Spitting Image can deal a savage blow when necessary, but its election material is ironically its weakest in this two-part special.
This review of the Spitting Image US Election Special contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
I’m unashamedly a fan of BritBox’s reboot of Spitting Image, the ‘80s political satire with such an enduring rubber-faced legacy that virtually all small-screen send-ups owe a debt to it. This new version can strike savage blows when it’s firing on all cylinders, and by the standards of our current, remarkably touchy culture, that’s more than welcome. The patently bonkers US presidential election seems like prime fodder for this kind of lampooning, but as it turns out, the wackier a real-life personality is, the less prone they are to pastiche. After featuring relatively heavily in the first couple of episodes of this season, Trump has largely taken a back seat to a more narrative-driven mockery of Boris Johnson’s Conservative Cabinet in the U.K. and pot-shots – some tamer than others – of various prominent celebrities.
That leaves the Spitting Image US Election Special in a weird spot since it’s parodying people who’re already parodies, and outlandish characters like Trump, particularly, are so grotesque and silly that you have to get so ridiculous in the mockery of them that any satirical point is lost in the process. In this two-part special, part one of which airs on ITV tonight, part two of which is exclusive to BritBox, Trump’s sentient tweeting **** makes a reappearance, and the fact it doesn’t have anything of value to say is less a joke and more a statement of fact.
This doesn’t seem to be a surprise to anyone, which is probably why this so-called election special doesn’t have that much to say about the actual election, and the stuff it does have to say is the broadest and most cartoon-like in terms of satire. Biden got a more thorough sending-up last week when he fell down a well in Iowa, and the recurring appearances of Vice President Mike Pence as a grey-skinned nonentity and Jared Kushner as a literal mannequin only serve to reinforce the idea that mundane, inhuman villainy isn’t that easy to make fun of.
Better, as ever, is the material that takes aim at Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and an extra-terrestrial Dominic Cummings, the latter of whom might not be very sophisticated but always produces my favorite gags in every episode, which can’t be a coincidence.
I’ve made no secret of my enjoyment of this show thus far, but marketing a Spitting Image US Election Special suggests something special in relation to the US election, and neither of these episodes really provides that. There are funny lines aplenty, and the characters who’ve worked thus far continue to, but perhaps what we’re seeing here is a political culture so ridiculous that it’s immune to ridicule. What that says about civilization, in general, is another matter.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.