I don’t seem to have reviewed any of the previous seasons of The Thick of It, which I thought was odd given how much I enjoy the show and my obsession with reviewing absolutely everything. Then I started trying to write the review of the latest (and probably last) season and realised that I’d not done so previously because it’s really hard to do! There are so many difficult angles to cover and this season even more than previously I’m really torn, because I found it utterly compelling, yet really didn’t like it.
First up, it’s very hard for me to watch this show, let alone review it, because it all strikes a bit close to home. In the three years since the last season of The Thick of It, I’ve joined and then left the civil service, and I can tell you that the series really is perilously close to a documentary at times. The fact that I’m no longer a civil servant is not unrelated to the fact that the ineptitude and focus on looking good rather doing good that’s shown in The Thick of It is only a mild exaggeration, not a fiction. Watching my own work traumas play out on television each week was at the best of times, not fun and at the worst of times downright depressing.
On top of that you’ve got a level of dejection about the general state of politics in the UK at the moment. I’ll skip too much of a rant about that, but when the very same policies that are being proposed by our erstwhile politicians are being presciently written in The Thick of It as jokes and ways to distract attention, you can’t help but get a bit sad about the whole thing. Real-life politics appears to be muscling in on comedy-politics’ ideas, and while that’s not the show’s fault, it does make it rather harder to laugh.
Aside from my discomfort however, I felt there were wider problems with the show this season. The structure of the series was just plain odd. Fully half the cast was absent from the first episode, and given that it was the ‘good’ half of the cast, the result was a very poor start. But then we swept to the opposition side and with Nicola, Ollie and Malcolm it felt like the good old days again, the characters are extreme but not unbelievable and there was a good balance of politics and humour. Every time we returned to the coalition side it felt weak and ridiculous. So many of the characters were just painfully over the top, I actually had to mute sections of it just because I couldn’t stand to listen to Terri, Stewart or Phil a lot of the time. With over a dozen major characters fighting for time subtlety went out of the window a lot of the time, and with it went credibility and coherence.
Eventually we reached the double length inquiry episode that everything had been building towards, a great hour of television, astonishingly talented actors just conveying their characters without any distractions beyond a glass of water to play with. Watching the characters each try to score political points, then squirm as they tried to protect themselves and eventually outright lie was fascinating and painful. BUT great as that episode was, it just didn’t justify the other 6 episodes being so weak.
I also have to confess that at times I really was quite confused about what was going on, what the truth really was and whether any of the plots were anywhere near realistic. Would there really be an inquiry into leaking? Surely not – no one in government would want it, and the press wouldn’t really call for it either given how much they benefit. Then the questions of the inquiry drift off into the wilderness and there’s still no answer about who actually leaked either the medical file or the email chain. Did Malcolm really leak a “civilian’s” file, and even if he did was he really so stupid or arrogant that he got caught? I kept waiting for everything to be explained in the final episode, Malcolm’s master plan to be unveiled, but instead we were just left to watch as he went a bit loopy and then… just as he took a breath for his final glorious tirade putting everyone in their place, he just faded away.
I can’t say that I’m sad that this was the end of Thick of It. Be it the change in government which pulled their characters apart , my own increased familiarity with the subject, or just the fact that the fictional policies and politicians are way too close to the reality to be funny, but this season made me more sad than entertained. Whereas previously the colourful language seemed eloquent and creative, now it felt vicious and bullying. There were still some hilarious lines and stories, and some truly incredible performances (Peter Capaldi and Rebecca Front were absolutely amazing), but I think the show doesn’t really work any more.