Comfort QuaranTV: The Thick of It


Isolation removes us from the thick of it. Paradoxically, The Thick of It’s incessant stress offers calm in uncertainty; it locates humour in desperation. Uniquely, The Thick of It offers us a comically accurate insight of coalition government confirming our collective scepticism of it. How, then, does The Thick of It relax viewers during the current political uncertainty? Moreover, does Iannucci help us laugh at human incompetence?  

The Thick of It satirises the inside of British government exposing the incompetence of ministers and their advisers. Uniquely, we often expect elected officials’ immense competence. Yet, The Thick of It’s humour and faux-documentary style is defined by human incompetence. We are exposed to a calamitous reflection of those attempting to run the country. Malcolm Tucker weaponizes high-functioning profanity to protect almost defenceless ministers, such as Hugh Abbott MP. As such, Tucker is often represented as an anti-hero when manipulating the press. Elsewhere, Abbott is better suited to gorging biscuits inertly in a pantry. Often, The Thick of It is more than a reflection and, in fact, a precursor of political reality. For instance, in 2012 the Labour leader Ed Miliband used the term ‘omnishambles’, coined in The Thick of It, to describe the Conservative budget. In an interview, Will Smith, a scriptwriter, was baffled by this, further asking ‘What the hell are you doing?’. Here, political life and satire were briefly synonymous. Miliband’s use of ‘omnishambles’ demonstrated that even politicians are influenced by satire. Life had imitated art. That is, political discourse was grounded in comedy. Yet, the usage revealed the potency of humour in political settings.

Michael White, The Guardian’s political correspondent in 2009, criticises The Thick of It as it ‘lacked heart, lacked sympathy, lacked good guys, let alone honest ambitions.’ White’s criticism is partly grounded in a dislike of ‘the comedy of humiliation’. However, the obscene depiction of clueless ministers, like Abbott, highlights that ‘honest ambitions’ are beyond these characters. How can they have ‘honest ambitions’ if they are incapable of honesty nor genuine ambition? For instance, Roger Allam plays the new Secretary of State, Peter Mannion MP, and appears permanently lost. Crucially, Mannion personifies ministerial incompetence by misaddressing the press and botching public policy announcements. Although, Mannion is most clueless when speaking with his advisers. For instance, Mannion asks ‘I don’t know, am I?’ in response to Stewart, an adviser, asking whether he understands ‘the new line’. Mannion wallows further in self-doubt when revising his stance on ‘locking up yobbos’ and tucking-in shirts. Here, Iannucci harnesses the disparate issues of social policy and wearing shirt and tie to encapsulate Mannion’s human incompetence. That is, Iannucci finds humour in showing people do not know what they are doing.

Self-isolation provides us with time to reflect on our experience past and those to come. In this way, The Thick of It comforts those without clear ambitions and reassures others lamenting the bustle of society before the pandemic. That is, The Thick of It invites our reaction at the expense of ambitious, often loathsome politicos. In an interview, Iannucci recalls hearing, while researching for In The Loop, that a self-conscious Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state, routinely asked colleagues during Nixon’s presidential tenure, ‘Am I doing okay? Am I all right and do you think he likes me?’ Paradoxically, Iannucci shows that even political authority yearns for comfort and reassurance. The purposeless Abbott, Murray, and, at times, Tucker stresses that our human fragility is inescapable. Ultimately, The Thick of It reminds us that we are vulnerable amid political uncertainty, and sometimes the best way to cope is to find the humour in it all. 

Image: chrishanz via Creative Commons

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