• Gabriel Featherstone

Gabe Spits On Spitting Image

Image courtesy of ITV Press Centre

My three favourite things in the world are cool puppets, funny jokes and evil politicians getting brutally roasted in public, so I was really looking forward to the recent Spitting Image revival on BritBox. Sadly, the resurrected series quickly revealed itself to be depressingly tepid and wrong-headed. While the puppets are very impressive and fun to look at - I particularly enjoyed Michael Gove being depicted as a snaggletoothed, penis-nosed little goblin-man – the sketches are often painfully monotonous, the jokes fall flat with embarrassing frequency and the political content rarely, if ever, properly goes in for the kill.

The show’s version of Dominic Cummings, who is depicted as being a baby-eating space monster and the real power behind Johnson’s government, is the focus of 98% of the show’s non-embarrassing content. This is partially because he gets most of the funny jokes, but he’s also the caricature that comes closest to fully expressing the objectionable qualities of its real-life counterpart.

The other political puppets are toothless, inoffensive cartoons who fail to embody the toxic monstrousness of the people they represent. The Boris Johnson puppet is just an extension of the bufoonish persona Johnson himself insidiously cultivated to manipulate people into viewing him as a harmless sideshow, while the Trump puppet is a glowing bastion of charisma and intellect compared to the self-satirising man himself. It’s difficult to imagine any of the show’s subjects – apart from the notoriously thin-skinned Donald Trump and Kanye West – feeling particularly upset or called-out by anything in the show. I doubt Dominic Cummings minds being reimagined as a powerful alien overlord because that depiction isn’t entirely unflattering.

The show presents many of its political subjects as less frightening, almost cute versions of their real selves, when it should be exposing them as depraved and repulsive monsters. The job of satire should be to reveal its subjects’ worst qualities by exaggerating them to a grotesque extent. Spitting Image frequently shoots itself in the foot by making real-life monsters look like non-threatening Muppets. This failure to muster up a reasonable amount of venom or insight is compounded by the fact that a lot of the sketches reveal a disconcertingly stupid and mean-spirited perspective. Greta Thunberg’s sincere and passionate insistence that something really ought to be done to prevent Armageddon is misrepresented as being a big annoying fuss about nothing, while Jacinda Ardern’s competent response to the pandemic is ridiculed for being the product of a “nanny state” during an utterly baffling Mary Poppins-inspired musical number.

The last vestiges of respect I had for the programme makers were utterly annihilated during the show’s tenth episode, which contains a sketch where Harry Styles is extensively mocked for being weak and unmanly because he sometimes wears a dress. It’s a sketch that could’ve been written by any school bully and has no merit or redeeming features whatsoever. Spitting Image is a flaccid, brainless, misguided mess that makes Sooty & Sweep look like Gerald Scarfe and aggresively fails to deliver on the promise of its concept. Those awesome puppets deserved a lot better.