Weren’t we meant to be living in a post-ironic age by now? Ironically, it turns out to be television satire we’re living without. Aotearoa: 100% satire free. This is the country that, in 2007, banned the use of footage from Parliament for the purposes of mocking. Both ironically and satirically, news of that ban inspired The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart to make fun of New Zealand politicians on our behalf, which was kind. But the ban proved ultimately unsuccessful, as our leaders continued to make dicks of themselves unabated and without much need for outside assistance.
Now British political satire The Thick of It is back to fill the vacuum where the national sense of the absurd should reside. We’re seeing the fourth and final series of what has been described as the “angry, rampaging bastard child of Yes Minister”. Ricky Gervais’s The Office also comes to mind, if you can imagine a major Western power being run by the political equivalent of those idiots in Slough.
The storyline this time is one with which we can identify. It involves a Leader of the Opposition whose leadership qualities are, to put it mildly, under question. Nicola Murray, formerly an inept minister, has careered accidentally through the ranks to more stellar realms of ineptitude. She also struggles in the popularity stakes.
Punter: You’ll never get in.
Her communications director is Malcolm Tucker, a compulsively swearing Scottish version of Blair spin-doctor Alastair Campbell, played with vulpine charisma by Peter Capaldi. “Oh, a bit quiet,” says Tucker, asked about his weekend. “A bottle of pinot and Twitter abusing the cast of Glee.”
We haven’t seen his sort of dedication to prodigious profanity – “What the f— is this? Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, C—?” says Tucker, of some clandestine manoeuvre – since Deadwood. Tucker decides Murray has to go. Nothing too messy. “She just needs someone to hold her jacket while she commits political hara-kiri.”
What makes the series so compelling is that it has a more than nodding acquaintance with the truth about political life. It has scored a few hits in its time, on the life-imitating-art front, and vice versa (the series promises to end with a Leveson-style inquiry. Can’t wait). Depressingly believable are things like the brainstorming session – short on both brain and storm – to generate a media-friendly term for the sort of honest, ordinary voters whose support Nicola needs. “Everyday Wombles?” suggests someone.
Nicola is going for a superhero vibe. “Like Batman. Batpeople. Quiet Batpeople,” she witters. “Quiet Batpeople?” repeats Malcolm, with his characteristic look of a man battling a migraine while unsuccessfully attempting to fend off homicidal impulses. Before you can say “thick as batshit”, Malcolm has made sure the media gets wind of it. “Quiet Batpeople” becomes Nicola’s version of coming up the river in a cabbage boat. Her binders full of women. Her gay red shirt.
Meanwhile, over at the offices of the ruling coalition, there’s the sort of jostling for power we’ve seen a bit of here lately. It’s unlikely any of our politicians has actually said to a rival, “I’m a Jedi and you’re a f—ing ewok”, though you never know. The superb movie version of the series, In the Loop, saw a big uptake of such irresistible Tuckerisms as “f—ity bye”. Thanks to the television series, “omnishambles” has now officially enriched the language with a word that will no doubt find itself on high rotate during our next election campaign.
It’s all hilarious, lethal, deeply satisfying. Never mind that it’s not our politicians in writer Armando Iannucci’s pitiless sights, though there’s an idea. The Thick of It reminds us that politicians are much the same the world over. And that without the ability to have a laugh at their expense, we remain little more than Ordinary Wombles; so many Quiet Batpeople.
THE THICK OF IT, UKTV, Friday, 9.00pm.