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The Omni-Thick Of It!
on 21 November 2012
This boxset consists of series 1-4 & The Specials which took place between series 2 & 3. The only thing that's missing is the movie tie-in In the Loop which features the characters of Malcolm Tucker & his 'pitbull' Jamie (AKA "the crossest man in Scotland" who was "made in a lab by Malcolm out of spare bits of psychopath"). This set is essentially 4 earlier, separate DVD releases held together in a new outer cardboard box. As such, there's no new material & the extras are the same ones included in previous releases. These include deleted scenes, commentaries, series 3 'webisodes' & a couple of 'behind the scenes' featurettes.
It all began way back in 2004 when the BBC decided to generate additional revenue from phone polls by asking what was the 'Best British Sitcom'. In arguing the case for Yes Minister, writer/producer Armando Iannucci was inspired to create The Thick Of it - a fresh comedic look behind the walls of power for the New Labour & Coalition generations. Originally it was assumed it would be somewhat niche with series 1 & 2 only consisting of 3 episodes each consigned to BBC 4. But it quickly found a larger audience on BBC 2 due to its astute & astonishingly up-to-date satire - and because it's simply very funny. Its influence became so widespread that real life eventually imitated art, with Ed Milliband famously calling the 2012 budget an "omnishambles" - a neologism coined by writer Tony Roche for series 3 of the show.
The Thick Of It follows the ministers & civil servants in the fictional Department Of Social Affairs & Citizenship, who are scrutinized by the "all-swearing eye" of Malcolm Tucker, the PM's Director Of Communications, AKA spin doctor & enforcer. Armed with a dazzling array of creative insults & "Malc-iavellian" cunning, Peter Capaldi's character never fails to steal the show. Destined to be listed alongside Alan Partridge, Del Boy & Basil Fawtly the next time the BBC want more phone poll revenue, this political heavyweight has been compared by many pundits to Alastair Campbell. As the show progresses, his 'old school' aggressive style is portrayed as increasingly anachronistic but he's still able to take on the trendy new kids on the block, such as PC opposition rival Stuart Pearson ("are you an Ameri-can or an Ameri-can't?"). Nevertheless, this series is far more sophisticated than a one-man show - as it progresses, the list of characters grows & each has their moment to shine. This is how it was able to not just survive the departure of Chris Langham at the end of series 2 but also rise to greater heights.
Unlike the conventional sitcom format of its predecessor, The Thick Of It's more modern approach involves wobbly camerawork for that 'reality show' feel. This, combined with swearing by the skipload, didn't go down well with viewers expecting a more traditionally genteel show like Yes Minister. However, the crude yet creative insults are meticulously crafted & form the main thrust of its humour, apparently due to Inannucci handing all the scripts over to a writer he dubbed 'the BBC's swear consultant'. Sadly I can't quote any examples because Amazon would quickly delete this review if I did! Much humour - and occasionally pathos - is also generated from portraying people in power as being no more capable or intelligent than the rest of us. In an interview in the DVD extras for In the Loop, Inannucci says he wanted to render our leaders & their institutions as mundane & "a bit rubbish" rather than as intrinsically noble, as per The West Wing, or entirely self-serving, as per the opinions of many of the electorate.
With so much crammed into each episode, The Thick Of It has a high re-watchability factor & is never out of my DVD player for long. Unlike pretty much every other comedy show out there, it never gets stuck in the same formula since like real life, characters move on & around. Series 4, for example, saw the reigns of power change hands to the former Opposition & their coalition partners, bringing the satire neatly up to date. It's a great shame that more episodes weren't made during its run but the lack of quantity has certainly been offset by the quality of the existing material. And we still have Iannucci's American version - Veep - to look forward to.