At a time when most TV political satire consists of lightly mocking the public personalities of the major figures, ‘The Thick Of It’ is extremely welcome. What Armando Iannucci (‘The Day Today’) and Jesse Armstrong (‘Peep Show’) have done here is very simply asked themselves what ‘Yes, Minister’ would have been like had it been made today, and then made it.
Their show has a very similar set-up to the 1980s classic, with a relatively benign and harassed minister (Chris Langham) trying to evade being controlled by unelected power-brokers within the political system. However, the style is very different: partly improvised, fast-cutting and shot as a pseudo-documentary. It also works brilliantly, allowing the viewer to feel like they’re in on an array of political insider jokes whilst not demanding a detailed knowledge of politics. I only have a basic layman’s knowledge of this stuff myself and I thought it was hilarious.
A couple of months ago, in a review of ‘Help’, I commented that Langham might finally be getting the recognition he deserves as one of our great comic actors (his sense of timing is quite astonishing). Whilst Paul Whitehouse garnered most of the attention for that project, ‘The Thick Of It’ pushes Langham closer to centre stage (although Peter Capaldi, who basically plays Alistair Campbell here, often comes close to stealing the show) and should give him the breakthrough he deserves. Expect to see him popping up in BBC1 comedy-dramas soon.
However, that’s assuming that ‘The Thick Of It’ will make the kind of impact it should. BBC4 is all very well and a fine place to launch this kind of show, but it’s a sad day if a great political comedy like this is assumed only to appeal to a niche within the chattering classes. As BBC4 can generally not afford to produce its own drama or comedy, it seems likely that the cost has already been split with BBC2, but I’m making no assumptions – it might yet end up in an 11:20 slot. This is potentially an important programme, so put it where people can see it.