Judge Erich Asperschlager is the It of Thick.
"Come on people, let's get going here! I've got a to-do list here that's longer than a f***ing Leonard Cohen song!"
American audiences might know Armando Iannucci from HBO's surprise hit Veep. They may not know that before he and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss upended D.C. politics he did it to his own government with the BBC series The Thick Of It, available in its full-series run in a 7-disc Seasons 1- 4 DVD set.
Where Veep is an ensemble show centered around an ineffectual vice president, The Thick Of It is an ensemble show set in the more grounded, if equally messy, world of British government. Characters come and go. Focus shifts from one political party to the other. It's not built around a central character, although it has a de facto lead in a character who pulls everyone else into his gravitational orbit by sheer force of bullying, foul-mouthed will.
Peter Capaldi popped up in the news recently when it was announced he will be Matt Smith's successor on Doctor Who. Capaldi was an accomplished actor before being cast as the Prime Minister's "enforcer" Malcolm Tucker on The Thick Of It, but it is the role that has thus far defined his career. It's strange watching Capaldi's performance here, knowing he's going to be the next Doctor. He's powerful, arresting, and physical as Tucker. He's going to be a great Doctor Who.
I doubt Steven Moffat will let Capaldi hurl withering obscenities at Cybermen, but if he wanted to go that direction, Capaldi is more than capable. Everyone on The Thick Of It is. I'm hard-pressed to think of another TV series that uses profanity in quite the same way. Even Veep's pay cable language doesn't come close to its British predecessor. The Thick Of It is The West Wing filtered through David Mamet by way of The Big Lebowski. Iannucci even hired "swearing consultant" Ian Martin who, among other writing tasks, punched up the show's trademark colorful language.
Where the first season of Veep relied on wacky gaffes and pseudo-scandals for laughs, the funniest bits of The Thick Of It come from the varied and impeccably crafted putdowns leveled by every character against every other character. There are slip-ups aplenty in this dysfunctional government, but just as often the show grounds itself in the minutiae and small battles hard-fought that define the political process. This is especially true in The Thick Of It's last two seasons. Seasons One and Two aired in 2005 in two three-episode chunks, followed in 2007 by two hour-long specials—included in this set on the first three discs.
These early episodes feature Chris Langham as Hugh Abbot, head of the fictional Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship (DoSAC), who bumbles his way through a series of embarrassing situations with Capaldi's Tucker nipping at his heels. When the show returned in 2009 for a third season, Langham had been replaced by Rebecca Front as incoming DoSAC minister Nicola Murray, and the episode count rose from a meager three to a full eight. Over the course of Season Three, the scope of the series expanded across party lines, leaving things open for a fourth season that didn't air until 2012. The season, and the series, builds to an hourlong penultimate episode that brings everyone together in ways reminiscent of the Seinfeld finale.
If you've waited until now to watch the show, this full series set from the BBC collects everything in one imposing box. The Thick of It doesn't pretend to be a documentary but it looks like one, with handheld cameras in close quarters. The 1.78:1 standard-def presentation has the muted palette of civil servitude, and it works just fine, as does the 2.0 stereo soundtrack. You'll be able to hear every thickly accented obscenity, even if you don't catch them all.
The Thick of It: Seasons 1-4 comes with the cumulative heft of four seasons' worth of bonus features. There are audio commentaries for nearly every episode; lots of deleted scenes; stills galleries; "From Script to Screen," "Newsnight," and "Opposition Extra" featurettes; and "Out of The Thick of It" behind-the-scenes extras for all of Season Three.
British broadcast TV is known for being more permissive than American networks. Even by premium cable standards, The Thick of It is packed with artful profanity. Peter Capaldi steals the spotlight from an impressive ensemble cast with his portrayal of ruthless political attack dog Malcolm Tucker. There's a good reason his is the only face on the cover of this full-series DVD set. Get below the four-letter surface, though, and you'll find a rich world of government intrigue, scandal, and petty party politics. Armando Iannucci brought much of that magic across the pond for HBO's Veep, but it's tough to improve on the original.
"Bollocking poppy wank!" Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
Review content copyright © 2013 Erich Asperschlager; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.