This remake of Spitting Image takes savage aim at a broad spate of political and celebrity targets, and its particularly potent form of mockery won’t be easy to ignore.
This recap of Spitting Image season 1, episode 1 contains spoilers.
Part of the appeal of satire is knowing that whoever is being targeted by it will be annoyed; that it won’t just be brushed off and forgotten about. Achieving that is difficult these days, thanks to the humourless offence police patrolling social media and ensuring that naughty words aren’t said and all representations of race, gender, culture, and class are sensitively handled. Perhaps more so than any other show of late, the Britbox-exclusive remake of Spitting Image seems totally unconcerned with notions of good taste and decency. Its attacks on prominent political figures and unlucky celebrities are going to stick.
This, of course, is a good thing. The show’s willingness to shock and offend makes for good – if inconsistent – satire. Much like how the original show, which ran on ITV from 1984 to 1996, was in staunch moral opposition to Britain’s long-time Conservative leadership, this one is a sworn enemy of right-of-centre politics, media hypocrisy and sensationalism, and celebrity culture. Its targets might seem obvious, and perhaps even easy, but it attacks them with such vigour and venom that you’re reminded of how much legitimate ire those so-called easy targets deserve. They are, after all, the leaders of the free world, the elected – sort of – representatives of the most supposedly advanced and democratic nations on earth.
I’m sure Donald Trump’s a**s doesn’t extend from his body on a phallic stalk and splodge out his tweets for him – but I wouldn’t be all that surprised if it turned out to be true. I’m sure Dominic Cummings isn’t a baby-eating alien from Epsilon-5, but for all his understanding of regular people outside of the Etonian thought-bubble, he might as well be – not that blithering, babbling Boris would sack him either way.
The latex masks and impressions are, for the most part, uncanny, and the political climate this re-do is contending with is ripe for mockery – Spitting Image episode 1, and one assumes the others that follow it, was re-edited right up to being broadcast, all the better to pluck the latest low-hanging fruits from the ceaseless news cycle. Thanks to this both the Presidential debate and Trump’s positive Coronavirus diagnosis are included and made enthusiastic fun of. Also thanks to this, the show’s more difficult to censor, which people will undoubtedly want to do once they see how viciously Spitting Image attacks aspects of people that they often can’t help.
But for all the ad hominem attacks, there are many more on safer targets like people’s deeply-held beliefs or their historical blunders. In one bit, Michael Gove is brought to orgasm by a vampiric dominatrix Priti Patel reeling off hard-line Conservative policies. In another, Prince Harry tries to earn money in Los Angeles by dressing up as a Nazi – again. Dominic Raab, in a gi and a Karate Kid bandanna, gives a self-defence lesson that includes techniques such as “put foot in mouth”, “bury head in sand”, and “shoot self in foot”. Lewis Hamilton shows up now and again for brief palate-cleansing interludes during which he gives environmental advice that obviously excludes his sponsors and the countries he races in.
Some of this will be easier to ignore; the Prince Harry business is a bit of a lark, and a slapstick opening involving HRH Prince Andrew could have stood to be more impactful given the circumstances. But Trump, Boris, and the rest of the Conservative Cabinet come off especially badly, and with many more weeks of this to come, it’s almost certain that they’re going to be annoyed by it. Good. So they should be.
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