[08/14/07 - 11:37 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Thick of It, The" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.

And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!

(pilot not ordered to series)

The network's description: "An adaptation of the award-winning BBC series of the same name, "The Thick of It" is an amusing and caustic behind-the-scenes look at Washington - the foolishness as well as the poignancy. The single camera pilot takes a comedic approach to the absurd world of politics, where connections and (all too often) dumb-luck can make you an overnight star. The series revolves around Albert Alger, an ambitious yet barely-elected, blundering Congressman, who stays afloat despite his staff's advice and inept dealings with the media. Keeping a watchful eye over Alger and his team is Malcolm Tucker, a high-ranking official, whose unpredictable and domineering ways are effective in enforcing the party's policy. An intimidating, skilled and smug politician, Malcolm's knack is projecting his own agenda onto the staff. The antics of Alger's bumbling office staff are led by Glen Glahm, his scattered Chief of Staff who, mortifyingly enough, makes Alger appear valiant by comparison; staff speechwriter, Ollie Tadzio, a 28-year-old whose unbridled zest might just give her a chance at being the youngest President ever, if she can survive this job unscathed; and Hope Mueller, the press secretary Alger inherited from his predecessor, who has desexualized herself to fit into the "boy's club." As insiders will attest, in politics if someone calls you a "friend," you can be damn sure they have a way to bring you down. And, after this group of friends moves in, the halls of power will never be the same. Emmy Award-winning Writer/Producer Mitch Hurwitz, the creative force behind "Arrested Development," wrote the pilot for this adaptation of the BBC series and serves as Executive Producer on the project. Acclaimed director Christopher Guest (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman) is set to direct the pilot. Serving as executive producers with Hurwitz are Paul Telegdy ("You're The One That I Want") and, creator of the original BBC series, Armando Iannucci ("I'm Alan Partridge")."

What did they leave out: "The Daily Show's" Dan Bakkedahl appears as himself during a parodied segment from the show.

The plot in a nutshell: After taking bribes from several defense contractors (not to mention being caught fondling a statue of the Lady of Justice), Rep. "Spike" Crandall (Henry Winkler in an amusing cameo) is forced to resign by the party's "enforcer" Malcolm Tucker (Oliver Platt). Brought in to replace him then is Chadbyrne "Chad" Alger (John Michael Higgins), a bumbling Congressman who's more interested impressing his wife and being able to use his new slogan "eradicating education barriers" than, well, actually eradicating education barriers. Both helping and hurting him then are his staff - Ollie (Rhea Seehorn), a speechwriter who frequently uses her blogger boyfriend (Wayne Wilderson) to leak stories, much to his chagrin; Hope ("Family Guy's" Alex Borstein), Chad's assistant who's mortified by his incompetence; and Glen (Michael McKean), his equally incompetent chief of staff. In any case, Chad's first act - in his quest to eradicate education barriers - involves inadvertently throwing his support behind one of Spike's lobbyist-written bills, which not surprisingly draws the ire of Malcolm. Chad and the staff then must scramble to put the figurative toothpaste back in the tube, such as appearing on "The Daily Show" even though Chad doesn't realize it's a satirical program. Again, not surprisingly, this backfires - but luckily in a good way. News about the "poison bill" gets enough blowback to completely kill it, making it a dead issue for the party - something Malcolm didn't think would happen for years. In the end, both Malcolm and Chad get what the want - the former gets a fall guy for the party's interests and the latter gets a souvenir mug from the Vice President's office for his wife.

What works: Considering the pilot's pedigree - "Best in Show's" Christopher Guest directed and "Arrested Development's" Mitchell Hurwitz and Richard Day penned the script - it shouldn't be surprising there are some solid laughs (Chad thinks Jon Stewart is two people, Jon and Stewart) but more surprising...

What doesn't: ...is just how few there are. Disappointingly toothless - jokes about the government's firewall rejecting any text message with the words "page" and "screwed" feel straight out of one of Jay Leno's monologues - and lifeless - Platt's Malcolm feels nothing like an "enforcer" - "Thick of It" never quite gets off the ground. And if I use the word "surprising" a lot here - it's out of general shock. I mean, who'd have thought the guys behind the unabashed craziness of "Arrested Development" and the improvisation excess of "Waiting for Guffman" could churn out a limp noodle show like this? The group spends an inordinate amount of time on dead end bits - a subplot involving Chad not being able to fire his overly chatty limo driver gets no less than three scenes - while Borstein and McKean's characters get maybe a dozen lines between them. Even worse is that the show's two driving forces - Higgins and Platt - never quite click, making their central Chad screws up/Malcolm yells at him/wash/rinse/repeat routine grow old rather quickly. The real kicker though is that there's just no flair to the show at all - unless you count a running onscreen schedule of that day's events (i.e. "6:30 p.m. - Period of Correction Begins"). I'll say it again...

The bottom line: ...it's just really disappointing.

  [august 2007]  


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