SPITTING Image has returned to British TV screens after a 24-year hiatus.
Originally running from 1984 to 1996, the satirical puppet show was the dose of fun the country needed amid riots, recession and mass unemployment under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government.
Its re-emergence into a once-again turbulent world, with a news cycle on steroids and healthy crop of incompetent politicians, should have made it easy pickings for producers
But the 10-part revival was never going to be a smooth one, coming just months after broadcasters scrambled to remove episodes of Scrubs, Peep Show, Little Britain and other series, because they featured characters in blackface.
Spitting Image’s creative team led by original co-creator Roger Law, have already found themselves at the centre of several political correctness storms.
Some campaigners against anti-Semitism were outraged at the caricature of Mark Zuckerberg, whose puppet sports a large hooked nose that he doesn’t actually have.
There were also fears about the programme’s portrayal of Kanye West and other black people, while Ed Sheeran’s puppet was altered last-minute to remove carrots sprouting from his ginger hair, in a bid to avoid offending red heads.
Thankfully the programme – which famously zeroed in on a very grey John Major – pulls few punches and does not stray from personal insults.
Angry weathergirl Greta Thunberg warns of impending climate chaos, while a crusty David Attenborough is reduced to just another pensioner who fails at Instagram.
That our environmental heroes are fair game is a sign that this incarnation of Spitting Image is as wonderfully savage as the original.
Ultimately though, the non-political puppets do fall wide of the mark.
Lewis Hamilton’s posturing on human rights and the environment feels out of place, as does Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson nailing his colours to the mast ahead of the US election.
Meghan Markle’s caricature is probably the weakest, the design team failing to identify any discernible features and so settling on giving her huge hoop earrings and big teeth.
By contrast, the creators have joyously let loose as they take aim at the Tories’ sleaze, corruption and ineptitude.
Matt Hancock is cowering in the corner, while an alien-like Dominic Cummings is plotting over Boris Johnson’s shoulder.
Episode 1 is worth the watch just to see Priti Patel as a vampire and as a dominatrix for Michael Gove, whose grotesque puppet pleasures himself at the thought of selling off the NHS.
Johnson’s bluster and fluffed-up hair are predictably centre of attention with his puppet.
Unfortunately though I couldn’t escape the glum feeling that he and Tweet-happy Donald Trump have been caricatured a thousand times before.
Their Spitting Image versions do not tread any new satirical ground.
The searing portrayal of Thatcher’s cabinet of ‘vegetables’ in the original series was always going to be a tough act to follow.
Shocking when it burst onto the screen in the 1980s, the series was a fresh look at a British society that sorely needed something different.
The new script feels forced, although it was refreshing to see that it was bang up to date news-wise.
The writers have been furiously working away to include Trump’s positive Covid test on Friday and the revelations about just how little tax the US President pays.
The newsy approach was always among Spitting Image’s strengths and this series also pleasingly takes on a range of global political figures and celebrities.
Among its brightest moments is a Keir Starmer-Elton John interaction and a Jacinda Ardern musical number, which pokes fun at her unflinching niceness.
Overall, the hunger for some comic relief amid tightening Covid restrictions probably won’t be entirely satisfied by the return of Spitting Image, but the series gives it a pretty good go.
Episode 1 is now available to stream exclusively on BritBox, with new episodes to be added weekly.
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