Entertainment :: Television

HBO’s "Veep"

by Kevin Taft
Contributor
Friday Apr 20, 2012
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U.K. TV series creators Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell hit the states with their single-camera half-hour HBO comedy "Veep." It stars Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as former senator Selina Meyer who finds herself the Vice President of the United States where her expectations of the job are far from what she anticipated. She is surrounded by various staffers: young Chief of Staff Amy Brookheimer ("My Girl’s" Anna Chlumsky), resident douchebag Deputy Director of Communications Dan Egan (Reid Scott), her fumbling bodyguard Gary Walsh ("Arrested Development’s" Tony Hale), always sweating Director of Communications Mike McClintock (Matt Walsh), obnoxious and inappropriate White House Liaison Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simmons), and Selina’s snarky executive assistant Sue Wilson (Sufe Bradshaw). Sort of a "The Office" set in Washington D.C., Iannucci and Blackwell have somehow created a massive collection of unlikeable characters that all hate each other. While that makes for a nice joke on perhaps a single episode of a sit-com or maybe a movie, after three episodes, the vitriol and constant put-downs and arguments wear thin. Even with Louis-Dreyfus’s pedigree, the show has minimum laughs and the interest level is sporadic.

The pilot episode entitled "Fundraiser" involves Selina dealing with the "Plastics" people about a new form of disposable utensils made of cornstarch. Eventually she has to attend an event in the President’s place where she must give a speech that has been edited so heavily her response when looking it over is, "I have ’hello’ and prepositions!" The second episode they call "Frozen Yoghurt" has Selina trying to connect with the "regular folk" and arranging an appearance at a black-owned yogurt shop for a photo opportunity. In the third episode available for review entitled "Catherine," Selina finds herself scrambling for support of an environmental bill just as her college-age daughter Catherine comes to visit. The fact that Selina barely has time for her and doesn’t seem to care starts to make the character a bit too odious. In fact, just as she’s in the thick of dealing with a work issue, she tries to blow off her daughter by telling her executive assistant to get rid of her. "Something more important than Catherine came up."

This might be funny as a throw-away line for a side character, but when we’re asked to invest in a main character week after week, we need to care about her in some way.... and like her. When she asks her daughter to pick out the VEEP dog, she makes fun of the selection. She also knows nothing about what’s going on with her. There is a moment where the two are forced to deal with their disconnect, but it doesn’t result in any sort of heart-tug. And maybe that’s the point. But when all you have are negative nasty people populating a "comedy," audiences may start to question why they would bother watching.

Iannucci and Blackwell have somehow created a massive collection of unlikeable characters that all hate each other.

Sure, at times the series is a witty send up of our political system, and Louis-Drefyuss is a master of perfectly timed comebacks and awkward facial expressions. But her charm is lost in a role that is just bitter and spiteful. It’s a treat to see Anna Chlumsky all grown up and she is likeable enough, but again, by the third episode she’s also throwing numerous barbs and making herself unpleasant.

I wanted to like "Veep" and perhaps it is just taking some time to find its footing. Whether I’ll bother tuning in for episodes 4-8 of Season One is yet to be determined. With "Girls" - despite the controversy and criticism it has already engendered - HBO has a witty and relevant hit. Even when those four girls have unlikeable moments, there is a reason for their behavior and they are self-aware about their selfishness. With "Veep," it just feels like old people trying too hard to be edgy.

"Veep" begins airing Sunday April 22 @ 10pm est/pst.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to ’Star Wars’ and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg. He can be seen in the flesh on the weekly PBS movie review series "Just Seen It."

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