I recently came across a British series called The Thick of It. This documentary style political satire is about the inner-workings of government. It originally aired in 2005 and ran for three short seasons with two specials in 2007. There were a couple of additional seasons afterwards that ran on a different BBC channel.
The show revolves around the Minister of Social Affairs and his staff. Not surprisingly, their incompetence, anxieties and general lack of interest in, or ability to do anything meaningful is the heart of the show. The other major character is the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications played by the fabulous Scottish actor Peter Capaldi. He’s foul mouthed in a peculiarly British way, high-strung and really very funny.
The show and its actors have won numerous awards. An attempt was made to do an American version in 2007 directed by Christopher Guest. This never aired and its original creator and writer Armando Iannucci (who was an Executive Producer on this remake) commented, “It was terrible…they took the idea and chucked out all the style. It was all conventionally shot and there was no improvisation or swearing. It didn’t get picked up, thank God.”
U.S. remakes of BBC sitcoms often lose something in translation. There’s a well-known British sensibility of “taking the piss out” that is somehow foreign to North Americans. Even when the American remakes are pretty good, such as The Office, they are still gentler, nicer and more sentimental than the British originals.
Last year, the second American remake of The Thick of It, Veep, was launched. This show is written, directed and produced by Iannucci and more closely captures the chaos behind the scenes and the absence of principles of the main characters. It’s set in the office of Selina Meyer, a fictional Vice President of the United States and stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Seinfeld fame. The series is on HBO, so it allows the swearing and meanness so vital to the British version.
– Minda Sherman