Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Thick Of It

The Thick Of It completed its fourth series recently. This may be its finale. This 7 part series that had fairly mixed critical response, the suggestion put forward that the series had been sharper in the past, during the Labour era, that it had far too many new and less than interesting characters. There was also the suggestion that the show wasn't as funny as it had once been.

As we have now reached the end of the show, I would argue that its the strongest and most interesting comedy show from the UK in years, the best comedy since Brass Eye and probably the most likely to age well. Its ultimately superior to The Office, which has been the critical reference point in the past decade, in its range and dramatic depth, using the need for caricaturing effectively and to a point of what people do to one another, rather than using realism for the distortion of under-developed characters, to suggest depths that ultimately aren't delivered in the writing. This is truly the show that has people that can't leave the prisons they have made for themselves.

The show has had moments where it has gotten a little broad. Series 3 & 4 both had first episodes that introduced important characters, and weren't as subtle in their interactions or as effective as the series can be. These moments are pared quickly, with the foundation of character interactions laid, the stories moved on quickly, balancing many smaller characterisations with the wilder styles. The Thick Of It is strong on suggesting realism without being limited by it. It uses the melodramtic elements to show weakness in character, using excessive swearing to show character impotence and frustration (for the most part), and uses plot as an illustration of continually self-destructive and delusional thinking. Its break from realism suggests the mental state of the characters.

The greatest achievement of the show is how it shows how difficult it is to stay in its world. Characters brutally fight to stay within its institutions, are ill-equiped, show monstrous ego and delusion about their abilities. Most are ruined by taking on ill-advised positions or jobs or not knowing when to leave. The strongest episodes, from the early minister's second house episode, to in-fighting and positioning to change in party leadership, to the breakdown in government leading to a general election, to finally the mess in once again changing party leadership, suggests continual exhuastion and turmoil, of stress that no human can take long-term. The two characters who ultimately have become central to the story, Press Secretary Malcolm Tucker and Political Adviser Glenn Cullen, are finally ruined by not knowing that its time to leave power, when their party is defeated in a general election. They have an opportunity to move on at this point but can't. Neither are exactly sympathetic. Tucker is brutal in the extreme (although by the end its easy to see why, due to the people he ahs to deal with) Both have hypocrises and give in to dubious actions. They create their own downfall. The final series, while seemingly about the new government, and how it shall fail like the old one, is focused on their downfall, of people who can't get out due to their character, who have to be forced out by total failure. The need to stay within a dehumanising culture is a great theme for a comedy. The final epsiode is focused on their attempt to leave with dignity. It doesn't work well for either but the show resists being overtly cruel, showing how life can be cold and awful, then moving on, which gives it a proper balance.

So its a great show, the UK's one show that competes with the top-level American output like Deadwood and The Wire.

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