People will forgive you a lot if you’re funny. That’s not my motto (although it might be Boris Johnson’s), so much as a goal I hope one day to achieve. But it’s also based on evidence, including that exemplified by Armando Iannucci. ‘We in politics’ (now, there’s a phrase that needs to become obsolete) don’t care that Iannucci took the slightly unexpected step of accepting an OBE. We don’t care that he has based his best TV series and film around the simple idea that every single one of us are thick, deluded, vicious, self-serving and/or incompetent. The man’s so bloody clever and funny that we’re more than happy to forget how, days before the general election in 2010, he tweeted encouraging people to vote for a coalition, while acknowledging that it would make his life more difficult. Good job it was only his, eh.
Difficult as it must have been to find a place for unexpected new characters (if that’s a word one can use to describe the Liberal Democrats), the new Thick of It is still very funny and still rings very true. Joanna Scanlan as Terri continues to walk the right side of the line between stereotype and ooh-I-know-someone-just-like-her (“I turn off all work devices at 6pm. After that it’s just me, the Kindle and Jodi Picoult”), and her new ambition to be made redundant promises hilarity ahead. Peter Mannion MP is likewise recognisable without being either a pantomime yah or a Ken Clarke tribute act: he’s just one of those Tories of a certain age, baffled that society now expects him to be able to tweet and refrain from public racism.
Stewart ‘Steve Hilton’ Pearson, the press and the two Sceptical Teen members of the public Mannion encounters all ring similarly true. Glenn, on the other hand, has gone a bit odd. Odder. I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t seen it yet, but I would never have expected that character to do what he has apparently done. Nevertheless, it suggests some interesting tension later in the series.
I was curious to see how the new series portrayed the Lib Dems, and the answer is ‘they’re a bit weird’. This may or may not have been the intention. Based on this first episode – which features Mannion being forced to front a plausible-sounding, Lib-Dem-authored policy he doesn’t understand – the junior coalition partners appear to have been cast in the role of the semi-competent, if somewhat irritating ones who might have made a half-decent government themselves if they hadn’t been yoked with Tory SpAds keen to put them in their place.
Or maybe I’m just reading too much into Iannucci’s own views here. After all, Fergus the Lib Dem minister also has an unconvincing approach to TTOI-speak which is hilarious if it’s deliberate. In a stand-up diatribe at Terri he sounds a little like Steve Fleming as portrayed by someone from Black Books. It’s quite tempting to imagine that all the Lib Dems took office thinking that now they had proper jobs in politics they all had to talk like Malcolm Tucker.
Unfortunately, as the Telegraph’s review also pointed out, everyone in this episode sounded a bit like Malcolm Tucker. The structure of the new 7-episode series is apparently ‘Coalition, Opposition, Coalition, Opposition, Everyone, Everyone, Everyone’, and the obvious weakness of any Coalition-only episode is a Capaldi deficiency. In his absence, this episode at least relies too heavily on all characters having the same knack for insults and inventive swearing as Tucker: the line every other review is repeating as the episode’s funniest (“You’re basically a couple of homeless guys we’ve invited to Christmas dinner. Don’t bitch because we don’t let you carve the turkey”) was given to Tory SpAd Phil, who is usually much funnier when he’s failing to keep up with everyone else’s jokes. Angry Mannion, meanwhile, closely resembles David Mitchell having just discovered he’s been burgled.
What am I hoping for in next week’s episode? Bucketloads of Malcolm, naturally – but also a bit of the heart this episode was lacking. Don’t laugh: previous series have brought us Glenn’s public breakdown, Nicola worrying that she was failing as a mother, and Malcolm Tucker’s career collapsing before his eyes. Mannion’s apologetic request for his wife to ‘put something eggy on a tray’ for his tea isn’t really in the same league, although I did warm to Disappointed Stewart as he slunk out of the office with his foldaway bike between his legs.
I suppose what I’m saying is that although watching the cock-ups of coalition is entertaining, what I’m really looking forward to is seeing what the Opposition have got for us. Art imitates life, once again.