In preparation for the new season of Doctor Who, complete with Peter Capaldi, I decided to get acquainted with his most well-known character–Malcolm Tucker.
The Thick of It is one of those backstage looks at politics. Like the West Wing, if everyone was terrible. It’s very similar to Veep, an American show currently on HBO, which is hilarious and similarly cynical and foul-mouthed. Veep is loosely based on The Thick of It. The show aired sporadically in the UK, with a new series every ~2 years from 2005-2012. I watched it on Hulu, where you can see every episode.
Capaldi’s Tucker is the scheming, profane, morally-bankrupt spindoctor/slavedriver for the PM. Technically, I think he’s a director of communications, but they all see him as an enforcer. He keeps everyone in line. It’s his job to fire people when it’s good for the PM, or convince them to jump on a grenade to save the government, or to yell at them until they correct their colossal errors. He’s a truly terrible person. But Capaldi is brilliant. I love everything about him in this show. I mean, I love to swear, so anyone that can swear that much, and in a Glaswegian accent, has won my heart forever.
He’s delightful to watch, but I wouldn’t last one day working for him. I don’t mind swearing, but the constant insults and threats of violence..and occasional actual violence…I’d quit after our first conversation. He’s terrifying.
Ollie is a dreadful soulless human being. Glen is a good person, but he’s old and seems to become more useless each season. Terri is a civil servant, and isn’t really invested in the policy decisions or outcomes.
There are also the ministers of this department (the fictional DoSac). These alternate between an old man, a guy that looks like a deflated Muppet,
You’ve got a good mix of civil servants and party-specific staff. This is something most Americans may not pick up on. Civil servants in the UK (generally) keep their job even when the government switches parties. The advisers to the ministers have to leave when the majority party switches, and they may lose their jobs completely. Some will keep working for (what is now) the opposition party, in the ‘Shadow’ government. In America, some jobs are generally replaced when a new administration comes in, but the majority of them are not. Also something that is not common in American politics: the reshuffle. Sometimes a PM will decide to just re-assign the ministers in the Cabinet. The Foreign Secretary could become the Home Secretary, the Home Secretary could become the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the US, the president has to get congressional approval of Cabinet appointments (and a lot of other positions), so wholesale reshuffles are very rare. People are usually replaced on a case-by-case basis. Also in the US, not all positions are filled by persons in the same political party, and US Cabinet members are not legislators.
I digress. If you enjoy watching swearing and bureaucracy, you’ll like this show. It’s funny, it’s cynical, sarcastic, clever. But…I found myself feeling a bit tired by the end. Tired of the idea that the government is run entirely by idiots, egomaniacs, and the morally-bankrupt. I get the same feeling when I watch Veep or Scandal for too long. House of Cards would completely destroy any faith I have in government, so I’m avoiding it. Both the British and US versions. You do start to wonder–are these the best employees the government can get? Are these the best leaders?! Not a good sign for modern civilization.
The cynicism fatigue aside, it’s a good show. It gives you a great look at Capaldi and what he can do. I will say it might leave you wondering why he doesn’t just threaten and swear at the Daleks to get them to fuck off. So be warned about that kind of bleed through.