We live in a time of political turmoil, and nothing is more tumultuous than the world of BBC One’s hit political comedy, The Thick of It. Though we are thirteen years from its initial air date, its take on British politics is timeless. Endlessly quotable, though not for the faint of heart, the program truly stands the test of time for any fan of good British comedy.
For those who are unacquainted, The Thick of It follows the day-to-day goings on within the fictional government department of DoSAC, the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship. The program follows the department through several switches of minster, both via cabinet reshuffle and a change in government. Even though no parties are named in the show, the shift from Blairite Labour to a Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition is clear to anyone with a rudimentary understanding of recent British political history.
The Thick of It is not a program for the easily offended
In less capable hands, this could easily have been a slapdash and heavily partisan program. However, under the helm of creator Armando Iannucci, the show shines a satirical light on politics itself, more than individual politicians. The brilliance of the program is essentially found in its ability to play on political tropes, without resorting to carboard cut-out facsimiles of well-known political faces.
This is not to say that characters are neglected, far from it. The program is cast brilliantly with a tight group who the audience grow attached to as the series go on. Among the best are the arrogant and sharp-witted political advisor Ollie Reeder (Chris Addison), the hopeless, pitiable and yet somehow endearing aged-consultant Glenn Cullen (James Smith), and my personal favourite, the irritable and old-fashioned (but maybe the sincerest) Rt. Hon. Peter Mannion MP (Roger Allam). However, nearly every character has lines to make even the most politically-unsavvy burst with laughter.
It would be a disservice to discuss the use of character in The Thick of It without mentioning the master of the dark arts, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi). From his opening scene, in which he forces the resignation of the first DoSAC minister, we see that Capaldi was clearly born to play the role of “the Prime Ministers enforcer”. He won the 2010 BAFTA for Male Performance in a Comedy Role as well as the 2010 and 2012 British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actor for his portrayal, awards I think any viewer would be hard pressed to think weren’t earned.
His ability to pull off the rage and stress of the arch-spin doctor is apparent in both his line delivery and physical presence. No other character in television history has been able to lay a scathing insult like Capaldi’s Tucker, some of my personal favourites being “He’s a f*****g knitted scarf, that t**t! He’s a f******g balaclava!” and the term “omnishambles”, which made its way into real Westminster parlance.
As may be clear from the above quote, The Thick of It is not a program for the easily offended. The use of foul language is ever present, as are many violent threats. However, in many ways, this shows both how realistic and how grey the world is. It’s not a portrayal of politics with kid gloves on, it is hard and savage. Though often over-emphasised for comedic effect, the show also regularly takes the opportunity to present this bullying as negative, again holding up a funhouse mirror to a political system which recent news has told us is still rife with such attitudes.
Ultimately, in a time when the population is distressed with political chaos, The Thick of It provides us a chance to laugh at the worst of it, while understanding that this is all far from new.