Written by Samuel Hornsby.
Last week saw a return of the classic British satirical puppet show ‘Spitting Image’ on the streaming service Britbox. After 24 years since its last episode the question is, does this latest instalment give us a welcome return?
The first thing to say about the revival is that the puppet caricatures feel and look like classic Spitting Image, and so they should with the original creators (Peter Fluck, Roger Law and Martin Lambie-Nairn) at the helm. This instantly gives the show an air of authenticity other similar satirical shows since such as ‘Headcases’ and ‘Newzoids’ noticeably lacked.
Furthermore, the voice talents taken from both sides of the pond bring a lot of life to several of the celebrity impressions. On the British side we have the likes of Lewis Macleod and Debra Stephenson of the comedic radio and live-action impressions show ‘Dead Ringers’. American voices in the series include Billy West and John DiMaggio who have previously voiced several characters together on ‘Futurama’ and have individually voice acted on a long list of shows including ‘Adventure Time’, ‘Kim Possible’, ‘Samurai Jack’ and ‘The Ren & Stimpy Show’.
So far everything seems very promising and with a writing team that pulls talent from shows such as ‘The Simpsons’, ‘That Mitchell and Webb Look’ and ‘Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe’ the potential only grows further in the right direction. Sadly, even with all of the seemingly right choices made and experienced people behind it, the end result is somewhat mixed.
Let’s look at the two most prominent characters as a prime example: Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. These are two public figures ripe for the picking and in the original series Prime Ministers Thatcher and Major and President Reagan were some of the most frequently used and memorable puppets.
The problem with the portrayal of Johnson is it falls flat and comes off as boring. There is not enough of a character established and his personality quirks are not exaggerated enough to make him stand out. This was never a problem with the original series. Margaret Thatcher’s masculine, domineering authority and John Major’s grey boredom became some of the show’s most iconic images, all that can be said for Johnson is that they got his waffly voice and hair correct. However, the one thing that helps to somewhat save the Johnson sketches in this episode are the characters around him, particularly Dominic Cummings who is presented as a diabolical alien set to impose cold reason and do away with any moral humanity that may arise from the cabinet.
The issue with the portrayal of Donald Trump comes from a different place. The President is given clear character traits and is placed in much more outlandish situations than Johnson. The problem instead lies with the jokes in those situations feeling already overdone and lazy. With Trump having been President of the United States for four years now, most of the obvious jokes have been done to death and it feels like these sketches are often treading over old ground. Hopefully in later episodes the writers will manage to find some way to bring a fresh approach to their caricature of him.
Other sketches and impressions are also hit and miss. Some of the more positive highlights include Home Secretary Priti Patel as a dominatrix metaphorically getting cabinet minister Michael Gove off with unpopular Conservative opinions, Elton John attempting to make Labour Party leader Keir Starmer appear less rigid and more interesting with outlandish outfits and New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, as a Kiwi Mary Poppins explaining how she’s fixed up the country and made it squeaky clean in song. It is just a shame for every amusing sketch, there is one that doesn’t work or feels drawn out and ruins the pacing of the show.
There is still hope for ‘Spitting Image’ though. This is just the first episode of this new revival and the creators of the original series admitted that it took them a season to find their footing originally. Currently though, I would be apprehensive to declare this show a failure or a success, but rather a mixed bag leaving behind a feeling of mediocrity.