Synopsis: Hugh Abbot’s attempts to be seen as fulfilling his PM’s commitment to ‘joined up government’ continue in the second series of this wonderfully satirical comedy. Garlanded with rave reviews and packed with awards, The Thick of It is justly seen as one of the best satires ever produced.
eyelights: its send up of the dynamics between politicians and bureaucrats.
eyesores: its dishonourable, if not despicable, characters.
‘The Thick of It‘ was unleashed upon the world on May 19, 2005 and it took the British viewing public by storm. Inevitably, a second series was commissioned, and was also broadcast in 2005, mere months after the first one, running for yet another set of three episodes.
Having already established the characters and setting, the series continues to plow through Ministerial and departmental incompetence with the same acerbic tone as before, with the Prime Minister’s attack dog, Malcolm Tucker, rampaging through the halls unfettered.
There are a couple of new elements thrown into the mix however: Terri is away to be at her father’s deathbed and Robyn, an inexperienced new assistant, is filling in for her. Barely. Adding to the new dynamic is Jamie, Malcolm’s second-in-command, who is nearly his equal.
Most of the humour comes from the fact that other characters are too cowardly and/or self-serving to stand up to the abuse; it’s both hilariously pathetic and disgusting at once. Then there’s the abuse itself, which consists of outrageous one-liners and humiliation.
Everyone in the cast is quite excellent, and it is said that something like 20% of the dialogues were improvised, giving the series a more realistic flavour. Combined with its fly-on-the-wall quality, thanks in large part to the handheld cameras, the series looks documentary-like.
You can almost believe that it’s true. Yet wish it wasn’t.
“No, well, you know me, I’m a man of principle, I like to know whether I’m lying to save the skin of a tosser or a moron.”
Episode 1: Ollie has been coaxed by Malcolm to date a girl from the opposition so that they can get intel on them. Naturally, in exchange he’s teased mercilessly for it. Hugh, the Secretary of State, is out visiting a factory but gets heckled by a member of the public and deflects it to Ollie. The whole visit goes bad. Hugh and Glenn, his advisor, get caught on camera responding particularly poorly to the heckler. That lights up a firestorm so they go into massive damage control. Very funny stuff. 8.0
“Yes, the reshuffle, no, yes, definitely, we don’t know anything. I don’t know anything, so we can’t say anything. But, you know, even if we did, we wouldn’t, but we don’t, so we both can’t and won’t. Right, next?”
Episode 2: There’s a rumour of a Cabinet reshuffle, and Hugh wants to know what its impact will be on his position, especially after he hears from Malcolm that the PM’s spouse doesn’t particularly like him. He’s so self-absorbed that he calls Terri, whose dad is grieving, to harass her about it. The pressure is on everyone: even Malcolm’s under threat, with his office being taken over by Julius Nicholson, the PM’s advisor. This episode felt a bit too improvised for my taste. 8.0
“I am not a liar! I categorically did not knowingly not tell the truth, even though unknowingly I might not have done.”
Episode 3: Following the reshuffle, Hugh is heading a restructured department, in a new, modern building. As a prank, Hugh sends an offensive joke email from Terri’s PC, but sends it to the wrong address, getting her in trouble. The media get wind of it, and she is forced to apologize publicly for it. Meanwhile, Hugh also lies to a select committee and the chair is investigating it. Hugh loses the respect of pretty much everyone by the end; he’s kind of pathetic. 8.0
Honestly, by the end of this set of episodes, I had had enough. There’s only so much humiliation and abuse that I can take before I’m pummelled into the couch. The series is exceptionally well made and I did laugh a fair number of times, but that seemed to dwindle as the series wore on.
In the end, I had a really difficult time with the fact that Ollie (and the others, really) would subject himself to so much abuse. Does he not have any self-respect? What is he doing this for? Ironically, he himself is becoming more and more of an @$$hole as the series progresses.
In many ways, ‘The Thick of It’ reminds me of ‘The Office’ because you have to laugh at the characters’ (and your own) discomfort to find it funny. However, the characters in ‘The Office’ also frequently did stupid things that were funny on their own. Here, they rarely do.
Thankfully, the early series were dished out in short bursts – scalding shots of napalm that devastate everything within reach, but short ones nonetheless. I’m very curious to see if I’ll be able to survive the blistering impact of Series 3 and 4, which are more than double that amount.
We’ll know soon enough.
Date of viewing: July 26, 2015