“Get Out the Way, Malcolm Tucker”: Veep Fans and Cynical Citizens

Curator's Note

[Note: This post authored by Brett Boessen and Carrie Griffin.]

In the BBC’s The Thick of It, Malcolm Tucker is the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications, keeping all cabinet ministers toeing the party line.  Tucker is loud, profane, and intimidating. Fans of the series devote a lot of time to celebrating his latest foul-mouthed jibe, and he’s often written about heroically, despite his less-than-moral dealings (something creator Armando Iannucci both seems to be aware and wary of). Tucker gets the business of politics done, even if his methods are less than ideal.

By contrast, Veep, the Thick of It’s American adaptation, has no Tucker equivalent: his closest analog is Jonah Ryan, the White House liaison to the VP’s office. Jonah is younger and less competent than Malcolm, and his presence usually results in more ridicule than intimidation. Fans of Veep discuss its lack of a Tucker-equivalent a great deal as well, and there are those who see it as the main failing of the show and those who do not.  

Such responses to both series can be understood in the context of the larger, more pervasive clash between political idealists and cynics, and much of that eternal struggle bubbles up in discussions of Tucker as an important facet of a truly great political satire’s narrative needs. For some fans, the fumbling and self-involved nature of existing Veep characters is regularly contrasted with a view of government as a force for good.  Such cynical viewing parallels these fans’ approach to politics as fundamentally broken.  Tucker is both these fans’ court jester and white knight, and the lack of a similar character on Veep is its clearest sign of toothlessness.

For others, Veep lacks some of the crushing cynicism of Iannucci’s earlier works (in which, for example, in In the Loop, Tucker strong-arms both the US and UK governments into an unjust war).  This makes it a more idealized (and therefore better) series for these fans precisely because it lacks Tucker.  In addition to all of this, this conceptual terrain is made more complex because these fan responses are rarely framed in clear, black-and-white expressions of preference for a single viewpoint.  Instead, what surfaces is a “both/and” struggle for understanding competing political needs in a complex conceptual topography.  

As a notable figure in this landscape, Tucker represents the height of political cynicism and fans’ idealistic desire for accountability simultaneously.

Comments

Emanuelle Wessels's picture

Humor and Cynicism

Great Post. I have not seen The Thick of It, but it sounds like a very interesting contrast to Veep in terms of its treatment of humor and cynicism. I agree that Veep derives much of its humor by the ways in which it renders its characters comedically ineffectual. What also bothers me about Veep is that when a character does attempt to effect change-e.g. Selina seems at least mildly authentically invested in Clean Jobs-the failure of idealism is part of the joke. Rather than being a broken machine, it is precisely the cynicism and narcissism that keeps the machine functioning. Idealism is the disruption. The characters’ contant obsessions with social media and self-branding feeds into this cynical atmosphere. I would be curious to check out the fan comments.

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