The Thick Of It series 4 episode 2 review

The Thick Of It returns to some familiar faces from the Opposition this week, and guess who’s back…

This review contains spoilers.

Before it had even begun, this week’s episode came very close to collapsing under the weight of expectation Malcolm Tucker fans placed on the return of TV’s best-loved invective-spitting bully.

Malcolm’s coming back, we told ourselves excitedly, he’s coming back like an irresponsible babysitter to teach us new swear words, and to tear new orifices in the shadow cabinet. Fingers crossed he’ll do his swearing all in a row, and coin a bunch of colourful insults and inventive threats to shove policy documents up, into, and through people. Malcolm’s coming back, we buzzed, Malcolm’s coming back…

With that level of anticipation, unless Peter Capaldi had zip-lined in naked, daubed in Old Etonian blood and screaming put-downs so vicious and profane they’d make Ozzy Osbourne wet himself, it was likely people were going to be disappointed. And at first, it did seem to be a gentler, less bile-filled Tucker we saw (albeit one who spends his weekends trolling the cast of Glee). Not for long though, as it was soon made clear that having holstered his gun was all part of Malcolm Tucker’s wicked plan.

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This week’s look at the Opposition, now led by dithering dolt Nicola Murray, saw the foundations laid for coming episodes. A plot was hatched to gradually unseat Murray from power “like removing a tick from a cat’s ear” over a series of months and replace her with political ankle-nipper Dan Miller, the only problem being that Murray’s so inept, her political downfall is accelerating faster than even Tucker anticipated.

We saw at least one plot point taken from real-life – policy advisor Helen Hawkins having confidential notes snapped by the press – and countless others with more than the ring of truth to them. The challenge for party leadership, the plotting in stationary cupboards, Murray’s preparation for PMQs with a lead question, a sarcastic  follow-up and a withering put-down, and the staged hack attack with the giant pork chop … It all felt depressingly close to what one imagines is the real deal.

As did “Quiet Bat-People” – one of a number of times the episode had me spluttering out my cup of tea (Chris Addison’s “Alright Deados”, Justin Edwards’ “minge-mop”, and Peter Capaldi’s Star Wars synopsis were amongst the others). After Nick Clegg’s ‘Alarm Clock Britain’ and Ed Miliband’s ‘Squeezed Middle’, the notion of a brainstorming committee coining that soundbyte seemed eminently plausible.

Murray’s Cenotaph cock-up (which provided us with cenotwat, another neologism to list alongside last week’s digitard – use them three times and they will be yours), the back-stabbing “shad cab” meeting, and her riffing around the theme of breakfast after the U-turn scheme fell so spectacularly apart, were painful to watch. Even more so than Roger Allam did last week with arrogant dinosaur Mannion, Front makes Murray an almost sympathetic figure. Plenty of praise is rightfully dished out to Capaldi as Tucker, and before him to Chris Langham as Hugh Abbot, but Rebecca Front is just as strong, and her return comes just as welcome.

Incidentally, the humble Twix, an instant Twitter hit after last week’s shout-out from Mannion, has to give way this week to Malcolm’s sugary refreshment of choice, what else but a fucking Fanta. This being the BBC, in the interests of fairness, Ollie was sportingly given a Yorkie to carry along with his July copy of Total Film magazine (the Batman issue, naturally).

Overall, it was an episode of chess moves, hatched plots, and gradually escalating storylines peppered with characteristic flashes of brilliant writing and the odd clever laugh-out-loud line. Malcolm Tucker may have had a friendlier face on than usual, but he has a plan, and if that’s not scary, I’m not sure what is.

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

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