Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Thick of It: Seasons 1-4 DVD review

Since the folks at the BBC tell me that today’s complete series DVD release of The Thick of It, starring the new Doctor Peter Capaldi, is entirely coincidental, I’ll have to take their word as gold. I thought for certain there was some kind of mild conspiracy at work here - to get this out on DVD in the U.S. just days after the news broke - but they assure me that is not the case. So let’s just assume that a little bit of the Capaldi/Doctor magic is already at work, because this is a series that’s never been available on DVD in the States (though it’s been streaming through Hulu for some time), and its presence on a R1 silver platter is long, long overdue.

The Thick of It - a biting, gut-wrenchingly hilarious farce/satire - traces the frequently inept goings-on within the lower levels of British government. Though members of the cast routinely drop out and are replaced (as would be apt to occur on the political playing field in the real world), Capaldi’s vicious, acid-tongued spin doctor Malcolm Tucker is always present, and generally recognized as the character who dictates the pulse of the series. You can no doubt tell that he’s a major cog in this wheel by the fact that his face is plastered across the front of the DVD box. It might even lead you to believe he’s the star of the series, but really he is not, as the show is often an ensemble effort – it’s just that Capaldi’s role allows for him to shine the brightest. Tucker has mastered the art of being a vulgarian. There is no seeming end to the parade of colorful profanities that spew from his mouth, and it’s a marriage of actor and writing born in TV heaven. If similar magic happens with him on Doctor Whoand I predict it will - we’re in for quite the treat.

Much of the fantastic, whizz-bang, listen-close-or-youll-miss-it writing is done by series creator Armando Iannucci, who has since gone on to create Veep for HBO, a series which is very, very good, but not as great as The Thick of It. There could be numerous reasons why that is. Certainly it’d be easy to suggest that it’s because Veep does not feature Capaldi as Tucker, and it’s noteworthy that Iannucci never even tried to replicate Tucker on Veep in the form of another character – because that sort of success cannot be duplicated. But I think the real reason The Thick of It is the stronger series of the two is because Iannucci’s talents err on the side of the U.K. He was born in and raised on Scotland (like Capaldi). It’s who he is as a person, and that’s where his writing shines the brightest. When I watch Veep, I often find myself thinking, American politicos and their ilk aren’t smart enough to talk like this.” It in no way ruins Veep for me, but it does sometimes take me out of the reality of the show. Such thoughts never occur while watching The Thick of It, though, admittedly, that may have more to do with my idealization of the U.K. and its peoples than anything else.

In any case, The Thick of It is a Britcom that belongs on the same short list of series that includes Fawlty Towers, Absolutely Fabulous, Blackadder, and The Office. It’s that perfect, and one of the great achievements in the U.K. pop cultural lexicon. Since 2005, there have been four seasons and two Christmas specials – all are contained within this set, alongside an extensive host of extras including deleted scenes, commentary tracks, and featurettes. To be honest, I’ve not even had the chance explore every nook and cranny of the set, as I just received it late last week. But I’ve seen and reviewed enough TV on DVD over the years to instantly recognize that this collection is TV on DVD done right, and with the big announcement this week, I felt that I had to get something up on the day of its release. So here we are. Now go forth and do whatever it takes to procure a copy of this fooking brilliant DVD, ya pissbowl!