The Thick of It continues to live up to its name, despite what the naysayers may claim.
Three weeks in to the long-awaited fourth series, it’s clear that The Thick of It has lost none of its potency. The early days on BBC Four, featuring alongside an inexhaustible supply of educational documentaries, foreign films and minor celebrities waxing lyrical about their love of Peruvian ethnic patchwork, are now a distant memory. But the legacy of that time is a hard-core fan base from the days of being a cult hit that are always going to be a difficult bunch to please. When a show is as good as this one, any changes are always treated with suspicion. So it has proven with this latest series.
The decision to alternate the focus between the Opposition, now led by Nicola Murray, and Peter Mannion at DoSaC thus far is a little mystifying. It isn’t difficult to work out that having a second episode in which practically no reference is made to the events of the previous week’s instalment gives the series a bizarre feel. If reports are to be believed, this one will run for seven episodes, so we might expect a greater degree of synthesis towards the end. Equally, they might air three episodes on one plotline and four on the other just to spite me. The fly-on-the-wall feel of the whole show is one of its great strengths, but it might have gone a little too far this series. Granted, starting two years into the coalition gives the show a firmly contemporary feel, but references to ‘Mr Tickel’, who, it later emerges, is a high-profile protester against a DoSaC policy, are so cryptic early on that they wouldn’t look out of place at Bletchley Park.
To those who say that the show is not as good as it used to be, I have only the following to say: you’re wrong. Anyone who still argues after the first three episodes that the extreme realism which saw the show peppered with awards has been lost obviously hasn’t been paying any attention to the headlines. Peter Mannion’s vaguely racist gaffe in episode one might have seemed unlikely, even for a dinosaur of the Tory right, but doesn’t it seem to echo Andrew Mitchell’s questionable decision to call a policeman outside Downing Street a ‘f***ing pleb’? If anything, Mitchell’s media management post-pleb-gate was even worse, since it featured a ‘lots of my friends are policemen’ type line that even Mannion managed to stop short of. Week three saw the Lib Dems – mockingly referred to as ‘The Inbetweeners’ – discussing and then launching a policy which Vince Cable proceeded to announce the following Monday. Obviously, continuing to reflect the political landscape means that the star attraction, Malcolm Tucker, has to be marginalised to some extent, but the writers have actually coped incredibly well. The dynamics of coalition politics provide more than enough material for some terrific exchanges between the two ministers and their respective advisers. Ok, it is true that the first two episodes were slow burners, but they were still much more amusing than the majority of what is offered up to the British public under the optimistically broad heading of ‘Comedy’.
When the smouldering became a forest fire in episode three, the absence of Mr Tucker was barely noticeable. I, for one, await the next fix of Armando Iannucci’s marvellous medicine with alarming alacrity and suggest that anyone who considers themselves a fan of political satire/the owner of a sense of humour/a valid human being does the same.