulator to exhausted, disgusted human during his inquiry appearances. That last muttered “I’m finished” rang ominously true. Outed as a brutal bully and photographed in receipt of smuggled data, have we seen the political end of Tucker? Next week’s finale will tell.

If you came to this hour-long episode of The Thick Of It expecting to rub your hands at a comic skewering of the blundering ethical vacuums that populate the show (and in turn, the real-life public stage), then you’ll have been satisfied. The characters were all done to a turn - Joanna Scanlan's Terri the other stand-out inside the inquiry's pressure cooker -, exposed as blithering, pompous or idiotic, and perjuring themselves like it was going out of fashion.

But that’s not all the inquiry special was. It was also damned sophisticated drama, and a finely tuned irony extravaganza. We didn’t know it at the time, but every previous episode of The Thick Of It was training us to deal with this one, the moment that the usual format was inverted and we were left to infer what was happening behind-the-scenes rather than be shown.

You may not have laughed quite as much as usual, but sacrificing a few gags for such a well-composed, acutely-observed hour of telly was a more-than fair exchange. The writing was agile enough to lever in a few of Malcolm’s attacks at least, presented as witness evidence during Ollie Reeder’s wonderfully toe-curling segment, so as not to disappoint. (Incidentally, there were still at least three "fucks" this week, two in quoted evidence and one sotto voce entry from Nicola Murray.)

What Iannucci and co. presented us with was a sharply observed pastiche of the Chilcot and Leveson Inquiries, nailing their ersatz humility (Phil, like Rupert Murdoch, declaring himself humbled was priceless), implausible memory lapses, and even specific lexical choices. The imitation of detail was magnificently handled, going so far as to ape the non-grammatical but solemn-sounding use of “to” in those nonsensical “I do not recall to that” witness responses.

The series seems to be gearing up to an end-of-days conclusion in next week’s episode, which is heavily rumoured to be its last. If that’s the case, then bravo to all involved for taking the risk in bringing us this highly-evolved slice of comedy.

Yes, perhaps it would’ve been more of a giggle to have been backstage as usual, but what an admirable choice it was to tell the story in this way, and what a showcase it was for the writers and performers. The inquiry special may have proved right those who suggest this series of The Thick Of It has sacrificed laughs for plot, but it proved dead wrong anyone who suggests that by so doing, it’s lost its impact. 

Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.

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What a brilliant episode The Thick of It team produced- lovingly detailed, absolutely gripping and still blisteringly funny as ever. Clearly the best televised moment of the year for me.

What an amazing episode. It will be sad to see it go.

Teri & Robyn were hilarious...and the rest of he programme moved between comedy and fascinating drama/satire. Intelligent tv

Commented on the Merlin review earlier, and I'm repeating some of my comments in reference to this- what a superb bit of telly. This was one of those nights that justified the licence fee all by itself. Amazing stuff.

"...the usual format was inverted and we were left to infer what was happening behind-the-scenes rather than be shown"

This was probably my favourite aspect of this episode, all the stuff going on off camera. The characters have been built up so well over the years that you could picture how it had all happened so clearly.

TV at its best - this is an incredible end to a great show! Love the way this episode was shot - it felt like your were watching this in a life studio audience atmosphere

Good God, that was amazing. I had to rewatch Malcolm's final testimony - once for him, and once for the woman directly behind him, whose reactions were phenomenal. Was that Sam, his assistant, being faithful to the last?

I will be so sad if next week's episode is the last, but what a note to go out on. And it's a queasy return to rooting for Malcolm after his utter viciousness toward Nicola... but he's always been loyal to the party, not any particular politician, so I could see him taking a bullet for Dan Miller (who I didn't miss, although I did miss Ben Swain and would have loved to see him blithering under pressure even worse than Paxo).

Read on the Guardian blog that Chris Addison said they had no rehearsal and didn't meet the inquirers beforehand or talk to each other during the shoot... what a wonderful way for Iannucci to get real "live" reactions from his characters. God, what a brilliant show.

i thought the parts with Stuart really felt like a sitcom. Apart from that, it was brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

What an amazing episode, these writers and actors are amazing, I've never seen something like this on tv and I will miss it terribly if this is really the last season. I loved the fact that this time, nothing was behind the scenes, everyone was put on the spot and really exposed for what they were, whether it's bumbling or incoherent or just tired of the whole game. Excellent television.

Again a brilliant episode of TV. As someone who watched a lot of the Levison inquiry it had so much of the feel, the OTT language, the shifty desperate attempts to not have to tell the truth.

I as glad we didn't get any of the obvious behind the scenes desperate hatchet job of Baroness Sureka (brilliant performance BTW by Priyanga Burford) which you could evolving throughout the episode, you can just imagine Tucker plotting continiously and more and more desperatly to undermine the Inquiry and coming across on the stand very much as another James Murdoch, blood on his hands and desperately using the pathetic "I cannot recall" defense to make sure he did not get implicated in wrongdoing

Next weeks finale should be very interesting, will it be parallel to the inquiry or dealing with the effects? It would be brilliant for the last ever shot of The Thick of It to be Malcom Tucker being led away in handcuffs to serve his prison sentence for illegal leaking of Mr Tikels medical records, to see this bully who sees himself as the one of the most powerful people in the county being reduced to a common prisoner.

I'm sure when I go back after the series had finished it will add so much seeing all the pieces of the disaster fall into place, the seemingly off-handed comment early on being so important in the final analysis of the storyline.

This series of The Thick Of It has completely nailed every target it has gone for and so, if it is to be the last, then that's not necessarily a bad thing.

West Wing had the production values ,the big names and the apocalyptic plot lines but this episode had some of the best acting on TV and the smell of truth.

Thanks for the reviews guys, I've never watched the show but on the strength of the last ten minutes reading I'll be starting soon

A work of absolute genius. That episode should be showered with awards.

I'd go further and say this was the finest bit of television I have ever had to pleasure to watch. Nuanced, ironic, relevant, layered, observant, wicked, witty. Superbly acted. The only possible improvment would have been Louise Mench playing baroness Sureka. The switch to televised courtroom style observation, the tension of a real world inquiry into impossible fictional characters. Tucker on the ropes was brilliantly acted, his white-knuckle silences and contorted expressions were a beautiful portrayal of his oh-so-unfortunately inevitable destruction - all the while darkly influencing and situating every word said inside and outside the inquiry. Robyn Murdoch was delightful finally let out of the cage, sitting her alongside Terri Coverley was genius - as was sitting the hapless 'Spads' together. As someone remarked below, worth watching again just to watch the spectators in the background. Stewart Pearson being boiled right down to plain language was the best 'laugh out loud' moment. The box set is ready to start again from the beginning to stave off the grief of the end of the final episode next week! This series cannot go on without Capaldi, I hope they don't try. It took me a long time to get over the end of Green Wing, but it was better that way!

Also hilarious was the subtle implication that Baroness Sureka personal troubles with the press could have come thanks to another leak engineered by Malcolm himself, to take her down a notch or two during the enquiry or as revenge against her sharp questioning of Malcolm, or even as an excuse to discredit the entire enquiry as prejudiced as was done in the end.

"I do not recall to that" - YES.

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