On paper, the new HBO comedy Veep appears to have been created in a laboratory specifically for me. As a political scientist, I’m a sucker for shows or movies set in the world of politics, especially those that focus on either the executive branch of the judiciary (the legislative branch generally bores me). The West Wing, Ides of March, An American President, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Bob Roberts and Parks and Recreation are all things that I was drawn to and enjoyed. As a Seinfeld devotee, I’m always happy to see one of the former cast members in something and I have a special fondness for Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I always identified with Elaine in a lot of ways, especially when Kramer referred to her as a “man’s woman. You hate other woman and they hate you.” I’ve always gotten along better with men and a lot of women don’t like me because of that. Add in a former Arrested Development cast member Tony Hale(Buster Bluth) and all the ingredients are there for me to totally fall in love with this show.
So I was a little disappointed when I didn’t.
Veep isn’t a bad show. Not by any stretch. There is a lot to like about it. But I was kind of stunned when the end of the show came and I wasn’t bowled over. As I’ve written before, comedy pilots are especially difficult to do well and Veep may have suffered the burden of my too high expectations. I was so excited about the show that it was going to be difficult for it to live up the hype. I usually try to temper my anticipation, but this show seemed to be so in my wheelhouse that I failed to do that this time.
Growing up, no kid dreams of being Vice President. Neither do any politicians – the office is either a stepping stone for their own run for president or is a conciliation prize for their failed attempt to become commander in chief. It is never the actual planned destination. One of the reasons for this is that the vice president doesn’t inherently have a lot to do except for break ties in the Senate and wait for the president to die. It’s really up to the president how much they want to give the VP to do – Clinton and especially George W. Bush opted to give their respective second in commands more to do. George H.W. Bush tried to hide his VP as much as possible.
Louis-Drefyus’ Selina Meyer falls more into the latter category and that may not necessarily be a bad idea. A failed candidate for the presidency, Meyer and her staff seem incapable of totally getting their act together. A lot of the first episode is spent with her team trying to put out fires, mostly of their own making. While this isn’t great for the executive branch, it is a lot of fun to watch. Their situation isn’t made any better by the President’s complete disinterest in her; a running joke is Meyer asking her assistant if the President has called. The answer is always no. Their only interaction with Oval Office is the smarmy twenty-something liaison that is sent to give the Veep her marching orders. Her entire staff hates him, probably because they realize that even at his lowly station at the White House, he is more important than they are. In the pilot, Meyer is sent to fill in for the President at an event. When the Oval Office completely overhauls her speech at the last minute, she is forced to speak off the cuff and unscripted. It does not end well.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is very funny as the somewhat ditzy Vice President. I don’t know if it is my history with her as an actress, but I am predisposed to laugh at anything that she is in. She has great comic timing and I am looking forward to seeing what she does with this role. The rest of the supporting cast is strong as well, with Hale, Anna Chlumsky and Matt Walsh.
My main issue with the pilot was that it wasn’t quite as funny as I expected. There is a lot going on and with the rapid dialogue it wasn’t always clear what was always going on. I think that style will be fine once we get to know the characters, but for the first episode it was a little confusing. Not Game of Thrones confusing, but enough that it distracted me a bit from what was going on. There is a lot of cussing in the show and that isn’t something that I am against. However I thought they relied a little too much on cursing as the punch line in the pilot. As I mentioned in my Jim Jefferies review, there needs to be more to a joke than it is just shocking or using somewhat shocking language.
What is interesting about the show it that it is fairly apolitical – you never know what party the administration represents. One of the reasons I stopped watching the West Wing was I thought the show was getting a little too preachy in its politics week in and week out. That doesn’t appear to be an issue with Veep. While there are some references to issues, they are mostly secondary and fairly benign. There has also been some speculation before the pilot aired that this show was somehow based on Sarah Palin. That is not the case. People were apparently making that assumption based solely on the fact that the show features a female vice president.
Though I didn’t fall in love with Veep, I definitely fell in like with it and I will be back to see how the show progresses. The pilot was a very solid opening entry and I look forward to seeing what other shenanigans Meyer and her bumbling staff manage to get themselves into.
The pilot episode of Veep is available on HBO On Demand, HBO Go, iTunes and youtube.