Any thoughts Armando Iannucci’s sublime political spin-doctor comedy would suffer from Chris Langham’s arrest and exclusion from anything and everything can be put to one side after a double-header of these two specials that, thankfully, show there can be life beyond Hugh Abbott, Langham’s hapless minister.
With Langham’s character neatly dispatched to Australia on a fact-finding mission, Iannucci uses these two specials to expand the character range to the opposition, as well as introducing and reintroducing assorted MPs from the government. But, crucially, almost all of it centres around Peter Capaldi’s terrifyingly foul-mouthed Alistair Campbell-esque spin doctor, who is forever threatening to “rip your cock off” to kill stories and save his own back.
The first part of the special will have an instantly familiar feel to anybody who has ever got involved at any stage of government, from Parish Councils right up to Number 10. With Hugh away, the team find themselves babysitting junior ‘nutter’ (code for the enemy within) minister Ben Swain, who may have a nice line in put downs but suffers a severe case of nervous blinking during his first Paxman interview on Newsnight.
What’s worse, junior policy advisor Ollie’s idea to put the minister on the front line at an immigration centre is then stolen by his girlfriend, an advisor at the opposition’s immigration department. What follows is spin and counter spin as both sides get completely caught up in a small, somewhat pointless, set of bickering that the world-weary opposition MP Peter Mannion has no appetite for.
As Malcolm frantically tries to spin the issue to his advantage, his actions knock-onto the Prime Minister’s departure legacy, inadvertently causing the PM to step down earlier than expected. Malcolm may have avoided an immigration crisis but with the Prime Minister gone and the nutters on the rise, he has some serious manoeuvring to do to keep his job.
This is where the second special picks up as spin doctors and MPs frantically negotiate through the night to work out which leadership candidate to back. Malcom’s even more foul-mouthed henchman, Jamie, is so disgusted by the idea of the nutters taking over that he briefly tries to put up his own stalking horse. Meanwhile, Ollie has become a trusted advisor of Ben and is starting to dream of an important role close to the heart of government. Inbetween, Machiavellian deals are done as allegiances shift over the course of the evening and Malcolm, as usual, is at the centre of it all.
What makes The Thick Of It so watchable is the feeling that what you’re watching could well have happened at one point or another behind the scenes at Westminister. Even the minor characters are perfectly drawn and everybody gets at least one good line, with classic quotes popping up in virtually every line of dialogue. Yes Minister may have set the bar for political sitcoms but The Thick Of It adds gratuitous swearing and a group of utterly unlikeable yet immensely watchable characters.
Capaldi is the heartbeat of the action, firing out profanity-filled orders to all around him, although he’s often upstaged by the more feral Jamie, who has some of the best lines, including the now infamous “I’m going to take your iPod from its tiny nano-sheath and push it up your cock.” rant. Cosy BBC primetime comedy, or even the West Wing, this most certainly ain’t.
The opposition are also so perfectly realised, especially MP Mannion (“I’ve always been progressive, I think women are a good thing and I’ve nothing against gays.”), that you feel as if they’ve been in the series forever.
With a film, In The Loop, due out, and a second series in the pipeline, these specials are an excellent warm-up act that, providing you have no problem with swearing as punctuation, are a must see for anybody who has any interest whatsoever in politics, the media or just enjoys lines such as “I would stop and chat but I’d rather have type 2 diabetes.”
Extras A full unedited version of Ben Swain’s horror-clash with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight that sees the junior minister lapse into shades of Alan Partridge. There’s also the opposition extra mini-episode as Mannion desperately tries to keep in touch with the chaos unravelling around him, while the deleted scenes are all good enough to have made it into the final cut. There may not be many extras, but they’re all essential viewing.