Friday, May 12, 2006

Funny UK Politics

Beginning tonight, BBC America is airing The Thick of It, a political satire -- and a satire about the workings of politics -- that hits the mark.

Narrative political satire hardly exists on American television nowadays. There is a good satirical fake news program (The Daily Show) and a fine fake talk show (The Colbert Report), and some abysmally toothless skits performed on the likes of Saturday Night Live. None of those are really narrative programs about the workings of politics. In 2001 Comedy Central turned Stone and Parker (of South Park) loose to create That's My Bush which featured a dimwitted Texan as President. That show wasn't really about politics -- it was a satire based on the tropes of sitcoms, and nearly incidentally set in the White House. It was fairly dumb and very rarely funny about politics, though occasionally it was worth a laugh for other reasons. You'd have to reach back farther in time to come up with an American TV political satire that is about politics itself and not primarily focused on the media, as was Franken's LateLine.

As for politician satire in movies -- we Americans don't seem to do it very well anymore, either. Bulworth? I couldn't sit through it. Dave? A very bland romantic comedy with some soporific "politics" grafted on. There are many good movies with political themes (here's but one: Citizen Ruth), but few in recent times that poke fun at the general run of politics in D.C.

The Thick of It really is about politics and the people who do politics. It doesn't get laughs with jokey one-liners about how fat this minister is or how stupid that aide is (though plenty of stupidity is displayed). Shot mockumentary style, it follows the workings of a fictional government department in constant hot water with the Prime Minister, his vicious Scottish enforcer, the press, and even members of the public. .

It's the creation of Armando Iannucci, who has had a hand in quite a few funny things (Alan Partridge in various incarnations, On The Hour, and The Day Today, for instance). The cast is a treat, led by the wonderfully befuddled Chris Langham recently of the peculiarly funny series Help! and the magnficient creation that is People Like Us, in both its television and (marginally superior, to me) radio incarnations.

As might be expected, a lot of people compare The Thick of It with the 1980's classic Yes, Minister, another stellar UK political satire. They both are top-notch examples of the sitcom styles of the time applied to politics. They both have more going on than just being laugh-machines. And they develop themes in ways that US sitcoms (even the best ones) don't even attempt to. (Iannucci himself has described Thick as a cross between Yes, Minister and The Larry Sanders Show--which is not a bad description.)

So, Americans with access to BBC America, tune in tonight for the following five Friday nights at 9 pm ET, 10 pm PT for a little something you can't get at home.

I'm praying that BBC America doesn't do it's usual schedule-juggling, which can make watching a series a true headache. But, in this case, it'll be worth it. On the positive side, however, BBC America has a page with links to a slang guide and a glossary. Though each is paltry, they should help us Yanks understand the lingo a little bit better.

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