Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Thick of It (2005– 2012)

Creator: Armando Ianucci
Cast:      Peter Capaldi, Chris Addison, James Smith

The Thick of it satirizes the inner workings of modern British government with the spotlight particularly on a small ministry called DoSAC (Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship). The star of the show is PM's enforcer and media spin doctor Malcolm Tucker, arguably the greatest television characters of all time. It is supposed to be largely based on Alastair Campbell who occupied a similar position in the Tony Blair government.

First two series of it consist of 6 episodes (3 each) in which Hugh Abbot (Chris Langham) is the DoSAC minister. It was followed up with  two one hour episodes special to coincide with Gordon Brown's anointment as the PM with the TV series also following something similar. The third series of eight episodes had Nicola Murray (Rebecca Font) as the DoSAC minister as the story follows up to the last days of the government's tenure with it ending with the final call for an election even as the governing party is divided over leadership. Malcolm Tucker's position also starts looking vulnerable. The fourth and final season again follows the real life British politics with an odd couple coalition in power (the Present Tories & Lib Dems coalition). Malcolm Tucker continues in his role but in the opposition party and the story mirrors the real life News of the World scandal with it also featuring an enquiry into the culture of media  leaks in Westminster.

So that is 22 episodes and around 12.5 hours of television and I would say it is my favorite comedy TV series of all time. I think even if you take the genre away also, it would probably sit at the top along with 'The Wire'. Maybe it is not a fair comparison considering its considerably shorter run time when compared with Seinfeld, but that is really the nature of the best from British TV-quality over quantity. Some have called it the twenty first century 'Yes Minister', but I like to call it as the adult version of 'Yes Minister'. Yes Minister is great in its own right but looks a bit formulaic with its episodic structure for my liking. Yes Minister had politicians as the naive lot with the bureaucracy  pulling the strings whereas in 'The Thick of It', the incompetent politicians and bureaucracy are strung along by the media spin doctor signifying the change in nature of the British politics. As Malcolm himself puts it during the enquiry, the morality of it had gone long way back and it is now essentially a popularity contest.

It is a show that gave us the expressions like one on the left along with, from bean to cup you are a fuck up, the all swearing eyes, omnishambles (used as Romneyshambles in real life much later), NOMFuP (Not my fucking problem) etc. There are just too many and the length of its wikiquote page is testament to that ( Not to forget Malcolm Tucker's interpretation of Star Wars which goes like this:

Malcolm Tucker: It's time for you to step up Ollie. What's that film that you love?
Ollie Reeder: What film?
Malcolm: The one about the fucking hairdresser, the space hairdresser and the cowboy. The guy, he's got a tin foil pal and a pedal bin. His father's a robot and he's fucking fucked his sister. Lego! They're all made of fucking lego.
Ollie: Star Wars?
Malcolm: That's the one. It's like that, where you kill all the bad guys, and you'll be able to blow up the big...
Ollie: Death Star.
Malcolm: The Death Star thing. Then you can go and live happily ever after on the planet with the teddy bears.
Ollie: They're Ewoks.

Somewhere in between the specials and season three they also made a film called 'In the Loop' where many of the characters from 'The Thick of It' go to US as British envoy and plays a role in starting the Iraq War in a shambolic way. It was directed by Armando Ianucci and was also great. An American remake of the show was planned without the involvement of Ianucci which didn't take off but the currently running HBO show 'Veep', which is also created by Ianucci, is somewhat like a US  inferior version of 'The Thick of It'.

There might not be another series of 'The Thick of It' on the pipeline unless something very interesting happen in British politics for Armando Ianucci to change his mind. I can't imagine a show without Malcolm Tucker in it and at the end of the series four, his character had a closure from which if he were to make a comeback it would feel very contrived. Armando Ianucci was also the mind behind 'Alan Partridge' which is also another top British comedy series and in Alan Partridge and Malcolm Tucker he has created two of the most iconic characters in British comedy.

If I were to rank my favorite comedy TV series', it would look something like this (rankings below the third spot might vary depending on the mood):

1)  The Thick of It
2)  Seinfeld
3)  Peep Show
4)  The Office (the original UK version)
5)  Curb Your Enthusiasm
6)  Alan Partridge
7)  Spaced
8)  Arrested Development
9)  Father Ted

So that is seven of the them UK and three US, out of which two are from Larry David. Only three out of the ten had more than five seasons (Peep Show, Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm). So I guess I prefer UK comedy over US and quality over quantity.

Rating: 5/5