Review: The Thick of It (series 4)
Sometimes, politics feels beyond satire. Who would think that an economic budget could devolve into ministers lying about when they had last eaten a Gregg's pasty? The success of The Thick of It in its last few series was to successfully skewer the all-hands-to-the-deck, make-it-up-as-we-go-along nature of current Westminister politics, overseen by the ferociously potty-mouthed Malcolm Tucker. For the first series of the new Coalition, Tucker is absent but his aurora remains, like a swearing Casper. This leaves The Thick of It in a compromising situation. Without Tucker's central figure the show initially lacks the edge it previously contained now that the bit-part figures now step up to the main stage.
We instead focus on the depressed old-school politician, Peter Mannion, played ably by an avuncular Roger Allam. Tasked with launching 'Silicon Playground', an idea founded by his coalition partner, Mannion is hindered by barely seeming to know what a computer is. No wonder he studied Classics. Watching him bumble and mispronounce his way through a school presentation was pure hands-over-the-eyes material. This was when The Thick of It really started going, the unstoppable, lurching momentum of mess-ups, failed, idiotic and sheer awkwardness. The inevitable procession of apologies, bungled apologies, and trial by media has not lost its capacity to be excruciating.
Mannion's Lib Dem coalition partner, Fergus, on the other hand, isn't even a sketch but rather a tracing. What scenes he has are limited to him frowning a lot but otherwise being insubstantial. I'm still not sure if this was intentional or not. The battle between them is effectively summarised by Mannion pulling away at the end in a Jaguar, while Fergus chooses an eco-friendly Toyota. I was surprised they didn't have him wear socks with sandals as well. What in-fighting there is remains between the ministerial aides, who engage in truly awful sub-sixth form banter. There's also a joke shamelessly ripped from Anchorman However, the script writers still have the ability to produce some brilliant one liners. Urging a flare-up to desist, the head spin doctor remarks 'I only get this angry when I'm flying Ryanair'.
As it is The Thick of It still shows the sharp brilliance that has made 'omnishambles' a current political phrase but the humour when it comes is much sparser than before. The next episode presents Tucker & Co in opposition, which will be the real deal breaker. If the show were a government, it'd be still coming off the post-election bounce, but would have one eye very nervously clamped on an upcoming by-election.