« Home | Sex quiz, hot shot! » | The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer that ... » | Just an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff. » | In danger, as ever, of forgetting the real victims... » | The Tories can still win in 2015. » | The BBC leaves an open goal. Again. » | Get things straight. » | A man, a plan and a Shitmat. » | Britain broken no more. » | An absurd decision for an absurd institution. » 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 

Are you a fucking horse?

The Thick of It has come to what seems likely to be the end.  For an ostensibly political comedy, its influence is difficult to overstate: it went in four series from satirising New Labour's spin machine to err, providing lines for the now in opposition Labour party to use against the government.  In Malcolm Tucker Armando Iannucci, the other writers, and of course Peter Capaldi have created one of most terrifyingly brutal and yet still likeable characters in recent sitcom history, a man who doesn't so much wield the power he has as use it to cosh everyone who screws up around him, which happens to be everyone.  In the hour-long special Rise of the Nutters, when Ollie somehow finds it within himself to accuse Malcolm of bullying, Tucker is insulted: "I am so much worse than that".

Tucker isn't just Alastair Campbell, just as the Tory spin doctor Stewart Pearson introduced in the specials isn't just Steve Hilton (although clearly, "The Fucker" is Andy Coulson).  Iannucci maintains he based him not wholly on Campbell as much as Hollywood agents and producers, but what he's come to symbolise and be is the political dark arts, the plotting, the sniping, the manoeuvring, the smearing, the treachery, the threatening and the double dealing which we've now come to associate with media management.  The Thick of It's success is that it took all these things, and managed to make them flesh.  Tucker is, as he's variously described throughout the series, a force of nature, a "bad Gandalf".  He seems to appear out of nowhere, and then as soon as he does he's gone, leaving little trace.  Moreover, he's a survivor of negative media coverage, plots by rival spinners and of eventual electoral defeat.  He's only finally brought low by doing things that are arguably in the public interest: bringing down a useless leader of his party while leaking information about a vulnerable man who's being treated appallingly by the government.

Just as remarkable is that The Thick of It isn't a cynical show, or at least isn't about politics itself.  In an age where the refrain often heard "is they're all the same", The Thick of It always presented the actual politicians not necessarily in a good light but almost never in a wholly bad one.  Chris Langham's wonderful performance as Hugh Abbott showcased a minister who's out of his depth, incompetent, false and desperate to cling on to his job, but also as demonstrably human.  He hates that he has to push through policies which he personally disagrees with but does it anyway, has almost no family life due to the long hours that leave him perpetually tired, and at one point even asks Malcolm if he gets lonely, only for both men to step back from admitting and talking about their problems.  The episode where Abbott is forced to give up the London flat that gives him a small amount of respite came before the expenses scandal, but touched upon whether while dismissing our representatives, we also expect too much of them, as does the episode where Nicola Murray is forced by Tucker into deciding whether her husband leaves his job in PFI or her daughter goes to a comprehensive instead of an independent school.

Indeed, arguably the only politicians to be presented as truly irredeemable are Fergus, Peter Mannion's Liberal Democrat junior minister at DoSAC (he's making me hate politicians and I am one, remarks Mannion when Fergus emotes for the cameras after the death of Mr Tickell) and Dan Miller, the horribly slimy, charmless Labour minister who eventually manages to become leader.  That Miller is also the most obviously electable politician on the show is a highly satirical comment on who we seem to keep electing: those who aspire for power or who believe they were born to rule when both qualities ought to rule those very individuals out.

In fact, with the notable exception of the spinners and special advisers other than Tucker, the rest of the cast also fit the "flawed but sympathetic and likeable" trait.  Chief civil servant Terri is hopeless, obtuse and hates her job but does her best while everyone insults her; her assistant Robyn provides additional comic relief; Glenn's the human sponge who realises he's wasted the majority of his life working for and with backstabbing bastards; and Angela Heaney is the journalist repeatedly caught in the middle of the spin storm.

Where the show's ire is squarely aimed is at the careerist young advisers from both sides of the political spectrum.  Ollie is as morally bankrupt as Terri describes him when asked by Nicola, and also dangerously unreliable, typified by when he screwed over Glenn to get in Malcolm's good books.  He effectively defenestrates his party's leader twice, on both occasions at the bidding of Tucker, for the reason that he one day wants to be him.  Mannion's junior SpAd Phil Smith meanwhile is the archetypal Tory child of the 80s, a nerd who could only possibly fit in amongst the weirdos and obsessives in politics, whereas Emma is an "insipid rich bitch" interested only in herself and her career trajectory, sucking up to anyone who she thinks might help her along the way.  These people aren't in politics to help anyone, or make life better in general, nor are they there because they believe in anything beyond an outline; it's just another job, or what seemed like the obvious thing to do after getting a PPE degree from Oxford.

It does in the end though all come back to Tucker.  As he puts it in his monologue at the end of the hour long inquiry special, this is a political class which has given up on morality for the sake of popularity at all costs, and he's the one tasked with achieving it, regardless of how.  The Thick of It says the blame for having reached this situation should be spread around liberally: with the fickle, cynical public, who often are as Mannion once referred to them, "fucking horrible", the media, for whom a crisis must always also be a drama and who allow no respite, and the politicians who can't do anything without a focus group or the advice of someone who's never had a real job in their life.  As for those who sit in judgement, they themselves had to bend the rules to get into that lofty position.  All are guilty, but all are human.

Which is why the show worked.  You might not believe they could all be as imaginatively sweary, but you can believe all these characters are reflections of real, flawed people with real, flawed ideas, all trying to stay on a ride that none of them truly enjoy, but who do it because they don't know anything else.

And I haven't even mentioned Jamie.

Labels: , , ,

Share |

Post a Comment

Links to this post

Create a Link

About

  • This is septicisle
profile

Links

Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates