Spitting Image is the legendary satire-with-puppets show from the 80s and 90s. Crude, surreal, and always biting. This show helped define the era itself whilst commentating on it. And in a world seemingly gone mad — Brexit, Trump, Covid-19 — it seems the perfect moment to awaken the kraken. We’ve seen false dawns before (Newzoids 2015-2016), but this is the real deal, the return of the king.
Spitting Image Season One was a mixed bag, to be blunt. The structure of an episode started out a bit chaotic, but then gradually got stronger, until the last few episodes when it was generally good: satirical takes on the news events of the week were interspersed with running sketches. The show definitely grew in self-confidence throughout its run, and hopefully this rhythm will give the show the exit velocity required to launch a more consistent second season.
The puppets were absolutely magnificent (with the bizarre exception of one, Nicola Sturgeon, read here for more details). Even better than the original run’s puppets, whilst totally in keeping with the style. Of course, the puppets would be nothing without the puppeteering, which was splendid.
The biggest problem with Spitting Image Season One, and it’s quite a big problem for a weekly satire, is that it often lacked bite, edge, or even good jokes. Worst of all, it was frequently very lazily written. Prince Andrew getting hit in the head, James Corden getting killed in almost every episode, Trump’s hands are small: no amount of repetition can render these “jokes” funny.
A show this well-funded and with a team of 16 + writers, many of whom are veterans (David X. Cohen, Al Murray, Patric Verrone), with some of the best voice talent around (Billy West, John DiMaggio, Phil LaMarr), and frankly genius caricatures and puppeteering, just cannot be this badly scripted. Okay, they are responding to moving events, which is hard, but that should be bread and butter for the talented team behind this show, many of whom are stand-up comedians or with a background in improv. And just look at South Park, they are able to create hilarious and highly contemporary stories and jokes. Furthermore, Spitting Image often barely mentions current new events (see ep 7): a real clanger was the US Election Special Part II which was extremely light on US Election Special stuff.
In short, everything about this show was magnificent — apart from the writing. There were many highly memorable moments, but Season One is best watched in 24 minute compilation format; there simply isn’t enough funny stuff to fill ten episodes. But this is a show we need. So I look forward to season two despite Season One being, on balance, poor.
© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry
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