Set in the frantic, high-stakes world of the British government, this BBC drama series centers on the unsung heroes of party politics – those ambitious young men and women who keep the government ticking over like a well-oiled machine. When Danny, Scott, Ashika and Kirsty are not absorbed in their own personal dramas, they are beavering away behind the scenes at Westminster as researchers and advisers. Unlike most self-involved twenty-somethings, these four must shoulder the incredible responsibility of running a country – and the pressures that entails. Party Animals invites you into a world of cloak-and-dagger politics, where power play and sexual intrigue are the order of the day.
Party Animals 7.0
eyelights: the setting. Matt Smith. Shelley Conn.
eyesores: the run-of-the-mill plot developments.
‘Party Animals’ is a television series that ran on the BBC for eight episodes in 2007. It follows the lives of a couple of politicians, their assistants, a lobbyist and a journalist, as they weave their way through the corridors of power. It’s notable mostly for giving Matt Smith (of ‘Doctor Who’ fame) his first lead role.
You would be forgiven if you thought that, with a title like this, it was a show about alcohol and drug-fuelled nights of debauchery with a bunch of mindless twenty-somethings. As tedious as that would be to watch, I can hardly imagine that it would be less exciting than the lives of political careerists.
Or, at least, these political careerists.
Personally, with a title like that I half-expected something edgier, perhaps not too far removed from ‘The Thick of It‘ (but without the humour), showing us the dyed-in-the-wool partisans at work to get their clutches onto or hold on to power. I expected drawn knives, elbowing, knee-capping, and rabid ferocity.
Instead, ‘Party Animals’ serves up middle-of-the-road drama of the sort we find in many shows – but with a political backdrop for a change. Does Pip pine after his colleague, Kirsty? He sure does! Does Ashika have an affair with her boss, James? Indeed. Does Scott sleep with Pip’s bien-aimée? Of course!
The worst of it is that the series is incestuous, to the point where the few characters all intermingle or collide with each other at one point or another, leaving us with the feeling of watching something of pretty limited scope. Like a sitcom. It’s so contrived that it made me wonder if these people have lives.
The cast is all quite good, and they intermingle rather well, but ultimately they’re somewhat forgettable – aside for Matt Smith as Danny Foster, the research assistant to Labour MP Jo Porter, and Shelley Conn as Ashika Chandrimani, the research assistant to (and lover of) Tory MP James Northcote.
Matt Smith gives a George McFly/Lyle Lovett air of social awkwardness and geekiness to his Danny, which is perfectly-suited to the part (and which made him one of the quirkiest-looking Doctor Whos thus far). Despite this, he’s also quite endearing – partly become the character is flawed but well-intentioned.
Meanwhile, Shelly Conn is the embodiment of loveliness on all counts (aside for her judgement in the romance department); everything about her softens one’s predilection against conservatism. Even the character is redeemable, having more socially progressive views than the party she represents.
However, while the pair were a joy to watch, the series was only enjoyable in moderation; I certainly wasn’t capable of watching two episodes back-to-back – and rarely two in one day. The plot developments seemed mundane to me ,and when they weren’t, they were quickly wrapped up and forgotten.
This gave me no impetus for watching the next episode whatsoever, and it left no permanent memories; in fact, in re-reading my notes, I was stunned by the stuff I’d completely dismissed out of memory. You’d think I’d recall the Russian mobster Scott was hired by, or the shocking death of his flatmate. But no.
To prove a point, the most memorable part of ‘Party Animals’ is the three-episode by-election campaign at the end; there was continuity and it allowed (some of) the characters a chance to flourish in a larger context. By then (after five episodes), however, it was too late; I’d lost interest in the bigger picture.
Look, ‘Party Animals’ is a quality series, it really is – it just doesn’t have much bite and it tends to go around in circles. At best, it’s disposable fun for political junkies. But I suspect that even they would find it bland in parts. And would anyone else care about the mild drama taking place in these political backrooms?
I highly doubt it.
Dates of viewings: July 24-30, 2015