How popular would a television series have to be to have major celebrities actually looking forward to being lampooned in horribly distorted cartoons of themselves? As popular as the Brit-hit satire puppet show “Spitting Image.”
“Spitting Image” was an era-defining comedy series that started during the heyday of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, when she was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, drawing in as many as 15 million people every week.
During its first run between 1984 and 1996, nobody on the world stage was beyond ridicule. Some of the show’s most notable bits include Ronald Reagan being shown as a bumbling fool, Mikhail Gorbachev was a “da”-man with a hammer-and-sickle birthmark on his forehead, Queen Elizabeth II as a perpetual drunk and Pope John Paul II as a banjo-playing womanizer with a thick African-American accent, among others.
“Spitting Image” is a weekly puppet show that dabbles in the surrealism achieved from ridiculing the political figures and celebrities to the point of absurdity and beyond. With the current political climate across the world, one could argue that it does not take much effort to paint them in an absurd image, so “Spitting Image” made the right call in coming back this October on streaming service BritBox and its YouTube channel, roughly 24 years since its final episode in 1996.
The strength in “Spitting Image” treads on that razor-thin line between the absurd and the realistic, and that is the source of all the occasional snorting of air through your nostrils and the more frequent fits of helpless giggles.
One of the more memorable throwaway scenes of this season so far takes place in "US Election Special (Part 2)." Comprised of only fifteen seconds, it is set in Senator Mitch McConnell’s office, where he’s interviewing every single lawyer he can find to nominate as a judge:
“So you say you’re a lawyer?” asks a strangely turtle-like McConnell.
The candidate replies, “Yep. Got my business card right here!” while sliding across a bottle of "Jack Spaniels."
“But you have been to law school?”
“I’ve been to school, and I’ve had run-ins with the law.”
McConnell then throws a black robe towards the candidate, saying, “You’re a judge.”
“Spitting Image” goes against the norm for most of the political satires of our times, and it pulls strong punches at both sides of the political spectrum: portraying Nancy Pelosi as pander-happy with as much cruelty as Dominic Cummings (the chief adviser to Boris Johnson) as an alien from the planet Epsilon-5. Above all, it holds the public figures up to scrutiny in a time where major media seems all too happy to either elevate them onto a godly pedestal or trash them like peddlers on the street.
To “Spitting Image,” every public figure is peddling their ideals onto the mass narrative or government policy. Therefore, it makes them perfect objects of ridicule.