It’s hard not to love HBO’s new comedy Veep. In this politically charged time we often see politicians as conniving, backstabbing, ruthless people and so it’s nice to see a show in the British tradition of well meaning cluelessness. They’ve been doing it well since the Goons were kicking around or more recently Yes, Minister but one doesn’t even have to go back that far to see it. Several years ago the same team behind Veep created a show called The Thick of It.
For those of you who haven’t seen it I can only shake my head and point you towards the nearest torrent or reputable DVD store online or not. It detailed the exploits of lower level ministers and their attempts to simply matter while avoiding the vitriolically offensive Malcolm Tucker a man running between departments trying to get stuff done. The story was adapted and expanded for the film In The Loop which contained some of the same actors but not always in the same roles or with the same relationships that had been present in the TV series. It was a bold move but one that paid off in spades for the people who saw it.
In Veep the concept is basically the same (running around constantly trying to put out fires and inadvertently starting more) except we are dealing with the Vice President of the United States. While one would expect the issues or ‘game’ to be upped somewhat to deal with the obviously far larger role of VP (or Veep), cleverly the writing staff avoid this. The same foibles and ‘middle management’ vibe come across equally as well in the White House as in any British Government building.
The VP, Selina Meyer, is played to absolute perfection by the adorable and incredibly talented Julia Louis Dreyfuss. She displays just the right balance of ballsiness and vulnerability that made her other most famous creation, Elaine Benes, such a delight for 9 years. That said Selina is very much played straight unlike Elaine’s boisterous and bossy posturing. Sure she’s awkward (as when she’s delivering a speech that’s had most of it’s content redacted at the last moment) and managerial (attempting to cover for a poorly chosen version of the phrase “hoisted by your own petard”) but it seems more character and less caricature. This is a woman who has clearly earned her position but still seems horribly overwhelmed.
The supporting cast is excellent from Reid Scott’s (My Boys) sycophantic PR guru to Anna Chlumsky’s (My Girl – sure she’s done other stuff but who cares) long suffering Chief of Staff. A cast that also includes Tony Hale and Matt Walsh is always going to have me excited and one gets the impression that as good as they are in this first episode they aren’t firing on all cylinders and once this train gets really warmed up it’s going to be a thing to behold.
The show is shot in a similar style to The Thick of It, using a hand held documentary feel to capture moments and conversations rather than ‘scenes’. Sure it’s been used to great effect and not so great effect in numerous television shows over the past 7-8 years, here it works well and gives this first episode a sense of pace and impetus that other shows haven’t always been able to deliver.
What’s most obvious about the show is just how focused and cocksure the creative team is. This is not a far cry from the work they did on The Thick of It (all 16 episodes across three seasons) and while some may decry that I see it as a wonderful boon for the show. To have such confidence so quickly out of the gate can only help this show as it continues through it’s first season and hopefully into many more seasons ahead.