“I want to feel like we’re sort of eavesdropping on reality,” Iannucci says of this quick-and-dirty style. “We’re seeing something we shouldn’t really be seeing. Or we’re getting the first slightly unedited rushes of a tape that was only made for private viewing. I want to get that slightly raw, manic, unpolished sense of nervousness.” He puts his actors in much the same position by shoving them in front of the cameras before they’re completely familiar with the script, hoping to catch “that slightly panicked look in their eye, which is genuine.”
Panic and paranoia are the overriding tropes of The Thick of It. The first two seasons focused mainly on the ongoing struggle of the newly installed Abbott to keep his position, especially during the cabinet reshuffling that dominated the second season. And one of the holiday specials brilliantly captured a long night of endless spin as politicians, advisers, and enforcers jostle for position during the search for a new prime ministerial candidate. (We also see the increasing anxiety of the Daily Mail editor as he tries to make sense of the madly conflicting reports he’s getting from his inside sources.)
Iannucci’s Jesuit education has stuck with him: he always writes from a sturdy moral foundation. The same can hardly be said of his favorite subjects, the government and the press, whose yin-and-yang rapport causes them to either parasitically feed off one another or butt heads. No one comes off well in this over-amped version of civic power. Politicians attempt to control the media, which in turn suck up to them for “exclusives” and insider information. At the same time, the press sits in prim judgment of politicians, often narrowing its focus to trivial lifestyle or behavioral issues (see Bill Clinton).
But in the end, we really have no one to blame but ourselves. As Iannucci said on The South Bank Show in 2006: “We’re responsible because we buy the papers and we like a juicy scandal.” He admits the American press is less aggressively adversarial toward politicians and celebrities than its British counterpart. That may explain why even a kinder, gentler American spinoff of The Thick of It was rejected by ABC after the pilot was filmed.
Meanwhile, the most recent season of the show seems to defy whatever boundaries Iannucci had established earlier. Tucker punches the senior adviser to Nicola Murray, the new minister of social affairs and citizenship, in the nose during the heat of yet another brutal triage session. And Murray herself (played to frumpy perfection by Rebecca Front) breaks down in tears in front of Tucker when her daughter’s school headmaster is dragged into the political fray and forced to resign. Murray questions the point of all the ceaseless tactical maneuvering practiced by the government, its opposition, and the press.
“It’s a fucking war,” Tucker rationalizes. “Now you can’t change a thing unless you win the war.”
“Does it never occur to you that your poisonous male obsession with conflict is making people despise politics?” Murray replies.
While the poisonous male obsession with conflict takes center stage in In the Loop, the press plays a somewhat smaller role. Yet it’s by no means removed from the equation. In fact, Iannucci claims that his frustration with the tyranny of the infinite news cycle prior to the invasion of Iraq inspired the film. Like all news consumers, he had the sense of being bombarded with too much information and far less analysis. It was exactly this feast-and-famine scenario that transformed The Daily Show into one of the country’s most trusted news sources, even if Stewart’s analysis was packaged as entertainment.
In the Loop walks the audience through the preamble to a U.S.-manufactured war in the Middle East. Britain is drawn in when a mediocre minister deviates from the official line by first stammering that war is “unforeseeable” (thereby suggesting its possibility) and then suggesting his country might have to “climb the mountain of conflict” down the line. “You sound like a fucking Nazi Julie Andrews!” screams Tucker, frantically and unsuccessfully stuffing the genie back in the bottle.