TV UK, 11 November
The Thick of It: a nastier version of The Office.
The Thick of It has until now only been available on the digital channel BBC4, but rather than follow the usual routine of bringing it to BBC2 after a while, the BBC has made the whole second series available on the internet (1).
Actually, the whole series comprises three half-hour episodes, but still, this is a bit of a breakthrough. Now that increasing numbers of people have broadband and sufficiently powerful computers, it is possible to use the internet for more than brief film trailers, football goals and other less savoury clips. You can actually watch whole programmes and even films with decent picture quality and without ‘buffering’ problems. The question is rather whether people want to sit and ‘watch’ their computers. For the time being the answer is probably not really, unless people have the wherewithall to hook up their computers to a proper TV set.
It is perhaps fitting that this series in particular is likely to be watched in offices rather than living rooms, however. The Thick of It is political satire, but not of the moronic type seen in A Very Social Secretary, for example (2). Its object is the behind-the-scenes office culture of government, the scheming, backstabbing and mundane meanness.
Of course, the ‘politics of spin’ is particularly associated with New Labour, and the bullying Scottish chief political advisor is clearly modelled on Alistair Campbell, but what’s being satirised is more general than that. While Yes, Minister took off from the peculiar patrician culture of old-fashioned government mandarins, The Thick of It could just as easily be set in the media or in business. It’s like a nastier version of The Office.
The title perhaps refers to the same undeniable but ultimately delusory sense of ‘being there’ and ‘doing it’ that is familiar from The West Wing. These people are after all in powerful positions, but there is no time or space for them to do anything but respond to events and manage crises.
In the first episode a young pup is asked to get information from his new girlfriend, who works for ‘the opposition’. When he objects, the chief political advisor demands to know if he is a ‘soldier’ or if he plans to go and work for a think-tank and write ‘on one hand this, on the other hand that’. But ultimately, these soldiers have no idea what they are fighting for, and the only thing that separates them from regional managers at Burger King is that they have influence on the media, where much the same frenzy of meaningless activity can be found.
For this reason, I can see The Thick of It proving popular online, with co-workers being called over to someone’s workstation to watch a particularly funny scene; certainly there are some good lines and set pieces. Perhaps it will even spark a new genre of workplace-set online satire. It’s about time we moved on from ‘funny’ emails.
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