Television review: House of Commons (2018 season)

Like everyone with more time than self-esteem, lately I’ve been hooked on BBC Television’s flagship political soap opera, House of Commons.

This latest series, which finished on Thursday, has hardly garnered the critical acclaim or the viewing figures of Simon Cowell’s increasingly miserable ITV karaoke competition but it has dominated watercooler conversation and spawned unprecedented levels of rage on Twitter, that website where idiots pointlessly yell at each other and your mum messages “Good morning!” to Philip Schofield daily in the gradually diminishing hope of a friendly reply.

It’s been so hard to turn BBC Parliament off, not like it’s the Wired or Breaking Bad but like being stuck in stationary traffic on the motorway, with nothing to watch but grim-faced chaps in yellow jackets sweeping up the remnants of an inverted Renault Clio, except that the wreckage is civilisation as we know it and the men in jackets are actually Etonians in pinstripes.

Theresa May gets top billing here, but the orchestra she ostensibly conducts has grown weary of Elgar and individually embarked on jazz improvisations or, in the case of Chris Grayling, just banging stuff together to make a noise of any kind. Nevertheless, she continues to wave the baton. It turns out she is meant to be making a thing called Brexit happen, even though she personally thought it was a stupid idea and everyone else wants her to stop or do it differently or generally to piss off.

The primary antagonist is a fellow called Corbyn. His thing is being on the surface angry that you blocked his car in but internally relieved he won’t make it to his meeting. He doesn’t think doing a Brexit is a bad thing but his team want him to be trying to prevent it. In this way the drama has unfolded how I imagine it would if two snooker players were both bribed to throw the same match and as such the two supposed leaders look increasingly puzzled and disappointed at each other when they miss obvious and easy opportunities to score political points.

Frankly, neither have been anywhere close to convincing this series but I can see the writers needed to give themselves places to go for next season.

On the other hand, the supporting cast has great variety, some of whose acts are even believable. It’s a little known fact that potential breakout character Jess Philips is played by the same actor that did Sporty Spice. Young Scottish parliamentarian Paul Sweeney has come to the fore lately, mainly on account of being both attractive and sensible, rarities for this show. Fans of Brian Blessed will enjoy the pompous and repetitive bellowing of speaker John Bercow and his ongoing “will they, won’t they” subplot with Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom, which has provided some interest as the main plot trailed off.

There’s plenty to criticise particularly among the minor cast members though, with several backbenchers being such implausible human beings they’ve dragged the show into parody territory at times. Boris Johnson is so utterly ridiculous as to ruin the immersion for me. The writers need to look at dialling the eccentricities of he and fellow throwback Jacob Rees-Mogg back a couple of notches for fear of lurching into the kind of unbelievable garbage more associated with Hollyoaks.

Overall this show has had it’s strengths and high points this series but I wonder if it wouldn’t have benefited from one or two big name exits to keep the audience on their toes going into the 2019 season.

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