Hacks: Watch All About It

Another New Year’s Day, another New Year’s Headache. And that was just from watching Sherlock. Thankfully, Channel Four are, as ever, on hand to provide something a bit less cerebral but even more fun.

Michael Kitchen as Stanhope Feast

Welcome to Hacks, telly’s first proper (fictional) pop at the phone hacking scandal that turned last year entirely upside down (thus making it 1105, by my reckoning) (sorry). The newspaper in question is the fictional Sunday Comet (motto – “Let The Truth Be Heard”) owned by the fictional Australian media magnate Stanhope Feast (Michael Kitchen, being good value as always) and watched over by the fictional new Prime Minister David Bullingdon (Alexander Armstrong being, well, Alexander Armstrong) but like all of these spoof docudrama things, it’s pretty damn obvious what’s actually what.

Pretty Damn Obvious is probably a fair description of Hacks. Its trajectory almost exactly mirrors real life events. And therein lies the problem – as Peter Kay found when he tried to satirise Reality TV with Britain’s Got The Pop Factor etc etc, it is impossible to spoof something that is already absurd. Hacks doesn’t tell us anything that we don’t already know and haven’t already thought.

Having said this, it’s still good, if somewhat cartoonish, fun. It’s written by Guy Jenkin of Drop The Dead Donkey and Outnumbered fame and the dialogue is predictably as superb in parts. In fact, it makes up a large part of my notes. “I’ve seen more of Ashley’s cock than Cheryl has – we’ve had to install more memory to cope with it”, “I won’t have a word said against the Royals – they always die on Saturdays so we can break the story on a Sunday”, “Our Weather Forecast is too depressing; I want less rain”, the newspaper headline that reads “BBC Bosses Gave Cake To Terrorists”; it’s pretty much spot on throughout. It even stops to make a few pithy observations on the way – my personal favourite being “they are ashamed they were scared of us so now they’re going to destroy us”. My favourite line, however, concerns the sacking of Mystic Marilyn. I won’t spoil it for you here, but suffice to say it sums up the programme nicely – glaringly obvious but still strangely hilarious.

However, good dialogue is useless without good casting and good acting. Hacks is groaning under the weight of Great Actors and Entertaining Folk – Claire Foy, Phil Davis, Nigel Planer, Celia Imrie, The Rubber Dingy Rapids Bloke From Four Lions, Russ Abbott, Michael Kitchen and Alexander Armstrong appear in the first 15 minutes alone. The cast actually does Hacks a lot of favours, in that it balances its somewhat uneven tone by having people that can actually do Proper Serious Acting as well as Comedy Mugging (although Rubber Dingy Rapids Bloke’s hysterical phone impersonations of Prince Phillip, Janet Jackson, The Pope and Desmond Tutu are possibly worth watching for alone). Claire Foy is really terrific as the Rebekkah Brooks-type editor having a Lady Macbeth style breakdown over the “voices in her head” (phone hacking victims), whilst Phil Davis puts in a good turn as an old-school hack and Michael Kitchen makes excellent use of some cracking lines (“Where’s a bloody tsunami when you need one?”).  

Predictable, yes. Subtle, no. And I frankly could have done without the clumsy, borderline racist stereotype of Stanhope’s Japanese wife. But despite all this, I can’t help but like Hacks – which perhaps proves the programme’s final observation that all the tabloids ever do is “give people what they wanted”. 

Posted by Velocity Girl

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