The return of The Thick Of It is jarring in multiple ways. For one, I don’t think anyone expected it back so quickly. I was under the impression we’d have to wait until early next year for the much-needed return of Britain’s best political satire, but here it is, seemingly out of the blue (and, wonderfully, airing on Hulu almost simultaneously with its BBC broadcast), and it has a lot of changes to update us on.
British government has changed drastically since the last episode of season three (which debuted in December 2009). The Conservative Party is in power, but with only a plurality of seats, necessitating an incongruous coalition with the center-left Liberal Democrat Party, which leapt at the chance to be in power for the first time in its history, even if it was with a party it has little in common with politically. Things began smoothly, but cracks have begun to show in the alliance’s façade, which can only mean that behind the scenes, things are getting profoundly tense.
So, as we’d expect from his appearances in season three, the old dog Peter Mannion (Roger Allam) is now the Secretary for Social Affairs and Citizenship, backed up by posh eager-beaver Phil (Will Smith—the British comedian, not the erstwhile Fresh Prince) and slow-moving civil servant Terri (Joanna Scanlan), who is creeping everyone out more than ever. But there’s also young gun Lib-Dem Fergus (Geoffrey Streatfield)—a plugged-in junior minister who can’t stand Peter’s luddite sensibilities—who’s backed up by advisor Adam Kenyon (Ben Willbond), who keen-eyed Thick Of It fans may recall as the editor of the Daily Mail in the “Spinners And Losers” special.
There’s so much ground to cover, we don’t even glimpse the opposition, which is filled with the familiar stars of the show, including Nicola, Ollie, and, of course, Malcolm Tucker. From what I’ve read, in this seven-episode season, the first four episodes will switch between the coalition and the opposition, with the final three uniting them all in a larger, intertwining arc. Excitingly, it seems Nicola has been elected leader of the opposition, which will give us some variation in the political storylines the show can cover this year.
Still, with all these changes, the format remains the same. This is a grounded political farce that expertly straddles the line between realistic and ridiculous, complete with lots of inventive swearing and winks to current political events. Even without the electric presence of Malcolm (his more-zen Tory counterpart Stewart is around for the season première), the rules of the show aren’t being re-written. From its forced replacement of its original star to the upheaval that defines recent British politics, The Thick Of It successfully adapts to whatever’s going on—and from the looks of it, the latest season will be no different.
The first episode of the fourth season is a typical episode of the show, with the added spice of the coalition infighting. But things go as you’d expect: DOSAC has a new initiative centered on teenagers creating apps. Peter manages to screw up the rollout and Stewart has to come in to manage the situation, and there’s a lot of shouting and swearing in between. A few surprises present themselves, though: The presence of Glenn (James Smith) in government is a surprising one, since he was always a political adviser, but it’s hinted that he defected to the Lib Dems in a fit of pique. It makes sense to have Glenn working in government, though, since the angle on his character has always been that he’s slipping into continued irrelevance, and he’d be having too much fun on the opposition side. So instead, he’s shuffling around the office 10 minutes behind everyone else, with even Terri worrying that he might just turn a gun on himself. “Actually, I don't even possess a gun,” he assures her. “Is that all that’s stopping you? Lack of resources?”
Meanwhile, Peter is slipping comfortably into a role that previously occupied by harried former minister Hugh Abbott—a Secretary of Social Affairs who is utterly disconnected from modern British society, and feels no need to address that problem. Consumed by the need to be in the office at least as long as his coalition counterpart, he’s basically ignoring his wife (which seems to strike him as an inconvenience, not an emotional hardship) and he’s continually frustrating Stewart and Emma (Olivia Poulet) with his disinterest in playing good coalition ball.
“Series Four, Episode One” doesn’t have the manic energy this show is capable of generating, partially due to all the necessary exposition, and partially do to a lack of Malcolm. Stewart is a funny character, but I am sad we’re missing out on Tom Hollander’s The Fucker, although for all I know he’ll show up later (there is a hint at the end of the episode that the Prime Minister is displeased with Stewart’s recent work).
But as an opening statement for what should prove to be an exciting, densely plotted season of satire, I have nothing to complain about. After nearly three years with no new episodes of The Thick Of It, it’s just wonderful to have the show back in our lives.
- Phil preps the office for Peter’s arrival: “There’s no happiness without order. That’s a Nazi quote, but it nonetheless stands the test of time.”
- Stewart’s always ordering hip teas: “Can you get someone to bring me some chai, I'm parsed as a cuttlefish!”
- Fergus is outraged that Peter gets to debut a tech initiative: “Peter can’t even right-click a fucking mouse!” Phil sticks up for him, however “He can, it’s trackpads he has a problem with.”
- Glenn is becoming aware of his irrelevance. “Am I in some kind of ghost story? I’ve been hit by a bus, no one can hear me?”
- Fergus is worried Peter’s not up on apps. “Does he understand the policy? Forgive my concern, but it’s a bit like asking if a dog can grasp the concept of Norway.”
- Stewart gets surprisingly angry after Peter’s botched press conference. “I reserve this level of anger for when I’m flying Ryanair!”
- Peter has no interest in being bollocked. “I'm bored of this! I'm going for a Twix!”