Monday, June 12, 2006

The Thick of It on BBC America

Imagine that David Mamet, Ricky Gervais and John Major meet at a party. They hit it off.

In a burst of creative inspiration fueled by Jack Daniels and honey slides, they sit down and hammer out a succession of scripts for a TV comedy. It is laden with bleeped-out eff bombs, discussions about cleaning piss and being pissed on (literal and metaphorical), misogyny, obscene gestures, and neckties. They sell it to BBC under the title The Thick of It. It is, miraculously, in heavy rotation on BBC America.

The show combines elements the original U.K. version of The Office with Deadwood. The Thick of It centers around the staff of an ambitious, hot-tempered and insecure cabinet minister in British Parliament. He's no caricature or empty suit, just, like all of us, prone to screwing up under pressure. A collection of assholes with British accents attend meetings where they belittle each other and shout. No turf is too petty to defend. There aren't plots so much as extended orchestras of oneupsmanship. The prevailing ethos appears to be that once you've humiliated yourself, the only remedy is humiliating everyone around you. It's occasionally impenetrable, and was made for repeat viewing.

In the most recent episode, the Minister spends days in a fit of insecurity after being told by one of Tony Blair's men that Cherie Blair doesn't like him. Venting to his staff, the dialogue includes the following:
"We didn't click? We were talking about the fucking Euro! How are you supposed to click about the fucking Euro? It's fucking impossible."
"Apparently, the PM's wife didn't like me. Did you know this? ... Two reasons. Cut of my jib and insufficient clicking. So consequently I'm going to be a minor footnote to British political history because I didn't have an engaging enough anecdote about Charlotte Church's puppies."
"Between the snatch and the Euro, there's some sort of happy medium."
Unlike The Office and Office Space, this isn't set in cubicles that house quirky-but-sympathetic workaday drones. It's ferocious -- a hothouse profession of private offices and egos and insecurities, where longstanding hatred barely stays contained and frequently explodes. Hence, I find it relateable.

Blair's top man, shouting, apoplectic in his Scottish accent, over cross-dialogue that I rewound several times:
"Come back in here! Hey! Fuck! Julius! Get the fuck back in here! Please. Please. Let's be civilized. ... There aren't human resources. Let's be civilized. Go over to your fucking pantry. Right. Right. Let's just cool it for one minute. Okay? Cool it. And just fucking. Cool it for one minute. Fuck. Shut up and fucking listen to me. This is an old fucking Georgian door. Do you know how long this has been here? Since the time of Elizabeth I, at least. Now look at that. That does not open. Look at it. Look at it. Try to open it. Come on. Character building. Team building. Put your hand on mine. Try to open the door. It's my fucking door! Open the fucking door!"
The point of this conflict? Trying to bully a consultant into opening a door only for the sake of making him open a door.

Later, a member of the cabinet minister's staff insults that same consultant when he's standing directly in front of him, an attack somehow made better by the third-person pronoun:
"I'd like to nail him to a tree through the head and watch lice slowly crawl over his body eating all of his flesh in a slow and painful death, but that rather bitter anomoly aside, most of the responses to the Warrant Report press conference were pretty positive."
Another great riff:
"Since when, Glen, since when, does the secretary of state for social affairs have to find out from the fucking press that every morning at 8:30 I'm being fisted up to the gall bladder by a bald man?"
You see their thin, pasty skins melt in real time.

The Hon. Hugh Abbot, P.C., does not want to hear
about your mother's piss.

1 comment:

ErolB said...

Excellent review - was wondering how it would be viewed on your side of the pond. Malcolm Tucker has some of the greatest lines in television ever delivered by a senior management character.

"Hey Hugh, I'm gonna install a swear box on Monday"
"Really?"
"No you fucking twat..."