Explaining jokes smacks of writers who don’t have confidence in their own material or in their audience… it’s unforgivable.
Spitting Image episode five was the first half of a US Election special double-parter with a season-appropriate Hallowe’en theme (although later on, the theme slid into Christmas, which was a tad discordant and odd).
The stand-out scene, which came early, was a séance which ended up in Margaret Thatcher’s ghost taking over Boris Johnson’s body. Boris-in-a-wig was something to behold, but nothing compared to the image of Michael Gove wanking off under the table to said possessed Johnson or to Priti Patel actually getting off with the spectre. A surprising and delightful scene.
We got to meet Fox Man Starmer, a hero for our age, which seemed to recall the classic Batman and Robin scene from Only Fools and Horses. Another surprising and delightful turn. I hope we see more of Starmer’s alter ego.
However, the episode was far from solid laughs. One problem with Spitting Image so far is the tendency to explain its jokes. For example, we saw Trump declare, “I want an election that is free, and fair, so I’m going to personally check all the mail-in ballots”. Which was great! But then they ruined it by carrying on, “… and destroy all the fraudulent ones that voted Democrat!” We got the joke already!! Why explain it to us? Or how about another decent moment, where we see Boris Johnson going to Biden to grovel and pre-emptively be friends — great! But then once again the joke is spelled out and ruined, BoJo telling Biden, “I love you … since I’ve seen the latest polls”. Explaining jokes smacks of writers who don’t have confidence in their own material or in their audience. It’s bad writing at the best of times, but in a supposedly sharp satire, it’s unforgivable.
Apart from these hit-and-then-miss moments, there were many moments that missed altogether. For example, there is another song that falls flat. Guys, don’t write these songs if you can’t write them funny. And the lazy jokes kept coming: Prince Andrew repeatedly being hit in the face. I understand: he’s a punching bag. I understand: we just want him to shut up. I understand: every time he opens his mouth, bad stuff happens. But it’s not funny. Stop.
Richard Branson was presented as yesterday’s man, a kind of prehistoric Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, who, at least in his own deluded mind, he is in competition with. Weirdly, none of these jokes worked well and I kept looking at the time to see when the Branson-Musk-Bezos segments would end.
Episode Five also saw Putin and his troll farm get “investigated” by Zuckerberg. It was amusing, but the only two real laughs came from the lines “U, S, and also A” and “da”. When funny accents and dodgy foreign grammar are the best bit of your satirical take, you know you are in trouble.
All in all, there were several laughs and a couple of really memorable scenes. However, laziness, jokes that make little sense, and a general lack of cutting edge (Tories literally or metaphorically wanking off to Thatcher is not original or clever, no matter how funny that scene was) mean that this episode never rises above being merely “good”.
© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry