REVIEWED: EPISODES 1-2 / CERT: 15 / WHERE TO WATCH: BRITBOX / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The legacy of Peter Fluck, Roger Law and Martin Lambie-Nairn’s political adult puppet dark comedy TV series Spitting Image is well known here in the UK, with its heyday run in the ‘80s even creating a chart topper in 1986’s “Chicken Song”. This helped craft a much respected reputation, as the show often found itself at the top of political discussion, controversies and TV schedules. Hell, if you were turned into a puppet on Spitting Image, you’d made it!
The writers and vocal performers (many of which have become huge names) took on the powerful and the egotistical, showing them for what they often were. Now, 24 years on, this unlikely revival - exclusive to BritBox - has arrived off of much anticipation, and some social media backlash (quell surprise) to boot, with a diverse array of vocal talents/writers trying their hand at giving some major famous names a roasting. But can the puppets still pull people’s strings? Well judging by the first two episodes, we think so.
OK, so it has not been an immediate repeat of the show’s most memorable firebrand years of scathing satire but let us not forget that the original early years took some time to find their feet and such is likely going to be the case here. Yes, some characterisations/impressions are a touch wonky (Dwayne Johnson for instance), as are some lines of scripting, but already the potential is there for the show to twist its comedic knife in the ribs of our very unusual world and its already outrageous living characters.
Outside of the well-rendered main leaders in Boris Johnson and Donald Trump (the obvious choices for main targets - and both constantly fun), there are some inspired ideas. Dominic Cummings (as a megalomaniacal baby-gobbling alien) and Greta Thunberg (who turns her planet saving passions to weather forecasting and football) are the best characters thus far and incredibly enjoyable. While other highlights include a vampiric dominatrix Priti Patel and New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern as a Covid-conquering Mary Poppins.
Meanwhile this new take respects the show’s past forays into gleeful vulgarity (Michael Gove’s bollock face, Donald Trump’s extendable hairy arsehole sending tweets), as well as its fairly balanced politics, which make some bitingly accurate points on both sides (Lewis Hamilton as a rights crusader backed by unethical business sponsors and Elon Musk being...well...Elon Musk). Episode 2 especially takes its focus more to the left, after episode 1 stuck more to the right.
In an age where a necklace and a dance routine draws record complaints to Ofcom, or the response to institutional racism and police brutality is renaming rice and erasing older TV, it is remarkable satire is still able to thrive, as this is a world almost beyond it in its literal madness. But, much like Sacha Baron Cohen’s still brilliant and incredibly brave character-driven dedication to mockumentary satire, it’s strangely comforting to know that Spitting Image can likewise successfully comeback and still (as the Twitter furore and the USA’s hesitation to screen it on TV have proved) have that power to wind people up!
Welcome back, keep it up!