Handily for Armando Iannucci and co., Westminster has spent the three years since The Thick Of It was last on telly conducting one long, absurd improv class as prep for the new series. Coalition spats, pasty-gate, bell-ringing injuries, a zip-lining London mayor, and the most humiliating Paxo Newsnight encounter since George from Drop The Dead Donkey’s, were all executed with such a keen sense of the ridiculous and contemptible, they could only have been engineered with the BBC’s superb satire in mind.
Not that we should expect specific digs at the idiot parade of real-life governmental snafus in the new series of The Thick Of It. Mock The Week-type topical jabs aren’t its style, instead the writers marinate the show in the gloopy sewage of real-life party politics, and then produce their own parallel political turds and – to nick a characteristically enjoyable phrase from episode one of the new series – ear piss.
The freshly coined phrases from The Thick Of It have ever been one of its chief joys. It’s the Lewis Carroll of insults, but instead of gyring and gimbling jabberwockies, the show’s invented entire dictionaries of compound expletives and swear-y name-calling.
There’s less of that than usual in the series four opener, chiefly as Olympic gold medallist in the 800m cursing event, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), isn’t in it. He will be next week though, along with the now-in-Opposition returning gang Nicola Murray (Rebecca Front) and Ollie Reeder (Chris Addison). According to Iannucci, the plan for this seven-episode series goes: Coalition, Opposition, Coalition, Opposition, Everyone, Everyone, Everyone.
This episode welcomed back Ken Clarke-alike Peter Mannion MP (Roger Allam), now the Secretary of State for Social Affairs & Citizenship, whom we found locking horns with the cross-party Coalition Junior Minister, Fergus Williams (Geoffrey Streatfield). The plot involved a worryingly plausible-sounding tech policy being hijacked, mishandled and eventually scrapped all in the course of its launch day.
As ever, we’re expected to keep up with the character reshuffle and machine-gun fire dialogue without the benefit of the morning briefing. The Thick Of It and its fly-on-the-wall doc visual style makes little concession for viewers with wandering minds, leaving you more or less alone to piece together who everyone is and what they’re doing. (This is probably confessing to a level of thickness I shouldn’t admit, but I always enjoy the episodes more on a second viewing.)
A second viewing also ensures the blink-and-miss-them lines can be properly savoured. This week’s contenders included a more-than-credible crack about the Chancellor’s cock-up at the Brit Awards, and the ongoing saga of Nurse Tickle’s key worker housing sell-off protest. It seems criminal to choose from the embarrassment of riches, but line of the episode probably goes to writer Will Smith, whose character Phil told the Coalition’s junior members: “You’re basically a couple of homeless guys we’ve invited to Christmas dinner. Don’t bitch because we don’t let you carve the turkey.”
Holding Tucker, Reeder and co. back a week was a smart way to make the audience pay attention to the dynamics of the new crew, and particularly to showcase new No. 10 Director of Communications: Stewart Pearson (Vincent Franklin). The chai-drinking yin to Malcolm Tucker’s fuckity-yang, Pearson is a folding bicycle-riding crossed-leg sitter in a monstrosity of a shirt who spews forth touchy feely jargon about energy and interconnectivity. In short, he’s former Cameron strategist Steve Hilton, turned up to 11.
Mannion’s scene at the school was painfully well-acted, a garbled explanation of a tech-based plan from someone unable to right click a mouse and barely able to disguise his contempt for the scheme and his audience. It’s right up there with Hugh Abbot’s ministerial factory visit in the enjoyable ineptitude stakes.
The back-of-the-car scenes en route to cringe-worthy encounters with the public were also back (hurray!), as were Joanna Scanlan’s redundancy-seeking Terri, and James Smith’s Glen, both equally welcome.
In fact, the whole brilliant episode was as if it had never been away. Chiefly perhaps, because thanks to the sterling work of our own Coalition government in recent years, it really doesn’t feel as if it has.
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