I didn’t plan to watch “The Thick of It” in any serious capacity. I had considered checking it out for a while, but it was only recently that I decided to give it a shot. Part of that was out of genuine interest and the other was as a precursor to the obsession I’ll no doubt have when “Iron Fist” is released tomorrow. That being said, I didn’t have huge expectations. I knew it was a political satire/comedy show, and I knew that Peter Capaldi swore a lot in it. While I did binge-watch it (which I normally never do) in anticipation of paving the way for “Iron Fist,” I also found myself strangely drawn to the show itself. Also, for clarification, I did see the spin-off movie “In the Loop.” Because it has little to do with the show itself, I’m not going to focus on it here.
It basically follows British politics in a largely fictional sense. The core team involved are considered the government and work directly under the Prime Minister. As the show goes on, it also introduces the opposing party, literally called the opposition, to present both sides. Situations and people are loosely based on real-life counterparts, but the characters are easy to understand even without that knowledge. It might have made things easier for me to grasp in hindsight, but it didn’t affect my enjoyment all that much. The comedy here is a mixture of general bouts of rage, British wit, and pop culture references that for me ranged from immediately recognizable to ones that flew over my head. It made me laugh and chuckle a few times, though probably not as much as others. I’ll also be the first to admit that I don’t watch a lot of comedy anymore outside of improv and the occasional standup. However, this show did entertain me, which I haven’t felt much with some of the more recent American sitcoms.
The characters take some getting used to, whether they stick around or not. They’re all unlikable in some way or another, and it makes it tough to identify with any of them. I kinda think that was the point, though, as no one is truly the main character here. Part of the reason I enjoyed this show is because of the life-or-death stakes. Each episode makes you feel like any of these characters could be fired at the drop of a hat, and they often end on the “upbeat” note of managing to keep their jobs for another day. It’s a nice play on the typical sitcom happy ending, and it gave the show this odd charm for me. As for which characters I liked… Well, as the arguably most sympathetic and plain pathetic character, Glenn Cullen grew on me. His ultimate ending was both sad and triumphant. As the team leader, I also preferred Nicola Murray over Hugh Abbott. Hugh’s lack of pop culture knowledge was funny, and he helped give the first two series something close to a main character. However, I felt Nicola played off of the other characters better, and I still felt a tinge of sympathy for her by the end.
But the character everyone knows and loves from this show is Malcolm Tucker, played by Peter Capaldi. In some ways, his ruthlessness and conniving attitude reminded me of Frank Underwood from “House of Cards.” There’s something about him, maybe in his confidence or drive to win, that keeps you from hating him as much as you feel you should. Unlike Frank, however, Malcolm doesn’t hide his distaste with pleasantries. If he wants something done, he’ll curse you out or throw some creative insult your way. And even though this show only sometimes gives its characters depth, by the end of the show, Malcolm came out as the most interesting to me. It’s helped by the fact that Capaldi is a great actor who can sell anything given to him (no offense to anyone else on this show as they’re all solid).
I personally found Series 3 to be my favorite, mostly in part of the dynamic between Malcolm and Nicola and co. That’s not to say Series 1 and 2 were weak, but they were stepping stones in my eyes. And Series 4 tried to change up the formula by showcasing both sides of politics, which was done well, but I ultimately felt the final episode was a little anti-climatic in parts. It also took me some time to get used to the handheld style of shooting in the series, which I’d only seen done occasionally on shows like “The Office” and wasn’t a fan of. Despite my gripes, though, “The Thick of It” was pretty good. Even though Malcolm basically makes the show, it still kept me coming back to see how both the one-off and overarching scenarios would get resolved. I’d recommend giving it a shot as long as you’re open to British humor. And as I said earlier, while you can get background on who and what aspects of the show are based off of, it’s still easy to get into without that. Now, here’s hoping I don’t keep expecting the Twelfth Doctor to swear up a storm when Series 10 of “Doctor Who” starts next month.