Sunday Watch: The Thick of It -s02 e01-03


Considering how we are awash with cheerful optimism and a light-hearted appreciation of how it feels to live in the best and most open-hearted of countries, I felt the passing need for a counter-balancing dose of cynicism and fuck-’em-over fantasy, just to take the edge off things.

Well, no, not really. The Thick of It‘s second series, again of just three episodes, still starring Chris Langham as Hugh Abbott, Minister for Social Affairs, may still be the product of New Labour and Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell, and the policies of the mid-Noughties, it may be a case of more-of-the-same-only-different, except that we clearly haven’t yet had enough of the same to grow in the least bit bored of it, but it is horrifically emblematic of things as they are now, except in one little factor: that despite the chaotic and ramshackle nature of Abbott and his little crew, they come over as far more efficient than their 2021 equivalents.

Chaotic is the best word for how each of these three episodes are planned. The wobbly hand-held camera, the rapid and overlapping dialogue, the confusing cuts to other scenes, the frenetic pace even in the quiet moments and the overwhelming amorality of practically everyone involved does not make for easy viewing, or easy comprehension. There are usually multiple mini-stories happening at every moment, not to mention the truly impressive levels of swearing throughout, that achieve the minor miracle of never becoming dull and tedious, and Armando Ianucci and his fellow-writers never wait for their viewers to catch-up, nor are knowingly under-vicious.

But what distinguishes The Thick of It from other shows and films intent on confusing the audience is the assuring air of coherence the show gives off in its every moment. Like David Lynch, we sense that there is a controlling mind that knows what it’s doing, and there’s an underlying structure beneath it all, like Chaos Theory. It means something, even if we can’t quite grasp it.

I’m trying to avoid comparisons to Yes Minister, inevitable though they are. All the two series really share is a focus on Politics and the process thereof, representing the different eras in which the shows were made. But Hugh Abbott, played to perfection by Chris Langham, comes from the same mould as Jim Hacker: a weathercock blowing whichever way the wind turns him, an empty man with no political ambitions except for ambition, though in Abbott’s case it’s to stay where he is rather than fail upwards. Both Ministers are overly dependent on those who, nominally, serve them.

Trying to summarise a single episode, let alone three, is a near impossible task. In the first, Abbott is ambushed, at an under-prepared Factory visit, by a woman with a wholly ‘irrelevant’ complaint about the NHS and one of those perfectly vulgar but impressive single lines, ‘Do you know what it’s like to have to clean up your own mother’s piss?’ It’s a natural for the TV news, even without Abbott’s instinctive non-responses and it escalates, even as, on the one hand, Ollie Reeder is seconded to Malcolm Tucker’s unit at Downing Street because he’s shagging someone in the opposite party and is thus a useful spy, whilst news is about to break as to Ministry of Defence overspend and nepotism in handing out contracts, leading Hugh’s piece to go up and down the news agenda like a rabbit on honeymoon.

The second centres upon outside Advisor Julius Nicholson, brought in by the PM (whose wife apparently doesn’t like Abbott), who’s out to transform Government and Whitehall. Not only is there a reshuffle looming, but Nicholson is advancing on Malcolm Tucker’s turf, which is not something you do unwisely. Nicholson is clever, conspicuously clever, and he knows he’s clever, meaning that he doesn’t understand the need to set up defences (rather reminiscent of Kevin Keegan at Newcastle United, except for the conspicuously clever bit). This episode ends with a stunningly brief and magnificently comprehensive takedown of Nicholson, orchestrated by Tucker, using Abbott, Ollie and Glenn Cullen, that you have to applaud even as you start to either despise or get very scared of the whole notion.

The final episode of the second series was Chris Langham’s last appearance. The Ministry has added Citizenship to its title, Citizenship here being a word that means any old shit every other ministry in town wanted to offload whilst Hugh Abbott was on holiday and unable to fend it off. Principal amongst these is a bill to close down Special Needs Schools and integrate their pupils into ordinary ‘super-schools’ with two specially-trained teachers. Despite the show’s general avoidance of actual policies, Abbott is genuinely involved with this, having trenchantly opposed the idea (his friend and Senior Advisor, Glenn Cullen, has a son who is in a Special Needs School and Abbott actually cares), until he has the bill dropped in his ministerial lap to push through.

This turns the episode into the most cynical of them all, with two issues arising out of this situation that very seriously test the ability of the viewer to continue to accept Abbott as even the broken reed he is and always has been. The first is Abbott being advised by the ‘expert’ tossed up by Tucker to back-up his volte-face. The man is clearly a c**t and at one point Hugh excuses himself to send an email to Glenn, from Press Secretary Terri Coverley’s computer, to say so. Unfortunately the email goes to a different Glenn Cullen, who’s an eight year old girl. Scandal ensues, and even though Terri cons Hugh into admitting his culpability, she is the one who hads to take responsibility, apologise and bear the brunt of all the opprobrium.

It’s nasty, but that’s as nothing to what follows. Throughout the episode, Abbot has made a genuine thing of his opposition to the bill, supported enthusiastically by Glenn. In front of a Select Committee, having already lied about the number of experts consulted, he is quizzed on just why he has changed his mind by 180 degrees, instantly on hearing the second one. And Abbott brings up Glenn, sat beside him in the chair and stiffening immediately, and sells him down the river, using his son as a talisman for thinking, and perverting Glenn’s views to serve Abbott’s need.

It’s shocking. It’s unforgivable. It strikes so far below the waterline of decency that it is beyond unforgivable. How Abbott’s relationship to Glenn would have been continued in the next outing is impossible to guess but the need never arose. In 2007, Chris Langham was tried and convicted of possessing child pornography, allegedly for research into a character for the second series of Help which, as a consequence, was killed off, never to return. When it came to The Thick of It, a new Minister would be required.

In a wierd way, the show foresaw this. In episode 1, Abbott objects to a particular publicity photo of him, from when he had a moustache, that made him look like ‘a disgraced geography teacher’. And the second episode was also eerily foresighted in that, when Abbott asked what he had to do to get invited on TV, was advised by Glenn to have sex with a pig. Ten years later, the very same allegation was levelled against David Cameron, though strongly denied and never proven.

Sunday Watch: The Thick of It – s01 e01-03


What better follow up to last Sunday?

These three episodes represent the entire first series of The Thick of It, from 2005, when it starred a pre-fall Chris Langham as hapless Minister for Social Affairs Hugh Abbott, as well as introducing Peter Capaldi’s immortal Director of Communications, Malcolm Tucker, based very heavily on the real-life advisor to Tony Blair, Alistair Campbell, and supportred by the unholy trinity of James Smith, as Glen Cullen, Joanna Scanlan as Terry Coverley and Chris Addison as Ollie Reeder.

The thing is, alerted by the press description of it as a Yes Minister for the 2000s, I started to watch the first episode but didn’t even make it to the end. I just didn’t find it funny and I found the constant profanity off-putting. I was just completely out-of-tune to the general atmosphere, unable then to appreciate the often poetic quality of the swearing – Tucker’s first line was to tell someone over the phone that they were ‘as much use as a marzipan dildo’, which makes me laugh out loud now, just typing that. So I quit it, prematurely.

I didn’t start to appreciate the show until I borrowed the DVD of In the Loop from the library, had a whale of a time with it and decided to get into the show proper, which was by then halfway through series 3. Subsequently, I bught the complete The Thick of It, four boxsets in a presentation pack got up to look like a Ministerial Red Box. Now I’m back at the beginning.

The first series is extraordinarily difficult to summsarise, or even analyse, and I find myself falling back on the factors that distinguishe it from Yes Minister (there’s the swearing, to begin with). Except that they are both set in the realm of Government, there sare very few points of contact. There’s the hapless, inadequate Minister, the same kind of Ministry with amorphous responsibilities that no-one could define, and the same polar opposite who’s the real star of the show. But that’s where The Thick of It kick-starts its own groove.

Instead of Sir Humphrey Appleby, the smooth, quiet pillar of the establishment, we have Malcolm Tucker, the journalist-turned-enforcer, violent of temper and tongue, issuing not guidance but directives. The key difference: Yes Minister was about the battle with the Civil Service, The Thick of It about the battle with Image and Perception. So, instead of structured episodes about a fcussed subject, we get an uncontrolled, impressionistic flurry of confusion, in which there is no stable ground. This is reflected in the filming, done by handheld camera that goes all over the place, unable to settle, looking from person to person, distracted by corners, swinging from side to side, up to down, corner to corner.

It’s as if the camera is an invisible person in the scene, its glance darting hither and yon as it’s ADHD interest is caught by what’s going on. It’s unusual, it’s off-putting, it’s even seasickness-inducing until you adjust to it but it brilliantly captures the uncertsainty Armandi Ianucci wants to portray. Everything is built on shifting sands, disturbable at a second’s notice, or less. In this political word, nothing has any solid footing.

Of course this could not be like Yes Minister. There was an is a massive difference between the politics and the Britain of the change from the Seventies into the Eighties and that of the mid-2000s. Inanucci is too perceptive and brilliant a satirist not to understand this, nor to portray it any way except accurately. The series is chaos loosely grouped into segments: Press Conferences that, despite the presence of cameras, don’t show what Malcolm Tucker briefs has been said, a hopeless Minister who flip-flops from struggling to survive to being bent on resignation and welcoming survival. Everybody is on their own, arguing at all times, directly rude and offensive to people’s faces. It’s an environment I could never survive in as I’m constitutionaly incapable of telling someone to Fuck Off to their face and then carrying on working with them – and I’m not referring here to Tucker, who is the overwhelming monster who is unchallengeable, but to the peons – and it’s simultaneously fascinating and horrifying in its depiction.

Especially as we understand it as being real all along.

The swearing. Oh yes, the swearing. I was brought up in a very staid atmosphere. I’ve grown out of that, a long times back, I use ‘bad language’ but I don’t use it indiscriminately, every third or fourth word. I use it for impact and effect. Repeat Fuck too many times and it just becomes a sound, and thus useless. The plethora of swear words – there was a solitary, half-swallowed use of the C-word in episode 1 – sometimes appears crude and juvenile: dockers’ language, fish-market language as it would be termed when I was young, and it did repel me a little, even today.

But it’s also an accurate reflection of the mindset of these people, masters of the Universe in their own minds and so licenced to talk as they wish, even as they can’t act as they wish. Big boys grown up, look, I can say Fuck. It’s juvenile, and it’s an integral part of what they are. And I can find it funny.

Overall, series 1 isn’t that good. I like Chris Langham, and he’s good here – everybody is good – but I can’t watch him now without being conscious of his flaws. Capaldi is of course monstrous, and monstrously good, and the rest are tight and sharp. But the show is learning about itself at this stage, it doesn’t quite understand itself. It will be back, and it will be better. Another Sunday.

Sunday Watch: Help – e04-06

Immediately after watching the first half of Help last week, and posting about it, I thought how much better it would have been just to carry on, to watch the whole series in one three hour burst, because what have #i to say about the last three episodes that I haven’t already about the first? And given that I have time and enough at the moment, how much better to have enjoyed an all-the-way-through binge?

But I didn’t do that, and now, having watched the remaining episodes, I don’t have much to add. Like the first, they were universally brilliant, and I remain in awe at the way Messrs Langham and Whitehouse, in both their scripting and their performing, were able to guage such psychological depths, and be so thunderingly funny, without mocking the deadly serious issues they were using. I have always found it difficult to tread the very narrow balance between pain and humour, and far too often have only been able to feel the pain and not been able to share the laughter.

But Help rode that line with flair and assurance and even though I accepted the hurt intrinsic to the various scenarios, and thought about my own sessions in counselling that have been so very useful to me along the way, I exploded into laughter at the serious as well as the deliberately surreal – the scene with the guy who can’t decide between fishing and boardroom dancing displaced its essential crudity into a comic farce of hysterical proportions – and as I always have, every time I’ve watched this series, I regretted that Chris Langham’s unforgivable failings destroyed any hope of there being more than this. Frailty, thy name is man.

By its nature, a show like this cannot have any closure: there is nothing to build to, nothing to resolve, nothing to dangle for next series. But the final episode provided some moments, including the final scene, that did the trick well enough. There have been recurring characters throughout, to bind the episodes and keep them from being mere sketches, and enough of these were given a resolution for thuings to feel complete. Peter’s unexpressed feelings for his receptionist, Rebecca, unexpressed, that is, except to his own therapist, were dashed by cruel innocence in a scene that I sympathised with far too closely. And Monty, the elderly Jewish taxi-driver, always smiling, optimistic, philosophical and taking everything in his stride with a cheerfulness that was simultaneously real and unreal, Monty with the less than faithful wife who now had Alzheimer’s and was totally dependant upon him, Monty reported that Rose had died the previous day. And yes, she’d led him a merry dance, many times, and yes her burden had kept him from the quiet retirement he’d planned, and yes his way with words that provided an alternative to feeling, Monty plsainly missed her and would do so for the rest of his life.

But the last scene was with Gary and Claudia, Gary the self-contained man who started off only coming to therapy because his wife insisted but he didn’t want to talk, only to end up with an increasingly complex therapy path involving both of them. They’d sorted things out, the marriage would go on in all its shrieking combative chaos, because that’s what some marriages exist on. They wanted their own version of re-dedication, with Peter as the witness. But only Gary was there. And Claudia wasn’t answering her phone. Suspicion grew in all three minds, Gary, Peter and the viewer. Gary fought back. She’ll be ‘ere. Peter tried to empathise, from his own experience.

And with five minutes left, Claudia arrived, bright as a button, caught between stations on the Tube, kising Gary, who without saying a word visibly relaxed, his optimism proven. After the closing music, thoughts could be allowed to speculate, but for the moment, for the final shot, this viewer’s heart was set to believe, that sometimes even in this fatally compromised world, things can go right, if only between two people.

So that’s what else I had to say about Help. If only I could kick back next Sunday and watch the first half of series 2…

Sunday Watch: Help – e01-03


Help, a 2005 six-episode sitcom, occupies the invidious position of being simultaneously absolutely brilliant and having been airbrushed out of history. I watched it on first broadcast, on BBC2, first shown on Sunday nights and repeated later in the week, and I would watch it twice-weekly and still laugh my head off on each occasion.

The series was a two-hander, written and performed by Paul Whitehouse and Chris Langham, who had never collaborated before this, nor even met. The set-up was that Langham played Peter, a psychotherapist, and Whitehouse played all his patients, as well as Peter’s own psychotherapist. If nothing else, the show was a tour de force by Whitehouse, whose performances – and appearances – were so utterly diverse (the design and make-up of each patient was a miracle of pre-CGI, Whitehouse changing so much that many times you had to concentrate very hard to recognise him).

The show was genius, on every level. Remember that it is about people’s real and very painful issues, some of them very moving, some of them barking mad, and that the show was meant to capitalise upon, and make funny those areas of extreme weakness. It would be so easy to do an Eric Chapell/Yorkshire TV job on that, lowest common denominator gags, banal, obvious and cheap, but at every level Help treated its subject matter with respect for the pain inherent. It walked the tightrope between seriousness and comedy and never put a foot wrong.

The show was constructed in a sketch format, each episode dealing, on different levels, with at least a half dozen different encounters, each scene requiring a closing line. Writing so many of those, and putting each one into the metaphorical bullseye is a triumph in itself. Some characters were one-offs, but there was a core of repeated characters whose sessions formed a serial aspect: the aged Clement dependant upon two sticks, with his multiple speech impediments caused by the trauma of being buggered daily by biggers boys at his school, Denny and Les, the Status Quo analogues, there because, after 32 years as a band Denny hit Les in the face with a mike-stand, Gary who’s only coming because his wife insists and who doesn’t want to talk but who harbours deep issues, a Greek character who treats beating his wife as normal because it is in his village culture, Monty, the taxi-driver with an Alzheimers affected wife, who remains ever so cheerful at all times. Louie, who isn’t taking his medication and who you can’t quite tell if he’s being wilfuly eccentric or else is genuinely mad.

This isn’t all, not by a long way. The show has the freedom and the range to look at its subject from multiple angles, from brilliantly subtle writing, to out and out fantasy, to sentiment, warm and cold, to physical comedy. But, for reasons I shall shortly come to, I don’t want to go into any more specific detail.

I’ve watched the first half of the series this morning, and could easily have binged the whole thing, three hours worth in one go. It didn’t feel as if there was any genuine separation betwen the episodes and though they were half hour episodes, broadcast at weekly intervals, the three I watched felt like an ongoing, integrated story. I’ve no doubt that all six episodes would have together like a long movie in which you don’t notice the time passing.

But I don’t want to stir too much interest in the minds of those of you unfamiliar with the series, because you can’t get it for yourself. It was never released on DVD in the UK. To get hold of a copy, I had to order and have one delivered from Australia. It is a sad thing for such a wonderfully funny programme, but Help has been sequestered, been removed from television history, as if it had never existed.

Because it was originally intended for there to be at least a second series. But Chris Langham, co-creator, co-writer, co-star, was charged in 2007 with posessing images of child pornography on his computer. His defence was tht these were solely for research, that there were plans to make a pedophile a character in the second series. In Court, giving evidence, Paul Whitehouse stated that he was not aware of any such proposal. Langham was convicted and sentenced to ten months in prison. His career was demolished. Most of what he ever did has been withdrawn from circulation, including Help.

I don’t challenge that. I have no time for anyone who dabbles with child pornography or worse. But I can’t deny that Langham’s failings are not on show in Help, that Help was a brilliant series that deserves to take its place in the pantheon of comedy, which has been denied to it, that it deserves to be available to be enjoyed for the thing of beauty it is and, worst of all, Langham’s failings cost those of us who were there to see it the chance of more.

I shall watch the second half of the series next Sunday, though I’m not sure what more I have to say about it.

Film 2019: In The Loop

I didn’t go for The Thick of It in the first place. I watched the first, three-episode series, the one with Chris Langham. It was billed as Yes Minister for the 21st century, which led me to expect what I wasn’t going to get. I didn’t find it funny, and it took me a long time until I did find it funny.

In The Loop, borrowed on DVD from the local library, got me over that hurdle. It’s a spin-off from the TV series, a 2009 feature film splitting its time between England and America, intended as a satire of the Iraq war. Several of the Thick of It cast appear, together with half a dozen American actors, the biggest of whom – in every sense – being James Gandolfini, Tony Sporano as was.

What I didn’t understand properly, then, was that only Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker and Paul Higgins as Jamie MacDonald were playing ‘themselves’, with other familiar characters, most prominently Chris Addison, playing new characters closely related to their TV selves.

The spine of the story is very simple. Minister for International Development, Simon Foster, played by Tom Hollander as a soft-boiled egg, says something stupid on the radio, bringing down the ire of Tucker (it’s no good, Capaldi is and always will be Malcolm Tucker, forget this nonsense about being Doctor Who). Foster, you can rapidly tell, is born to say something stupid as he stands for nothing except being a career politician.

His new aide, Toby Wright (Addison), undermining his rather more efficient Director of Communications, Judy Molloy (Gina McKee, looking frankly gorgeous), gets Foster into a meeting with American Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomacy, Karen Clark (Mimi Kennedy) but only as ‘meat’ (i.e., another warm body to make the meeting look good). Foster compounds his error by speaking up when he’s not wanted.

This gets him dragged into affairs in America, where Secretary of State for Policy Linton Barwick (David Rasche) has created a secret War Committee aiming to invade an unnamed Middle East country. Clark, assisted by a very much more Con than Pro position paper written by her staffer, Lisa Weld (Anna Chlumsky) and General George Miller (Gandolfini) are opposed to War and want Foster to help ‘internationalise dissent’. Malcolm Tucker has other ideas.

There’s more to it than that, a lot more, branching out in multiple directions, but that’s enough. The film is a wind-up toy that whirrs and crashes. It’s embedded with personalities that are all exaggerations, but the thing that worries you is just how big – or in the circumstances little – an exaggeration they are.

Capaldi is just Tucker, his non-stop foul-mouthed invective a masterpiece of scripting given the perfect delivery: Tucker is bile and fury, he doesn’t just run on it, he is it. Foster is all soft edges and no convictions, the only flaw in Hollander’s portrayal being that you wonder how he got as far as he did without a vertebrate spine.

Addison’s Toby gets the biggest comeuppance in the film, in an unemphasised way. He screws Lisa in Washington which blows his relationship with girlfriend Suzy (Olivia Poulet), costing him his home, and is displaced at the Ministry almost as soon as Foster departs. It’s difficult to know whether to characterise him as a slimy creep or a creepy slime but after he tries to to explain away fucking Lisa as a protest against the war, he deserves everything he gets.

Of the other performers, I have just got to pick out Gandolfini. His is the most grounded in reality in the film (apart from McKee as Judy, who is more level-headed and unneurotic than everyone else). You can believe in him as a soldier and a General, more solid on the earth than anyone else, and yet every bit as cutting.

In the Loop was a success on all levels, thugh it’s fair to say it was slightly out of date when it was released. Obama was in the White House by then, and the film’s world is Dubya and Cheney, Republican hawks. Nevertheless, it hits all its marks with stiletto-like precision, and you come out of the film not merely wondering how close to the reality this is but convinced it’s more accurate than any history book or hard-hitting documentary will ever be.

I should also mention that it’s bloody funny too, that’s it’s full-to-bursting with undercurrents, sub-stories and clashing personalities without ever once feeling crammed, the performances are exactly brilliant and, most worrying of all, in these days of pandemics, crisis and potential panic, the feeling that you wish this lot were really in charge instead of the, you should pardon the expression, leaders we actually have.


This is a difficult subject about which to write, for reasons that have little to do with the series itself, and everything to do with the aftermath that ensured that it would not return and, indeed, would be conspicuously buried, to be deliberately forgotten.
Help – no relation to Help!, the 1965 Beatles film – appeared on BBC2 in 2005, a six part sitcom, a two-hander written and performed by Chris Langham and Paul Whitehouse. Langham plays Peter, a psychotherapist, Whitehouse plays his patients, every one of them, an array of eccentrics who recur throughout the six episodes: men of different ages and circumstances, covering a stunning range of personalities.
Whitehouse also plays Peter’s own psychotherapist. His performance is little short of astonishing: that he can become all these widely contrasting people, some deliberately eccentric, some plainly comic, others very deeply distressed and vulnerable, without any trace of any common thread, that he can occupy so many roles and have you nervously checking every face to see if this really is him again, because surely it must be someone different, is a testament to the quality of his work.
I believe that this series represents the best work he has ever done, and it is doomed to deliberate obscurity, existing only in the memory of those who watched the series on its only transmission. Or those who, like me, were able to find a Region 4 Australian DVD of the series, the only one of that I am aware of being issued.
Because Whitehouse’s writing and acting partner in this venture, Chris Langham, was subsequently arrested, convicted and imprisoned for downloading images of child pornography. Langham claimed that this was for the purpose of researching a paedophile character for the expected series 2 of Help, and a plainly embarrassed Whitehouse was summoned to give evidence that he knew of no such proposals.
Langham has served his time and been released but, as with others of that ilk, his career has been destroyed. Help cannot be rebroadcast, or offered for sale as a DVD because this would amount to promoting the work – and royalties – of an individual guilty of such a heinous offence.
That’s why I find the idea of writing about Help so difficult. It was a genuinely original, genuinely – sometimes excruciatingly – funny work of art. It’s writing and performance was of the highest standard, and if separated from the context of one of its two creators, it would deserve to be praised as high as you can go.
But can we separate it from that context? More pertinently, should we?
It’s easy to take such a decision in the case of Gary Glitter, who has been wiped from entertainment history, his records no longer to be played even on Chart Rundown programmes for weeks where they were part of the historical record. Glitter is such a vile, unrepentant being, a continuing offender who has committed actual harm. And his records are pretty much cheap tat to begin with.
Langham, on the other hand, had a distinguished career of high quality work: an original member of Not the Nine O’Clock News, the pseudo-documentary series People Like Us, Hugh Abbott in the first series of The Thick of It. And he was not accused, so far as I am aware, of any physical abuse, but of downloading images.
Surely it can be argued that his offences are less severe, less serious, than those of Glitter, and that they have not been repeated, so he therefore shouldn’t be ostracised in the same fashion and we can discuss Help and say how good it was and how good he was.
But to do that would be tantamount to saying that there are degrees of child abuse, and that therefore some child abuse isn’t as bad as others, and that is very close to saying that in a relative context some child abuse is “better” than others, that it’s actually “good” child abuse because at least it didn’t…
And I can’t think that way. I can’t summon up George Orwell’s justly famous “Benefit of Clergy” and say that because Langham was such a gifted comic, because Help was so extraordinarily good, he gets a pass where others face the full effects of their offences. And I’m not talking obvious demons like Glitter, but the ones who did what Langham did, only they hadn’t co-created one of the funniest sitcoms I ever saw.
You cannot put that kind of price on things that are fundamental to what we are as human beings.
Much as part of me would love to sit down and discuss what makes Help so good, to share it with an audience who would enjoy it, this exercise has demonstrated to me that I can’t. I can still watch it from time to time, still find it as penetrating, and hilarious, as I did when I first watched it (twice a week: it was repeated, and I watched the repeats and roared again). Only there’s a shadow now, and I can’t discard that shadow.