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Reborn Spitting Image is biting, bi-partisan and base. So why isn’t a US TV network prepared to show it?

Michael McCaffrey
Michael McCaffrey

Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo

Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo

Reborn Spitting Image is biting, bi-partisan and base. So why isn’t a US TV network prepared to show it?
Savage British puppet show Spitting Image doesn’t always hit the mark, but it avoids the flaccid, unfunny propaganda that passes for satire in America – which makes it all the more incomprehensible why US viewers are missing out.

Spitting Image is back with a vengeance with all-new episodes. After a 24-year absence the show is undeniably hit and miss, but thankfully it also never pulls any punches.

The first two episodes of Spitting Image, which were aired on BritBox in the UK on October 3 and 10, were funny but at times uneven, as the creatives fought to find their sea legs in the stormy waters of modern-day comedy. 

Thankfully, the born-again show, despite its flaws, is just as relentless and ruthless in its comedy takedowns as the original. The humor isn’t always uproarious, but it’s certainly biting and interesting because it’s simultaneously heady and gratuitously base.

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The first episode, which featured some scathing mocking of Prince Harry, President Trump, Boris Johnson and his advisor Dominic Cummings, is the better of the two, but the second episode had some notable highlights as well.

Trump and Boris Johnson are the main targets of the resurrected Spitting Image’s comedic fire, not surprisingly since they are in power and are grotesque caricatures all on their own, even before ever being made into puppets.

In the first episode, Trump is ridiculed for being the blowhard that he is, with a recurring theme being his arsehole – which looks like a repulsive creature out of Ridley Scott’s Alien, – is doing all his late-night tweeting for him.

The first episode also has Prince Harry literally cutting off his nose – maybe to spite his face – and lamenting his failure to succeed on his own in Los Angeles as he utters the spectacularly funny line, “I’ve tried every career there is: prince and Hitler!

Other targets are Disney’s woke preening in the form of a black baby Yoda, Lewis Hamilton’s social justice hypocrisy and Greta Thunberg’s shrieking and shrill environmentalism.

The second episode rakes Trump and BoJo over the comedy coals as well, the best instances being when Trump is fine after catching a case of coronavirus but coronavirus suffers greatly when it catches a case of Trump, and when Boris’ scatterbrained satellite navigation system drives a confused couple off of a cliff.

The very best scene in the second episode, though, is when Greta Thunberg reluctantly goes to an English soccer match and surprises herself by really getting into it. Afterwards she becomes very Greta about it as she laments, “The referee has stolen my childhood with his reckless decisions. I must save West Ham!

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A reliably funny recurring theme in both episodes is the struggle of the distinguished Sir David Attenborough to navigate social media and technology, something that always ends in failure and a flurry of expletives.

The less successful scenes on the show are the songs; one has New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as a coronavirus-defeating Mary Poppins, the other has a time-traveling Elon Musk singing David Bowie’s song Starman except with the word Conman.

Remarkably, Spitting Image has yet to find a broadcast home in the US, apparently due to networks and streaming services being afraid of offending the Trump administration.

It is unfathomable that the show is not in America, even on BritBox. Americans can catch new episodes on Facebook for 24 hours after they originally air in the UK, but that just seems a silly, arbitrary and self-defeating approach.

The US is currently saturated with political comedy, with the tiresome, predictable, relentlessly propagandic bitching and moaning from flaccid clowns like John Oliver, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah, but the nation is starving for top-notch political satire – which Spitting Image, despite its flaws, does deliver.

Saturday Night Live is the only notable political satire in America right now, and it is disastrously dreadful. The biggest problem with SNL is that its humor is based on advocacy rather than comedy. The show shamelessly embraced Hillary Clinton in 2016; who could forget the cringeworthy sight of Kate McKinnon as Hillary singing an embarrassingly maudlin and melancholy version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in the immediate aftermath of her election defeat? And this year it touted Kamala Harris (played by Maya Rudolph) by having her declare, to cheers, the need for a WAP – Woman as President. Yikes.

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Thankfully, unlike SNL and the rest of the emotionalist establishment late-night court jesters like Oliver, Maher and the rest, Spitting Image doesn’t aim to advocate, only eviscerate. And while the first two episodes were somewhat hit or miss, the show at its best still comedically slices and dices with the very best of them and never chooses sides.

An example of the bi-partisan belittling is a hilarious recurring theme in episode two that Nancy Pelosi is suffering from Panderitis, a disease which makes her cravenly pander to identity groups for votes. She switches between African garb, a hard hat with rainbow dildo attached and Orthodox Jewish clothing, in order to appeal to black, LGBTQ and Jewish voters.

Other examples are Joe Biden being a dementia-addled fool, and the charisma-deficient Keir Starmer getting a much-needed makeover by Elton John… excuse me… Sir Elton John.

Spitting Image’s sense of humor is not for everyone and the show isn’t life changing, but it is at times extremely funny. There are certainly worse ways to spend half an hour – like watching the insipid John Oliver for example.

The bottom line regarding the show is this – the world needs more comedy, not less, so some courageous executive at NBC, Hulu, Netflix or Amazon should quickly grab Spitting Image and give Americans a glimpse of some solid political satire at the height of the election silly season.

We sure as hell could use it.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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