Excited as I was about the return of Thick last week, there was one key ingredient missing. It was like a sausage sandwich without butter on the bread. Delicious, but somehow incomplete.
I’m referring of course to Malcolm Tucker.
Gone though was the all-powerful, all-knowing fuck-off machine of the last three series. In his place an even more cynical, more philosophical but no less foul-mouthed Malcolm dealing with the realities of his party being out of power, specifically the ascent to the leadership throne of Nicola Murray, who is as hapless as ever. You didn’t need to see the show to know how he was going to respond to that. He wants her gone and is scheming already.
Some of the minor characters from earlier series, like Dan Miller and Ben Swain, have more prominent roles in opposition and Murray has a new character, Helen Hatley, ‘looking after’ her in a predictably inept (albeit loyal) fashion. Ollie is as big a shit as ever.
After being ever so slightly underwhelmed by the first episode I’m now really getting into the series. Of course Tucker being back with his fantastically inappropriate cracks about Rwandan genocide just makes one’s life better, but it’s more than that. The ideas underpinning the show are starting to become clearer.
The balance of power has shifted, politically and professionally. Tucker’s power to instil fear has diminished, which makes sense. The old fear and deference has gone (there is a telling moment when he has to put his glasses on to read one of Ollie’s texts, a previously unimaginable moment of weakness and mortality). He has to rely on his brains a bit more than his mouth, although the moment when he tells Helen that she is nothing more than “a mouse in a maze” is brilliant.
Much as I would love to pretend otherwise from an artistic and political point of view, and have Malcolm in government doing what he did brilliantly, the show has to reflect the changes in British politics. The all-powerful spin doctors of the Blair/Campbell era just don’t have the same resonance now, do they?
The tone of the show is more sombre in government and opposition, and in its own way almost more political. All the key ingredients are there and it is still a joy to watch, but it is feeling its way around the new realities, as we all did in 2010.
Probably the best thing about the earlier series’ of Thick was that it was probably the only show to really nail the New Labour years. Mocking the Tories was and is quite easy, but it was much harder for vaguely progressive types to mock ‘their’ lot once they got in.
So I think many of us under-estimated how hard it would be for the show to switch focus to the Tories, which I think explains part of the reaction to the first episode. We (and I include myself in this) were expecting too much. We wanted it to be the same as the previous three series but with a slightly different cast. It can’t and won’t work like that. The show was conceived as a satire of New Labour and the makers are actually quite brave to re-calibrate the show for a different set of circumstances.