An oven-fresh episode of rebooted British satirical puppet show “Spitting Image” was rewritten at the last minute to include Thursday night’s news of President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump’s coronavirus diagnoses.
The show will bow on BBC Studios and ITV Studios’ streamer BritBox from Oct. 3. The first episode that was screened to press at a launch event in London on Friday featured the Trumps in quarantine, with the President tweeting away and Melania fiercely objecting.
Comedian Matt Forde, who voices both Trump and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said of his interpretation of the President, “You’re showing him for the populist he is, for the incompetent that he is, for the shallow idiot that he is. ‘Spitting Image’ gives you so much freedom to punch every level of him. So, we have a way of doing satire on ‘Spitting Image’ that no other show can really do.”
“I don’t really set out to offend people,” said showrunner Jeff Westbrook (“The Simpsons,” “Futurama”). “I’m not sure we’re here to offend for the sake of offending people, and I hope people take it in the spirit of satire.”
Without giving away spoilers, Variety can reveal that the episode features caricatures of Johnson, his adviser Dominic Cummings, U.K. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, activist Greta Thunberg, Prince Andrew, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, home secretary Priti Patel, foreign secretary Dominic Raab, cabinet office minister Michael Gove, racing driver Lewis Hamilton and the Trumps and Joe Biden, among others.
When asked about caricaturing Thunberg, who is 17, Jess Robinson, who voices the Swedish activist as well as Melania Trump, Kim Kardashian, Ardern, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others, said, “With other characters we can really go in, but with Greta it is a bit more affectionate. She’s an amazing character and I think some of the sketches get quite whimsical. Nothing is about her being autistic or anything like that.”
The original series of “Spitting Image” ran on U.K. broadcaster ITV from 1984-1996. Roger Law, co-creator of the series, returns for the revival that is produced by Avalon Television.
BritBox U.K. first unveiled plans for a reboot in March to much fanfare. Will Harrison, U.K. managing director for the platform, said during a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch earlier this week that the “timing was right” for the show. The timing was also exactly right for the fledgling service, which has needed a punchy original to make some noise in a saturated SVOD landscape.
“Topicality drives conversation, which is part of what we wanted to do,” said Harrison, who assured that the program will still have a “shelf life” beyond each weekly episode.
BritBox is also adding a compilation of the original series’ 14 best episodes, as well as seasons 1-10, back on the platform. Reemah Sakaan, chief creative and brand officer for BritBox, said the platform is “spending a lot of time” discussing the boundaries of comedy, noting a “continuous review policy for everything that goes onto BritBox.” The service removed controversial variety show “Little Britain” over the summer due to its use of blackface.
Asked by Variety about the “Spitting Image” writers’ room, Sakaan said the show employs two rooms in the U.S. and U.K. that are headed up by Westbrook and Forde. The group spans 40 writers, with scribes such as Al Murray and Sophie Duker moving in and out.
“It’s a very balanced male and female team,” said Sakaan. “We’ve been really hot on making sure that we’ve got really good representation, so within our voice team, [actors like] Brenda Stephenson and Indira Varma cover different characters and voices. We also don’t necessarily match female writers with female storylines.”