Politics played for laughs

Iannucci skews U.K. government with 'Thick'

LONDON — The sitcom has become a lynchpin of TV since those days of flickering black-and-white images.

But will the “polcom” — comedies that skew politics — enter the showbiz lexicon in the age of high-definition and flat-panel screens? Absolutely, if Armando Iannucci gets his way.

Writer, director, performer and newspaper columnist Iannucci, an amiable chatty Scot of Italian descent, is one of Blighty’s funniest and most acerbic humorists. His own work and collaborations with envelope-pushing talents Steve Coogan and Chris Morris has generated several gems, including news satire “The Day Today,” “Alan Partridge” (a sharp spoof on an absurdly conceited talkshow host) and last year’s “Time Trumpet.”

Set in the future “Trumpet,” looks back on events by cleverly juxtaposing mock celebrity interviews alongside edited documentary footage.

Arguably, Iannucci’s work helped pave the way for the deadpan and excruciating brilliance of “The Office.”

A U.S. version of Iannucci’s latest creation, the much-feted BBC series “The Thick of It,” was recently piloted by ABC but failed to win a series order. Program is a raw, coruscating political satire — hence polcom — that sends up the culture and black art of spin as apparently perfected by the Tony Blair government.

The U.S. adaptation moved the action to Washington, D.C., and was developed by Michael Hurwitz, creator of the Emmy Award-winning laffer “Arrested Development.”

Set in the corridors of power, the premise behind “The Thick of It” is that government is controled by a coterie of cynical and sinister PR men who manipulate our elected representatives. The acting is partly improvised and the show is filmed using hand-held cameras. Four-letter words proliferate as the dialogue crackles with incendiary one-liners.

Launched two years ago on upscale digital channel BBC4, “The Thick of It” immediately grew into a cult show and won immediate critical kudos. The show was “inspired, seemingly effortless and far too close for comfort,” observed the Daily Telegraph. It was “very funny, simultaneously depressing and elating,” echoed the Independent.

The series has won new comedy kudos and comedy performer for its star, actor Chris Langham, at the 2005 British Comedy Awards and won for situation comedy and comedy performance, also for Langham, at last year’s BAFTAs.

Recently “The Thick of It” reappeared on BBC4 as a two-part special, “Rise of the Nutters” and “Spinners and Losers,” to coincide with Blair’s exit and the emergence of Britain’s new prime minister, Gordon Brown.

Would Brown’s promise to end spin signal a premature end to “The Thick of It?” Hardly.

“There is just as much spin as ever,” said Iannucci. “The latest spin is there is no spin. Gordon Brown has already been mounting an anti-spin campaign, but he has spin doctors telling us that.”

Despite ABC passing on the show, Iannucci has not given up on eventually getting “The Thick of It” adapted for U.S. auds. The hope is that a cabler such as HBO will be brave enough to take it on.

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