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From Across the Pond: "The Thick of It"

I think I'm in love.

Okay, I'm not in love. But I am totally infatuated--besotted, if you will--with The Thick of It, the brilliant and wickedly funny British comedy that just started airing recently on BBC America. And after two episodes, I am completely smitten. It's best described as The Office on speed or The West Wing viewed through a psychedelic haze if President Bartlett were a lazy, incompetent puppet on strings who's just as baffled as everyone else as to how he managed to land in this office. It's shot in the same faux documentary style as The Office and the result is a rather painfully hilarious political satire.

The Thick of It takes the audience on a funhouse ride through the corridors of power (wow, that's a mixed metaphor), seen through the eyes of Minister of Social Affairs Hugh Abbot (Chris Langham), a sap who's completely dependent upon his often incompetent staffers. Hugh is brought in to fill the MP slot after the prime minister's draconian and abusive enforcer Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) forces his predecessor to resign following a scandal. Malcolm is a ruthlessly efficient spin doctor and the amount of influence that he wields (the ability to fire ministers, kill news stories, etc.) seems to make him infinitely more powerful than the Prime Minister himself, a rather sobering fact.

Hugh is a completely inept minister, but then so are the people he employs to keep him on track. His advisor Glenn (James Smith) believes himself to be a man of the people but he is so out of touch with reality that his advice is monumentally abysmal. Glenn is often at odds with Hugh's junior policy maker, Oliver (Chris Addison), a recent Cambridge graduate who looks like he's about ten years old. Oliver recently broke up with newspaper reporter Angela (Lucinda Raikes), a fact that Hugh and Glenn make use of to feed her (usually incorrect) stories. Then there's Terri (the hilarious Jo Scanlan), Hugh's press secretary. Terri's a former PR exec for a national supermarket chain, which should make her level-headed and knowledgeable in how to deal with the press. But everyone thinks Terri's rather useless and she often finds herself the scapegoat for whatever hare-brained scheme of Hugh's that has gone wrong. They are all at odds with whatever tirade Malcolm is on at the moment. And, well, Malcolm is rather scary: he seems to have the ability to materialize out of the shadows.

Created by Armando Iannucci and written by some of Britain's top television writers, The Thick of It is cracklingly smart. Much of the dialogue is semi-improvised as well, creating a hyper-realistic look at what goes on behind closed doors in the political arena. The effect is hilarious and also terrifying, particularly in these rather scary times we live in. If Hugh and his cohorts are any examples, I shudder to think of what goes on in private with real policy makers, given the way that they cobble together ridiculous and asinine policies in an attempt to deflect attention from what's actually going on. The spin is so fast that it seems impossible for Hugh not to get whiplash. And while the entire first and second seasons may only add up to six episodes (yes, you read that correctly, six episodes), they are so rewarding that you might forget that they were mere morsels, political petit fours meant to be savoured with every bite.

Ultimately, The Thick of It is intelligent and scathing comedy at its very best, a satire so sharp you could cut yourself on it. So approach with caution.

"The Thick of It" airs Friday evenings at 9 pm EST/10 pm PST on BBC America.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Ghost Whisperer (CBS); Dateline (NBC); What I Like About You/Twins (WB); Freaky Friday (ABC; 8-10 pm); Mona Lisa Smile (FOX; 8-10 pm); WWE Friday Night Smackdown (UPN)

9 pm: Close to Home (CBS); Las Vegas (NBC); Reba/Living with Fran (WB)

10 pm: NUMB3RS (CBS); Conviction (NBC); 20/20 (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

10 pm: The Thick of It on BBC America.

See above. The British political series that the Los Angeles Times dubbed "The West Wing meets The Office." On tonight's episode, Hugh gets jealous of the attention a junior minister is receiving for his input on Hugh's housing bill, but tries to shrug it off when he's invited to dine with the Prime Minister.

Comments

Anonymous said…
I'm usually not a big fan of shows about politics but "The Thick of It" has quickly become a new favorite of mine. The rapid fire dialogue is almost exhausting to keep up with but well worth the effort. "The Office" on speed is the perfect way to describe the experience and, like "The Office," I hope that it finds many fans both here and abroad.

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