Synopsis: The summer and Christmas specials from the BBC’s satirical political comedy series written and directed by Armando Iannucci. In ‘Special 2006’, Number 10’s foul-mouthed policy enforcer Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) finds himself between a rock and a hard place when enemies in the Government and the Opposition decide to push for power. In ‘Special 2007’, Tucker is locked in a battle for political survival after the shock resignation of the Prime Minister.
The Thick of It: The Specials 8.0
eyelights: the expanded cast and wider focus. the expanded formula of the first special.
eyesores: its caustic quality.
After the first two series of ‘The Thick of It‘, there was much demand for a third. Unfortunately, one of their stars, Chris Langham (who played Hugh) was arrested on child p0rn charges. This forced creator and co-writer Armando Iannucci to postpone the series and focus on a one-hour Christmas special instead.
Titled “The Rise of the Nutters” (apparently named after the political team who were at the time raising soon-to-be Prime Minister Gordon Brown to power), it was first broadcast on January 2, 2007, and it followed the series’ other characters’ many misadventures while Hugh is away to Australia.
This was followed up seven months later by another special called “Spinners and Losers”, its direct follow-up.
“How dare you! How dare you! Don’t you ever, EVER, call me a bully! I’m so much worse than that.”
A so-called Christmas special, “The Rise of the Nutters” pretty much eschews all conventions, including pretty much any reference to Christmas – it doesn’t take place at Christmastime, doesn’t revolve around the holidays (let alone Christmas itself), there are no decorations, and it doesn’t feel good one bit.
It’s pretty much the antithesis of the Christmas spirit.
Here we find the staff shuffling into the office from their Christmas holidays. While Hugh is away, they’re minding a different MP, Ben Swain, and he’s a vacuous, rambling disaster: after Malcolm forces a last-minute TV interview on him, and it goes horribly wrong, they find themselves picking up the pieces.
One thing that makes this special different from the first two series is that we get the opposition’s perspective, partly due to Emma, Ollie’s girlfriend. She works with a Shadow Cabinet MP who is being humiliated by his own party’s director of communications – including being told how to dress.
His staff have put up a new blog for him, but they have to go into damage control when they discover people leaving appalling comments on it. Meanwhile, both sides rush to go work at an immigration office for a week, but the opposition stole the idea from Ollie through Emma, so he tosses her angrily.
However, Malcolm asks him to get her back so that they may leak info. Then both sides rush to bring out an immigration policy, with Malcolm spearheading the government’s side. This goes awry and blows up in Malcolm’s face, leading to the PM resigning abruptly, moving up the date by many months.
What I really liked was getting to see both sides of the equation. This was a lot of fun, plus which it gave me a break from all the abuse that Malcolm and Jamie dish out incessantly. However, I felt that the episode lost its potency by the end, with all the scrambling about muddying things a little bit.
“What is this? Potential leader speed-dating?”
Spinners and Losers 7.75
A direct follow-up to the previous special, “Spinners and Losers” takes place right after the events of “The Rise of the Nutters”, with everyone scrambling to figure out who’ll be running to be the next PM so that they can position themselves in the winning camp. It’s complete chaos behind the scenes.
Jamie, Malcolm’s assistant, initially goes off to back a rival, and is extremely belligerent about it. Naturally. But that falls through within no time flat, and he returns. Confused, Malcolm’s group keeps changing potential candidate, and sends the press (whom Ollie is leaking to) in a tizzy each time.
Frankly, I found this special not nearly on par with any of the previous episodes. Malcolm seems too clueless at times, which (to me, at least) seems out of character. And after seeing both sides of the coin on the last special, it was disappointing to return to only seeing just one, with no opposition in sight.
As well, the verbal and psychological abuse, while funny in short doses, was beginning to wear on me to the extent of being tiresome. So much SHOUTING. And now everyone‘s mean, even the nice ones – it’s their only defense to the ongoing onslaught and it’s kind depressing to see them devolve.
Still, “Spinners and Losers” has its moments, and it’s certainly better than your average sitcom.
“We’re supposed to be the Opposition for Chrissakes, in the old days we wouldn’t have been weeping over his grave, we’d have been pissing on it.”
Opposition Extra 7.5
Speaking of the opposition, they were relegated to a 15-minute special of their own that was broadcast on a different BBC entity (instead of BBC4 it was BBC Red Button). Called “Opposition Extra”, we follow the MP from “Rise” as he’s forced into doing an interview about the current PM’s resignation.
As much as I pissed myself watching the first few episodes of ‘The Thick of It’, I’m already feeling some fatigue. I enjoyed the break that we got from Malcolm (still a great character and performance, but best in moderation) in “Rise”, and I don’t think I can carry on for a sustained assault from him.
Since the next two series are more than twice as long as the first two are, I’m hoping that this was used as an opportunity to explore more than just that isolated unit, to carry on in the mode of “Rise”. At the very least, the dynamic will shift, what with Hugh finally being jettisoned from the show.
So that could be a breath of fresh air. As it is, the air is too thick to breathe.
Dates of viewings: June 26+27, 2015