thu 25/04/2019

Veep, Sky Atlantic | reviews, news & interviews

Veep, Sky Atlantic

Veep, Sky Atlantic

Armando Iannucci's terrific new ensemble comedy puts an absurdist spin on US politics

Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Vice-President Selina Meyer, immediately pre-meltdown

Post-Dubya, post-Palin, (very) post-Yes We Can, the US sitcom appears finally to have arrived at the same point its more cynically inclined British equivalent reached decades ago. In a political age defined by dishonour and doublespeak, it seems the most effective means of responding to all that mendacious incompetence is to dropkick depressing reality into the realm of the absurd.

Perhaps pertinently, perhaps not, a couple of Brits are helping bring political satire to America's small screens. Conceived, directed and co-written (with Simon Blackwell) by Armando Iannucci, Veep - which aired in the US earlier this year on HBO - is essentially The Thick of It sent Stateside with instructions to put The West Wing in a prolonged and painful headlock: the dutifully reverential theme music and a tasteful stars and stripes graphic adorning the opening credits unambiguously mocked the lofty ideals of Aaron Sorkin’s esteemed presidential drama. What followed was 30 minutes of exceedingly funny ensemble comedy in which the Home of the Brave was dismantled brick by brick and its shell left propped up by iron girders.

Some of the swearspeak rose to the heights of Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker at his vituperatively inventive best

Veep tracks life in the office of Vice-President Selina Meyer, played by the estimable Julia Louis-Dreyfus with that irresistible mix of social awkwardness, assertive-rudeness and contrived sweetness familiar to anyone who loved her as Elaine in Seinfeld. Resisting the urge to take easy pot shots at Sarah Palin, Meyer’s VP is instead cast as a comically marginal figure surrounded by a team of misfits and inadequates, gamely trying to carve out her niche via the Clean Jobs Commission, a cause she characterised as “my Cuba”.

In true Thick of It style, last night’s opening episode saw her team desperately trying to spin her out of a clusterfuck of PR disasters: 140 rogue characters from a staff tweet-monkey had alienated the powerful plastics industry, with the result that Meyer’s key reform confab on refining workplace utensils turned into the political equivalent of a “funeral for a homeless guy”. “How do you suggest I mingle?” she hissed at her PA as the tumbleweed twirled through the meeting room. “Did Simon mingle with Garfunkel?”

Worse swiftly followed. A misjudged gag delivered during a free-form jazz version of a fundraising speech resulted in “Retardgate”, a calamitous news story in which “the font size is going up every five minutes”. Finally, her chief of staff Amy (Anna Chlumsky) forgetfully signed her own name instead of Meyer’s on a condolence card for the wife of the recently deceased Senator Reeves (“Ah, rapey Reeves – one of the most respected perverts in the Senate”), culminating in a spectacularly bug-eyed meltdown from Louis-Dreyfus.

There was also a crackling bitch-off with a steely female senator, which Meyer lost by around seven “fucks” to two. Although Veep was merely generously sprinkled with expletives rather than manically pebble-dashed in the manner of The Thick of It, some of the swearspeak rose to the heights of Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker at his vituperatively inventive best: a revised speech was memorably declared to have been “pencil-fucked” by meddling aides.  

As we had every right to expect, the dialogue was smart and sharp, full of fast-talking sparring and overlapping one-liners which the uniformly fine cast delivered with aplomb. Particular props to Tony Hale (pictured above right) as the jittery, hapless Gary, PA to the VP, whose job description was not simply to be undermined and belittled at every turn – but to enjoy it. “I like your glasses,” he told Meyer, who barked: “Glasses make me look weak, like a wheelchair for the eyes.” “I agree", croaked poor Gary. There's nothing weak about Veep, though. The really good news is that it gets even better.

It is essentially The Thick Of It sent Stateside with instructions to put The West Wing in a prolonged and painful headlock

Share this article

Comments

Yet another decent US series pilfered by Murdoch & his cronies. Us lefties are spluttering in our soup when we read gushing reviews of any HBO or AMC series unnatainable by the hoi polloi. Could you not just share your thoughts of said shows amongst yourselves?

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters