Hacks clocks in at 48 minutes, making this one off comedy short on running time and, as it stands, even shorter on humor. Penned by Guy Jenkin, who was also responsible for the family sitcom Outnumbered and tv news satire Drop Dead the Donkey, it attempts to wring a few laughs out of the News of the World phone hacking scandal. But it appears that real life is hard to beat, and the excesses portrayed here seem tame compared to the depravity practiced by the NOTW gang.

The show is not so much a satire, much as it may want to be, as it is a depiction of events viewed through wacky glasses. The players are so thinly disguised that the legal department must have had their defenses drawn well before airing. Stanhope Feast is probably the most recognizable, with Michael Kitchen doing his best facsimile of a certain Australian media mogul. Kitchen adopts Mr. Murdoch’s pouchy demeanor and snarl to great effect while Claire Foy as the Sunday Comet’s ruthless journalist cum editor Kate Loy, and Stanhope’s favorite, recalls a similarly fierce reporter. The bright young thing eats her staff for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Kayvan Novak of Fonejacker fame gts to use his comedic and voice talents as the newsroom’s most shameless ethical blackhole, a hack who breaks every rule without compunction. Outside the office, Alexander Armstrong plays David Bullingdon, a Tory MP with eyes on the PM prize; he also happens to live very near Jeremy Clarkson.

It’s admittedly amusing to see send-ups by such capable actors, but Hacks doesn’t add much besides some punchy one-liners. I found devilish joy in Kitchen’s irreverent performance. Best known as the reticent and exceedingly decent police detective Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War, he runs in the opposite direction here, declaring, “When I need help, I’ll light a distress flare and stick it up my ass, alright? Bugger off.” But how does one top Wendi Deng’s infamous pieing smackdown? Ho Chi Mao Feast (Eleanor Matsuura) simply can’t improve on that absurdity, though the show tries and in doing so becomes a throwback dragon lady stereotype.

There are flashes of humanity for some of the characters. Loy spends many a restless night haunted by the voices her hacking victims, and the Comet’s lone standard bearer of journalistic ethics Ray (Phil Davis) tries to set her right. But the verdict is out and few are willing to rush to a tabloid editor’s defense. Stanhope’s beleaguered son Connor (John Hopkins) tries to lay the blame on his overbearing father. The ruse almost works, until you realize who you’re sympathizing with.

This jaunty tap dance along the line separating the real and the barely fake can only sustain itself for so long, which probably accounts for the abbreviated running time. The show is careful not to tread too closely to the victims, and as a result, just lampoons the figures already being eviscerated by the broadsheets. It doesn’t really reveal anything we don’t already know and feel about this mess. If you’ve kept up with the actual headlines, those will more than fit the entertainment and self-satire bill.

Released: 2012
Prod: Jimmy Mulville
Dir: Guy Jenkin
Writer: Guy Jenkin
Cast: Michael Kitchen, Claire Foy, Phil Davis, Alexander Armstrong, Kayvan Novak, John Hopkins, Celia Imrie, Nigel Planer, Lisa Greenwood, Eleanor Matsuura, Stella Gonet
Time: 48 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Network: Channel 4
Reviewed: 2014