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Gateway Episodes: The Thick of It

Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) in The Thick of It.
Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) in The Thick of It.

Still from Season 3, Episode 2

If you’re anxiously awaiting the next season of HBO’s Veep and you still haven’t watched The Thick of Itan earlier show from the same creator, Armando Iannucci—well, that’s just irresponsible. But whether or not you’re a fan of the Julia Louis-Dreyfus show, you should know that there’s a series out there that is razor sharp, full of incisive political satire, and very, very funny.  

The Thick of It follows the inner workings of the fictional Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship (DoSAC), which is blessed by a series of fumbling ministers, slimy underlings, and “deepshit legacy-distracting cockups.” If you’ve never been sold on the show, watch Episode 2 of Season 3. It’ll convince you to watch the whole thing.

The episode begins with a new minister at DoSAC, Nicola Murray (Rebecca Front), but the arrival of a new minister won’t be too much of a roadblock for new viewers: Characters disappear right and left on this show. The flustered Nicola has been on the job for less than a week and someone in her office has managed to delete the immigration records of 170,000 people. The prime minister’s communications director, Malcolm Tucker, is quick to inform her (in terms that are almost exclusively expletives) that this is not an ideal situation.

The character of Tucker is reason enough to elevate The Thick of It over Veep. Our celebrated villain is played by the brilliant Peter Capaldi, who delivers profanity of the highest imaginable caliber at a whiplash-inducing velocity. This particular episode also sees command performances from DoSAC employees Glenn Cullen (James Smith), Ollie Reeder (Chris Addison), Terri Coverly (Joanna Scanlan), and Robyn Murdoch (Polly Kemp), who scramble to pacify Malcolm and recover the lost records.

The episode is the perfect introduction to The Thick of It because it gives ample screentime to each character you’ll grow to love (or love to hate), and also because it encapsulates the show’s singular tone. I won’t be the first person to point out that The Thick of It is a much darker show than its American cousin. Veep is full of bombastic goofballs who somehow manage to remain loveable even through their worst machinations. But no one in the British government, by contrast, has such people skills. The world of The Thick of It is a cesspool of dizzying negligence, unimaginable incompetence, and brutal cynicism. All of this is illustrated by this exchange, in which Nicola apologizes to Malcolm for losing the immigration records and Malcolm, in turn, dismisses the idea that the DoSAC could come up with any policy that would be remotely significant:

Before rewatching this episode, I had forgotten that line about the stilts. But that’s one of the great things about this show: It’s so wall-to-wall with great lines that on a second viewing, you’ll always catch something you didn’t the first time around. And unlike other series from across the pond that can be hard to track down, The Thick of It is available at your convenience. It’s on iTunes! It’s on Amazon! It’s on Hulu! Get to it. OK. Fuckity bye.

Listen to David Weigel’s interview with Armando Iannucci.

Check out the Gateway Episodes for The SopranosSex and the City, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and more.