VEEP: Sundays 10PM on HBO – Potential DVR Alert
Although of course it made all the sense in the world to precede tonight’s premiere of its new political comedy VEEP with the trailer for its upcoming political comedy-drama, Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, in some ways HBO might have considered thinking twice. Both Sorkin and Veep‘s auteur Armando Iannucci specialize in rapid-fire banter in which characters hurl their smarts and wit at each other as seduction, defense, and weapon of mass destruction, but Sorkin’s repartee usually has a heartfelt (if sometimes sanctimonious) point–as even the 2-minute Newsroom trailer makes clear, he’s got something on his mind. Iannucci, on the other hand, dazzles mostly for the sake of dazzling, and Veep doesn’t have much of a core.
That doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Like Iannucci’s film In the Loop and the UK sitcoms that preceded it, Veep is a celebration of the political world as a nest of craven losers. In this case, the setting is the office of Vice-President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). She had tried, but failed, to get the presidential nomination (we don’t know much, yet, about how things fell apart), and has been relegated to that post which is both the 2d-most important in the land and the most useless. She’s attended by a staff of acerbic idiots: Mike (Matt Walsh) runs things, to the extent that anyone does; Amy (Anna Chlumsky) is one of the group’s brighter lights, but still liable to sign her own name when the Veep’s signature is needed; Gary (Tony Hale) is enthusiastic but inane; and Dan (Reid Scott) is, in the pilot, the newly arrived supposed shark. They all have to cope with Jonah (Timothy Simons), the low-level staffer from the actual West Wing who boasts of the number of times POTUS has spoken to him and has a crush on Amy.
The pilot takes us through a day or two in the Veep’s office when her own mouth and the mistakes of her aides continuously get her into trouble: an errant tweet alienates the plastics industry, a repeated joke in bad taste brings down the wrath of the press and pressure groups, and Amy’s aforementioned signature is unfortunately on a condolence card for a dead Senator. No one in Washington will even pretend Selina has any power, and she flails against her impotence while only showing her frustration to her staff.
The characters are constantly in verbal motion, and Iannucci (who co-wrote the pilot script with Co-Executive Producer Simon Blackwell, as well as directing the pilot) is great at the bickering, scheming, retractions and rationalizations. He has a crackling cast, with Louis-Dreyfus seeming to revel in the smartest dialogue she’s had since Seinfeld, Tony Hale doing the articulate moron bit he perfected on Arrested Development, and Chlumsky (who was also in In the Loop) removing any trace of My Girl from her resume.
The only thing missing from Veep is any particular depth or interest in having any. The politics in the show are an exercise–we don’t, and apparently never will, even know what party Selina belongs to–and the characters are straw figures. Veep doesn’t seem to want to be more than the smartest (and most foul-mouthed) network workplace sitcom on the air, with characters that, in classic sitcom fashion, will repeat the same pattern week in and week out. We’ll see if, over time, Iannucci allows his people any breathing room; for now, they’re all too busy talking to allow any feelings to get in the way.