A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.
Previously… on VEEP: Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is the Vice President of the United States, tantalizingly close to ultimate power but unable to touch it. She and her motley staff of Mike (Matt Walsh), Amy (Anna Chlumsky), Gary (Tony Hale) and Dan (Reid Scott) try to convince her–and themselves–that they’re capable of accomplishing something, anything, while in office, even as they tend to fumble it all.
Episode 2: As the Veep pilot suggested (but unusually for HBO), the series isn’t going to be particularly serialized. The second episode, written by series creator/showrunner Armando Iannucci and Co-Executive Producer Simon Blackwell, and directed by Iannucci, picked up a bit of the pilot’s plot points, in that Selina is still pushing for a Clean Jobs Act and a bill to limit Senate filibustering. But since it’s fairly clear that Selina and her staff won’t actually get anything done, these are more hooks than real narrative through-lines.
Iannucci’s interest isn’t so much in government or policy as in highly verbal screw-ups and failed power plays among the (near-) mighty. In tonight’s episode, Selina believed she’d finally be able to take credit for the Clean Jobs Act… only to have it snatched away when the President (who apparently won’t be seen in the series) decided to announce it himself. Then she thought she might get a powerful Senator to sponsor her anti-filibuster bill… but his cooperation was conditional on blowing the Clean Jobs deal. Meanwhile, Gary increasingly suffered from intestinal ills, Dan and Mike squabbled over the office’s shreds of power, and the day ended up in a disastrous visit to a frozen yoghurt (that’s with an “h”) shop that didn’t at all provide the photo op Selina had been hoping for.
The best and most incisive sequence of the episode came when, very briefly, the President suffered chest pains, and Selina was summoned to the White House to be briefed on the real things that were going on in the world, just in case he was having a heart attack. Louis-Dreyfus’ playing of the Veep’s mix of concern, panic and ill-concealed glee was priceless, and when it of course turned out that the President was fine, there was a little pathos in her return to the shadows.
That kind of moment, though, doesn’t seem to be what Veep is really about. The series will instead offer a weekly helping of enjoyably hostile wordplay, fast pace and very little substance, perhaps mirroring the real world of day-to-day politics more than ambitious works about government ever do. With a short cable order that will end in June (when Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom starts, thinking of ambitious works about government), Veep should justify a weekly half-hour’s vote without wearing out its welcome.
ORIGINAL VERDICT: Potential DVR Alert
Pilot + 1: But It’s OK to Miss An Episode