Last night on BBC4 we watched the third, and sad to say, final part of Armando Iannucci's The Thick of It. The show follows MP Hugh Abbot's attempts to do his job in a political climate of constant spin and on-the-hoof policy making. He's ineptly aided by civil servants who are as confused as he is and all of them live in constant fear of the Number Ten Policy Co-ordinator Malcolm Tucker - think Alistair Campbell crossed with a Rottweiler... actually no. Just think Alistair Campbell.
The show has a little of Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm about it as it's partly improvised by the cast, but is held together by Iannucci's assured direction and Jesse Armstrong's delightfully unpleasant writing. Here's Chris Langham who plays Hugh:
"What's brilliant about Armando deciding to do it in this way is that we were sort of replicating what it must be like to actually be in government. One gets the impression that day-to-day life in a ministry is much more kick, bollock and scramble than it is five-year plan. So the terror of improvisation really fuels the reality of that energy. Politicians are driven by the fear of 'What do I say next?' That look of terror in my eyes is exactly the look of terror in the eyes of most politicians on most days".
Unlike say The Office, which is genuinely uncomfortable to watch, The Thick of It actually makes you worry for the characters. Hugh is no David Brent in that you actually feel sorry for the poor bastard. He's completely lost in his new post and every time he tries to do the right thing Malcolm is only a phone call away to tell him ten ways that he has screwed up.
The show's highlights include a brainstorming session in the back of a car as the minister and his civil servants try desperately to think up a topic for the press conference they are already on their way to after Malcolm refuses to allow them to make their original planned announcement. The best they can come up with is a national spare room database, the idea of pet asbos and the enforced use of carrier bags.
There are video clips here for those of you that want a taster or perhaps want to relive last night's "They should just clone ministers so we're born at 55 with no past and no flats and no genitals".
Now the show has finished its BBC4 run (and why only three episodes? we could have watched this for the rest of the year) it will be heading for a bigger audience probably on BBC2 and with one of those polite warnings beforehand about language. The Thick of It is one of the most sweary shows we've seen on the Beeb in a long time. Indeed we can already quote lines to annoy people in the pub... "Personal reasons? What, stuffing a cat up my arse and having a wank?"
It's interesting to think of Blair sitting down to watch a carefully edited ten minutes of this on his own weekly instant zeitgeist tapes... Roll on season two and a nicely padded DVD please.