I very much enjoyed Armando Iannucci’s film In the Loop (buried after nattering on about The Hurt Locker), but the original series which spawned the film–The Thick of It–is even better.
In the interests of sweeping characterization of national identity, let me say that no one does the comedy of viciousness like the British. There are some great American satires, but such comedies here often counterpose the brute nasty with a sense of sentiment or meaning. Or just soften the blows in other ways — no one is totally ruthlessly mean, or if they are, then someone around them is a counterbalance, a Candide-like innocent protecting the audience from the caustic. But a great vicious British comedy (Waugh, Amis–father or son, Cleese’s Fawlty) mocks everyone and everything. There are no heroes.
Thick is about backroom politics (and front room engagement with the “fat, stupid” people and the “cunting” press), by not terribly-bright and utterly-narcissistic “public servants.” We primarily follow the Minister of Social Affairs Hugh Abbot (Chris Langham) and his staff, with occasional visits from the invective-spewing Scots righthand-man to the PM, Malcolm Tucker.
A word about Malcolm Tucker, as played by Peter Capaldi. I love him. I have always had a soft spot for portraits of enraged, aggressive mean people, and Tucker is a Tasmanian Devil in the body of a whippet. His relentless attack never wears thin; I could watch Tucker all day long, forever and ever, amen.
I’ve seen only series 1, but this is … well, brilliant. I mean, best-comedy-series contention brilliant. It is so astoundingly nasty in its jokes, so bluntly mean about so many issues, yet it maintains an air of blithe almost sweetness. Where Gervais & Merchant’s The Office traffics in a discomfort created by its characters, which we viewers share, Thick inspires us toward an amiable appreciation of the characters–they’re not a bad lot, or rather they’re quite bad but nonetheless kind of likable, perhaps because their ambitious selfishness is so generally ineffectual. Even as, for instance, they casually toss around vicious insults about developmental disability — after each insult they apologize to their colleague Glenn (who has a son with a developmental disability). And then they carry on.