Malcolm moves into opposition and the upper-classholes take the stage in the return of Armando Iannucci’s political satire, The Thick of It.
“Not very assertive and butch of the leader of the opposition, is it?” quipped the PM while discussing the coffee break routine of the Labour leadership in the House of Commons this week. Unfortunately for us, this was real news and not, as you might be forgiven for thinking, a bizarre machismo contest between two of Armando Iannucci’s The Thick of It characters. Though the cast often express themselves in more colourful terminology, the essence of ‘big-willy’ politics is something that saturates the fabricated administration as much as its real world counterpart.
The Thick of It has, over the years, proven itself to be a show as quick to adapt to changing governmental circumstances as the spin doctors it so penetratingly lampoons. In this first episode of the new series, and with the familiar cast of the political program now placed in opposition, the flack falls entirely on a new coalition government. Here, a largely baffled Conservative contingent is joined by their uneasy bed partners, ‘the inbetweeners’, in the form of the Liberal Democrats. Poignant to the point of prophecy, The Thick of It seems to have pre-empted in filming the recent debacles and cracks that have begun to show in the government that are now only too familiar in Cameron’s Britain. This different tack, focusing less on the savvy spin doctors of Mandelson’s media machine and instead training its sights on Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ farce while relentlessly critiquing his uneasy buzzwords of ‘coalition’ and ‘cooperation’, is bang up to date. In the opening episode, the Secretary of State for Social Affairs and Citizenship, Peter Mannion’s ‘Silicone Playground’ fiasco highlights the tensions one might suspect, smiling through gritted teeth and feelings of innate mistrust, that plays such a role in party politics today. Throw in a host of new(ish) characters – media hack and special advisor, Adam Kenyon and Mannions’s ambitious Lib Dem junior Fergus Williams – and this new series looks set to push all the right buttons.
However, in our first glimpse at the latest series, top-dog Malcolm Tucker proves entirely absent. This forms the basis of Iannucci’s story arc for the coming episodes, as he stated on Twitter this week –the first four episodes will alternate between coalition and opposition, with the two strands gradually coming together over the course of the series. So next week should be a return to the blunderbuss of abuse that is Malcolm Tucker? Apparently not, as writer Simon Blackwell has mentioned in interviews, Tucker will cut a more subdued and perhaps despondent figure than his previous role as the authoritarian enforcer of New Labour. Tucker, much like the regime he so ruthlessly maintained in previous series, will be something of a husk – but it is the genius of the writing team that should enable this to work. The first episode was, after all, not short of the ‘Tuckerisms’ that regular viewers have come to expect from writers, and the character himself wasn’t even present. This coalition department, headed by chief ‘digitard’ and professional defeatist Peter Mannion, is rife with the catty confrontations that have defined the show from the off – so there is no real abuse mileage lost in Tucker’s absence. Instead, viewers are treated to a ‘new-look’ government, one that through co-operation and coalition will be able to change the way we think about the administration of this country… sound familiar? Art imitating life or life imitating art? Either way, Iannucci and co will have to work hard to out-omnishamble their real life counterparts over the coming weeks.