New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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Off the Radar: Suits, swears and ‘Succession’ in ‘The Thick of It’

Off the Radar is a weekly column surveying overlooked films and shows available to students for free via NYU’s streaming partnerships. “The Thick of It” is available to stream on Kanopy.
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Qianshan Weng
“The Thick of It” is available through NYU’s streaming partners. (Illustration by Qianshan Weng)

“Succession” gave us enlightened investigations of love, business and identity, while being a blisteringly funny television series. For fans of British programming, or anybody particularly inquisitive about the hit HBO series’ roots, this will come as little surprise: Jesse Armstrong, the series’ English showrunner and creator, boasts a storied resume in comedy. Not only did he create two cult-classic British TV sitcoms “Peep Show” (2003-2015) and “Fresh Meat” (2011-2016), Armstrong also served as one of the most frequent writers on “The Thick of It”  (2005-2012), the dry, crude and hilarious political satire with which “Succession” shares much of its DNA.

“The Thick of It,” which was created by Armando Iannucci, is set in the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship, a fictional branch of the British government. We follow the Minister for Social Affairs, Hugh Abbot (the disgraced Chris Langham) in the first and second seasons, then Nicola Murray (Rebecca Front) in the third and fourth, and other civil servants as they deal with issues like data breaches, power struggles and lying under oath in televised court hearings — if any of those sound familiar. Looming over the department all the while is Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), the government’s uniquely vitriolic and sweary director of communications — “Iago with a Blackberry,” as a character says on the show.

Unlike “Succession,” Ianunucci’s comedy is fundamentally straightforward. It’s a critique of bureaucracy, the human follies that define political terrain and the lengths to which people will go to maintain appearances. But the qualifier of good satire tends not to be the message so much as the messaging itself. “The Thick of It” is famous for its dialogue, which is some of the most intelligent ever put to screen. Here, extreme language reflects the constant existential threats faced in government. Nobody’s just unhelpful, they’re as “useless as a Marzipan dildo.” Nobody’s just a bit dim, they’re “so dense that light bends around [them].” Episodes are also so famously riddled with expletives that swearing consultant Ian Martin had to be brought on.

The show’s intensely choreographed camerawork, masquerading as frenetic and run-and-gun, beautifully communicates a symphony of mayhem. There is notably no music in “The Thick of It” so as not to undermine the dullness of bureaucracy throughout the show. Performances across the board are creative and pitch-perfect.

With our politicians in the real world often looking like clowns running across a minefield, it’s sometimes difficult to remember this show is a satire and not a genuine fly-on-the-wall documentary — a realization that is both cathartic and sobering. If you’re a fan of “Succession,” you will probably be a fan of “The Thick of It.” For everybody else, if you’re looking for something to watch and have any predisposition to arresting writing or good television in general, “The Thick of It” absolutely deserves a moment of your time — British cynicism has never been more fun.

Contact Elio Kaczmarek at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Qianshan Weng, Multimedia Editor
Qianshan Weng is a junior studying Media, Culture and Communication and Journalism. You may pronounce his name as "chi''en-shan", or, if it makes your life easier, just call him "Ben." He grew up in Shenzhen, China, and has spent the last five years or so saying that he wants to learn Cantonese. The answers to the questions "when will he finally start?" and "why is this taking him so long?" remain mysteries, even to himself. You can reach out to him at [email protected]

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