The Thick of It
Timing is everything. Which may help explain why, after a nearly three-year delay, BBC America is finally importing the third season (from 2009) of the blistering political satire The Thick of It to its "Ministry of Laughs" weekend franchise (Saturday, midnight/11c) — on the heels of HBO's launch of Veep, which springs from the same demented imagination of dark farceur Armando Iannucci.
Thick set the tone of deeply cynical, bitterly vicious, and scaldingly profane high-office shenanigans that Veep is adapting with some success. Instead of the vice president's inner sanctum, we're back in the hapless bureaucracy of Britain's cabinet Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship, whose beaten-down drones are overseen and endlessly harangued by the prime minister's serpent-tongued hatchet man Malcolm Tucker, a career-defining role for Peter Capaldi (who reprised the character in the brilliant feature film In the Loop).
As the new season begins, original secretary Hugh Abbot is out amid a cabinet reshuffle, and Malcolm is desperately seeking anyone to take the post. In one of his few printable insults, a teeth-bared Malcolm assails one of the candidates who decides against the job: "Do you know that 90 percent of household dust is made of dead human skin? That's what you are. To me." Who wouldn't want to work for this guy?
Enter naively gung-ho Nicola Murray (Rebecca Front), plucked from obscurity and poorly vetted — where have we seen that scenario? — and barely introduced to her new staff before she realizes that her lofty goals are a sham, declaring, "I'm going to be a woman with a computer and some pens" and very little actual power. (In that regard, she shares much with Veep's Selina Meyer.) Hardly a paragon of virtue herself, mocking the banal co-workers she feels are being so patronizing to her, Nicola barely survives her first face-to-face with Malcolm, who scorns her ergonomic office chair ("People don't like their politicians to be comfortable") while finding conflicts of interest in her husband's job and her child's private schooling.
This is not going to be an easy ride, because what fun would that be? And as she embarks on her first major photo op, which naturally is destined to backfire in the most mortifying way imaginable, we are truly back in the thick of it. Is it too much to hope that Malcolm and Selina will someday cross paths before it's all over? I'm not sure who would come out alive.
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Timing also explains why the premium cable service Epix is presenting a free (to available systems) "Marvel Heroes Weekend," featuring the jaunty new biography With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story (Friday, 8/7c) as a warm-up to next weekend's release of The Avengers. At 87, the comic-book legend is still a terrific storyteller, and his own journey from Depression-era Bronx to the heights of superhero supremacy in the '60s is one of his best. Epix will air movies based on his creations — Thor, Iron Man 2, Captain America: The First Avenger — throughout the weekend. But Stan the Man is a tough act to follow.
THE GRAND FINALE: Looks like Lockhart Gardner welcomed young Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry) back to the firm just in time. They may need all the help they can get. The third-season finale of CBS' Emmy-winning The Good Wife (Sunday, 9/8c) appears to be brimming with conflict, much of it generated by two of the series' most colorful adversaries — Michael J. Fox's cunning Louis Canning and Martha Plimpton (moonlighting from Raising Hope) as the feisty Patti Nyholm — who team up to threaten to put their rivals out of business. It's not like Alicia and the gang are lacking in distractions. Alicia (Julianna Margulies) is still untangling her emotions regarding her estranged husband/political candidate Peter (Chris Noth), while Kalinda's (Archie Panjabi) legal problems continue to bedevil her. On a very busy Sunday, even with a new episode of Mad Men looming, there is no hour of TV I'm anticipating more eagerly than this.
A TV BANQUET: Kelly Ripa presides over the 10th anniversary of the TV Land Awards (Sunday, 9/8c), an all-star spectacular in which special accolades are presented to Pee-wee's Playhouse (Pop Culture Award), Murphy Brown (Impact Award), In Living Color (Groundbreaking Award), One Day at a Time (Innovator Award) and Laverne & Shirley (Fan Favorite Award). Bringing down the house: Aretha Franklin, winner of the Music Icon Award.
CULT CORNER: On the CW's Nikita (Friday, 8/7c), tech guru Birkhoff (Aaron Stanford) takes center stage, as a scheme to bankrupt uber-baddy Percy backfires, wiping out the web genius' fortune and getting him arrested. Nikita to the rescue! ... Fan favorite Felicia Day (The Guild, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Eureka) guests on the CW's Supernatural (Friday, 9/8c) as a hacker given 48 hours to crack the code of a hard drive containing secret intel about the Winchester brothers. Her employer: the dastardly Dick Roman. ... It's hands-across-the-universes time again on Fox's Fringe (Friday, 9/8c) as the teams from both worlds work together when new revelations point to the children contaminated by Cortexiphan. Three cheers for its renewal! ... The cheeky title of this week's Grimm (Friday, 9/8c, NBC) is a giveaway of what sort of creature to expect: "Leave It to Beavers." But it might as well be called "Guess What's Coming to Dinner," given that Juliette has finally convinced Nick to bring his mysterious friend Monroe (scene stealer Silas Weir Mitchell) over for a sit-down meal. ... Now that ABC's Once Upon a Time (Sunday, 8/7c) has told us who the mysterious August isn't — as in, not Rumplestiltskin's son — the question remains: Who is he? Maybe we'll find out, as he gives Emma tips on how to beat Regina at her own game and get custody of Henry, while the Fairy Tale Land story focuses on Geppetto's plan to save his own very familiar son.
THE GUIDE: So what else is on? In the moving conclusion of PBS' Birdsong on Masterpiece Classic (Sunday, check local listings), young Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) recuperates from his nearly fatal battlefront injuries and has an unsettling reunion with Isabelle (Clemence Poesy), the love of his life. But the war isn't over yet. Not by a long shot. ... In the penultimate episode of USA Network's In Plain Sight (Friday, 10/9c), Mary's fugitive father (Stephen Lang) is in the wind again, putting Mary (Mary McCormack) under what's likely to be very awkward FBI surveillance. ... Were you shocked by the smoke monster emerging from the loins of that sinister priestess at the end of last week's Game of Thrones? Its purpose is revealed in this week's episode (Sunday, 9/8c, HBO), causing yet more jockeying for power in the world of Westeros, while Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) nurtures her baby dragons and her ambitions from within the grand city of Qarth. ... Rosie Perez has an Emmy caliber guest role on Showtime's terrific Nurse Jackie (Sunday, 9/8c) as an irreverent patient who breaks through Jackie's reserve, while an interesting reveal is made about one of her former rehab buddies. ... Cate Blanchett is the guest voice on Fox's Family Guy (Sunday, 9/8c), when Stewie falls for a girl who appears to be his doppelganger. ... Two items from the nonfiction shelf: Another bizarre true-crime case is explored on CBS' 48 Hours Mystery (Saturday, 10/9c), as Richard Schlesinger interviews a man convicted of killing a Long Island businessman who allegedly begged the guy to do it. Is it murder or assisted suicide? ... National Geographic Channel gets deep with explorer/filmmaker James Cameron in James Cameron: Voyage to the Bottom of the Earth (Sunday, 9/8c), a special recounting Cameron's recent solo dive in a customized submersible 6.8 miles down into the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench. And we thought The Abyss was extreme.