The Thick of It
is back (UKTV, Fridays, 9pm) and where the *#@! is Malcolm? Malcolm Tucker (shudderingly and brilliantly played by Peter Capaldi), you might recall - if you have a taste for really really foul-mouthed television - is the foulest-mouthed man to have ever appeared on television, with the possible exception of
's Hank Moody.
The difference between them is that Hank needs his mouth washed out with soap because his dirty talk is all stuff about sex. The stuff that spews out of Malcolm's is all about politics, inept and idiotic politicians and civil servants and press secretaries in particular. In other words, all his bosses, colleagues, associates and anyone who has the misfortunate to wander into his misanthropic orbit, gets it from his gob.
Most of this is unrepeatable, and much of it is brilliant. You do wonder what on earth it is like inside the mind of Armando Iannucci, who not only writes and directs The Thick of It but who writes and directs the (almost) equally foul-mouthed and equally brilliant take on, and take-off of American politics, Veep. The only thing Veep, which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, lacks is Malcolm, but he you couldn't replicate him, except within the Westminster system with its tradition of civil servants: the real power-brokers. That's not new television. Malcolm is Yes, Minister's Sir Humphrey; more power-hungry and much more powerful, than the ministers, or shadow-ministers, they are supposed to serve. Iannuci has said The Thick of It is a cross between Yes, Minister and The Larry Sanders Show - both shows about ego-maniacs who are also idiots but don't know it, and their puppet-masters.
In The Thick of It, the characters are all awful. The blonde press sec chick is a stereotype with "the charm of a minor royal", and she rings utterly true. The truly repulsive ideas man is a spin doctor who sits cross-legged on couches and arrives at the ministry carrying his fold-up bicycle. He turns his cellphone off when he's having ideas (this means pinching other people's ideas and giving them ridiculous names) because he's in "giving" mode, not "receiving" mode. He has a goatee.
The politician hates schoolchildren because "they're volatile and stupid and haven't got the vote". What do politicians really think of those babies they have to kiss, you wonder?
Last week Malcolm was missing because "his" politician, is now the dreadful, bumbling, Nicola Murray, leader of the Opposition. So Act One was set in the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship as Peter Mannion bumbled his way through the launch of a cyber-initiative. He can barely manage to work his cellphone.
Malcolm returns this week, with all the force of an exploding portaloo. Best watched at some distance from the telly. I swear you get expletive-laden spittle on your face if you get too close to the screen.
And the wreath-laying palaver - what is the best way to walk when you are carrying the wreath?; how should you hold your mouth when carrying the wreath? - means you'll never again watch a politician, or a royal, laying a wreath in quite the same way. I held my breath watching Prince Charles and the PM lay some this week. There were wobbles. But not, phew, an "omnishambles". An omnishambles is Oxford Dictionaries' word of the year. Definition: "a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterised by a string of blunders and miscalculations." Guess where it was coined? As The Thick of It demonstrates, politics - like wreath-laying -is a precarious business. As is political satire - but it's in safe and savage hands here.