First look BritBox TV review: Spitting Image (2020)
James R | On 03, Oct 2020
New episodes of Spitting Image arrive every Saturday.
It’s hard to know which is the benchmark of success for BritBox’s revival of Spitting Image: how closely it resembles the original 1980s satirical comedy or how closely its puppets resemble the modern-day celebrities the programme is now lampooning. On both counts, though, this mimicking mockery of famous faces manages to meet its end goal: imitating people crudely and doing it as offensively as possible.
It’s only fitting that Spitting Image should return at a point when a Conservative government is in power – the show’s original run is now most famous for its depiction of Margaret Thatcher and her vegetable-like cabinet. And so the Tories get their time in the spotlight, from a jabbering Boris Johnson to a vividly captured likeness of Michael Gove. One of the best scenes sees Dominic Cummings portrayed as an alien who wants to eat the Johnsons’ baby – the kind of Swiftian absurdity that’s so extreme it makes its own point. Another inspired exchange between Gove and Priti Patel delves into the increasingly harsh government policies that some right-leaning people would love to see implemented.
Perhaps Spitting Image’s strength is that it mixes this punching-up to authority with other figures who are nonetheless right for parody – it’s an equal-opportunities offender, most notably in one inspired impression of New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, which is practically perfect in every way. The brief gag that they’ve conceived for Greta Thunberg owes a lot to The Fast Show, but does also highlight the fact that global warming is real.
But, inevitably, it’s a hit-and-miss affair, and unfunny scenes featuring Prince Harry and Prince Andrew fail to find anything to say. The attempts to come up with something new to mock Donald Trump with also lean into grossout humour rather than any kind of wit, a failing that only highlights his puppet’s weak vocal impersonation. Also unconvincing are the show’s puppet of The Rock, both in looks and sound, Elton John and Dominic Raab.
Despite the uneven opening episode, though, there are promising signs that the series will be doing its best to stay current, with the use of on-screen tweets an effective way of keeping things as last-minute as possible. If that kind of ingenuity, along with the signature grotesque caricatures its talented puppetry department keep producing, can be maintained, there’s a chance this update could be as effective – or at least as offensive – as it was several decades ago.
Spitting Image is available on BritBox, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.