Synopsis: BAFTA award-winning comedy series The Thick of It returns for a third series. The Prime Minister wants to reshuffle his cabinet in an attempt to look like he’s doing something. But his chief enforcer Malcolm Tucker is having a hard time finding ministers prepared to volunteer for suicide watch in the run up to the general election. Enter Nicola Murray MP: a woman so far down the list that Malcolm doesn’t even have a file on her, but who can be flattered and bullied into accepting the Cabinet post that no-one wants: Secretary of State for Social Affairs and Citizenship. Meanwhile, Peter Mannion and his team are circling as they finally sense victory is within their grasp, even if they aren’t too sure what to do with it when they get it. Being in power is a good thing, right? Super-sharp political satire starring Peter Capaldi, Rebecca Front and Chris Addison.
eyelights: Peter Capaldi. the new dynamics.
eyesores: Tucker’s excessively abrasive personality.
“Get over here. Now. Might be advisable to wear brown trousers and a shirt the colour of blood.”
Four years passed between Series 2 and 3 of the widely-acclaimed ‘The Thick of It‘. In that time, many things happened: The show was moved from BBC Four to BBC Two, increased from three episodes to eight, two hour-long specials aired in 2007, and one of its stars, Chris Langham, was replaced.
In Series 3, Langham’s character, Hugh Abbot, the Secretary of State for Social Affairs and Citizenship, is replaced by Nicola Murray, played by Rebecca Front. The circumstances behind the cabinet shuffle aren’t made entirely clear; all we know is that Nicola was a last-minute choice.
The rest of the cast remains virtually the same, with the addition of the new actors who peppered the cast in the specials – including the opposition members, who show up in a few episodes. There is also one new notable character: Steve Fleming, the PM’s latest enforcer, who goes head-to-head with Malcolm.
The setting and most of the tone remain the same as in the previous series and specials, however, being about a beleaguered DoSAC Minister dealing with incompetent staff whilst getting pummeled and tossed about by the Prime Minister’s omnipresent and oppressive director of communications.
In short, ‘The Thick of It’ remains a caustic comedy of errors.
“It’s just that you were a sort of late-ish kind of appointment. That didn’t quite give me the time to fuck the Is and fist the Ts, as Robert Robertson might say.”
Episode 1: The series begins with the reshuffle in progress. The new Secretary of State for DoSAC, Nicola Murray faces an awkward transition with Ollie and Glenn. And that’s before Tucker arrives to deal with her, leading to a fair bit of exposition, with Malcolm asking her about her kids (claims he didn’t get full briefing cause she’s a “late-ish” appointment – although he knows about her husband’s potentially awkward business connections). Boy, does she take abuse from him! Ouch. But she starts pushing back – unlike her predecessors. I like that. 8.0
“The PM is not going to sack you after a week. Sacked after 12 months – looks like you’ve fucked up. Sacked after a week – looks like he’s fucked up.”
Episode 2: Nicola has only been at DoSAC a week and already there’s a big screw-up – someone’s erased all the data for the new immigrants who arrived in the UK in the last 7 months – and there are no back-ups. Glenn and Ollie are trying to keep it from Malcolm, but Nicola tells him. Then they have a working lunch with the staff of the Guardian, and she makes the mistake of admitting to the data loss in the stairwell, in the presence of a freelance journalist. Eek. Naturally, there’s a lot of passing of the buck, being that they’re all so pathetic and cowardly. 8.0
“Believe me, I’d like to slip into something a lot more comfortable, like a coma.”
Episode 3: Nicola and Ollie are preparing a speech that she’s going to make at a party conference. They’re trying to get the widow of one of the victims of a building collapse involved, but Malcolm steals her from them for the PM to use in his own press thing. Glenn takes a hit, there’s an internal leak, and it all goes to pot. Meanwhile, Teri gets dragged into it on her day off and despite being a public servant (i.e. she’s not allowed to do party work). Things go from bad to worse and the widow becomes collateral damage. Again, these people are so unethical and self-serving, it’s ridiculous. And I couldn’t believe the abuse Glenn took to further his career. 8.0
“When the Opposition’s here, you tell them nothing except where the toilets are, and you lie about that.”
Episode 4: Peter Mannion, the opposition shadow Minister (whom we first met during the specials), is visiting DoSAC. The episode mostly revolves around both camps’ preparations for this. Meanwhile, Nicola is facing a disaster, with her daughter (who was moved schools at Malcolm’s urging) becoming a bully at school. As with the specials, this episode has less of Malcolm, which balances the show more – he’s overpowering otherwise. Front (who plays Nicola) gets the chance to display a wide range of emotions as her character gets flung about. It’s an excellent performance. 8.25
“Fuck me! This is like a clown running across a minefield!”
Episode 5: Nicola and Peter Mannion meet at the BBC for a radio phone-in show – which, naturally, goes bad. Really bad. Meanwhile, Ollie is making dinner for Emma, feeling pressure to be “romantic” (little does he know that she’s planning to dump him there and then). The tension between them is just plain nuts. It so happens that it’s also Malcolm’s birthday. Nicola is a huge embarrassment on the air, so Ollie and Emma are called into the BBC separately to fix the situation. It all gets even more out of hand so Malcolm and his opposition counterpart go to the station as well – and get at each other’s throats. Nice. 8.25
“I love this place. I do. I mean, fucking, compared to Number 10, this place is fucking tranquil, yeah? Over there, 300 yards down the road, I mean, it’s like a fucking cancer ward”
Episode 6: During a profile interview at DoSAC with a BBC reporter, Nicola said the PM is “best man” for the job, leaving open the suggestion she might be the “best woman” for the job. It gets totally out of hand. Malcolm is supposed to be on tour with the PM, but he pops in anyway, and he starts to make bad judgement calls – which Terri flat out calls him on in front of everyone. Then Nicola does the press release of her vaunted Fourth Sector program – and screws it up. Meanwhile, Glenn is considering running for a by-election. Somehow, this episode didn’t do much for me. Maybe it was due to the commercial transitions, which were abrupt. Joke. It’s still a good episode – just not as good. 7.75
“I don’t need to keep my head down because unlike yourself I don’t give blowjobs to truckers.”
Episode 7: While Malcolm is on holiday (hosting a bunch of journalists at his home to reaffirm that he’s in charge, no less), his old rival Steve Fleming replaces him. Nicola had planned to roll out a program with a star tennis player as her spokesperson, but now Fleming wants them to compile years of crime stats for the PM’s own roll-out instead. Unlike Malcolm, Fleming is very insistent but unbelievably polite; he’s creepy. Malcolm returns and there’s a confrontation between them. Malcolm makes the news, resulting in his firing (which was totally unexpected). Everyone at DoSAC cheers, but he vows to return. Given that he’s a main character, we have no doubt of this, but we can only speculate as to what he may have up his sleeve next… 8.0
“I have a feeling management style has just gone from touchy-feely to smashy-testes.”
Episode 8: This final episode of the series is a direct follow-up to the last episode. The DoSAC people are still happy with Malcolm’s departure. That is, until Fleming takes over permanently. It’s awkward. Now without a job, Malcolm is being asked by a publicist what he wants to do next; he’s not quite sure but a kids’ book is on the list (!). However, now that Malcolm’s gone, a few Ministers are quitting cabinet, leading to a coronation for the PM’s rival – so the PM now asks Malcolm to come back. Upon his return, Malcolm is being nice, which freaks people out. But, behind the scenes, he sets up Fleming to get rid of him and then he has the PM call a snap election to prevent his opponents from cementing their positions. Meanwhile, the opposition camp get their equivalent of Malcolm, a real dick – just in time for the election. End of the episode. 8.0
As with the previous episodes, the language is coarse and the tension is so heavy that it’s not always a comfortable watch. Thankfully, the opposition members were there to change things up and cushion the blows. I also enjoyed the contrast that Fleming brought, detestable though he may be.
I was quite surprised by the one-two punch of episodes 7 and 8, because 7 seemed like the cliffhanger type of episode you’d end a season on in North America – to get people to tune in at the top of the next season. But it was a lead-in to an even more ambiguous close to the series: an election.
I really liked this because it wrapped up the main characters’ story arcs, all the while leaving the writers with room to surprise us when the next series came around. Unfortunately, it would take nearly three years before the fourth (and likely final) series would see the light of day.
Still, while we wouldn’t get to see the campaign unfold or know the outcome of the election for what would feel like ages, Series 3 ended up being the best of the lot, filled as it was with plenty of laughs, enough variety and many surprises. Hopefully Series 4 can live up to it to some degree.
Dates of viewings: Aug 2-15, 2015