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The Thick of it

"I love doing things the right way, all that ethical stuff, but, you know, it's very difficult."

Jim Jepps


Thank the Lord for the The Thick of it is full of the brilliantly hapless the wonderful Chris Langham.

BBC 3's "The Thick Of It" is at heart a Yes Minister of the Blair generation, both hilarious and cutting without any feeling of the set up scenes of a sitcom. Apparently the show is partially improvised which must be how you get this uncooked reality touch - if so this was a master stroke - it probably also accounts for the rabbit caught in headlights looks so many of the characters adopt.

There is also a deep informality and familiarity with the characters in show which is a real testament to their ability as performers. But probably the element to first strike the viewer is the swearing. Now of course I enjoy swearing anyway, it reminds me of home, but in terms of a stripping away of artificial boundaries between the political classes and the rest of us it really, really works. Not least because no one would believe that John Prescott uses the same kind of court language that Jim Hacker did all those years ago.

Peter Capaldi plays Alistair Campbell superbly - sorry, no, not Campbell, Malcolm Tucker, the government enforcer, and as such is given some brilliantly cruel lines to bark. For example, the line "I'm going to have to mop up a hurricane of piss" had me in stitches and seems like just the sort of thing Campbell might say when trying to suppress a damaging news story.

There are also tiny moments that seem to sum up, for me at least, what government ministers are really like. When Chris Langham mumbles as an aside "I'm not sure what level of reality I'm meant to be operating on" seems to encapsulate New Labourism very nicely without attempting to batter you over the head. Which incidentally is one of the other powerful devises of the programme - it's not propagandistic or dogmatic. You don't see blatant corruption, evil or Machiavellian tendencies - only the dog tiredness of people well out of their depth.

There are direct parallels with Yes Minister of course. For instance when Langham begins a rant about his own department of Social Affairs you could imagine Hacker saying something very similar. "Minister for social affairs, I mean, what is that? It's hello I'm the minister for you know... stuff." Followed by a classically weak smile.

Coming from Jesse Armstrong (writer of peep show) and Armando Iannucci whose been involved in everything you'd expect quality - and with this we certainly get it. Spot on - do try to catch this if you can.

Times can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/thickofit/

June 2005

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