REVIEW: VEEP (airs Sundays, HBO-Canada)
VEEP isn’t what I expected. And that’s a good thing.
When I first read about the comedy, which follows the daily misadventures of a U.S. Vice President (Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Seinfeld fame), I anticipated The Office with a touch of dim-witted Sarah Palin idiocy.
And certainly, there is a bit of The Office’s uncomfortable, behind-the-scenes nonsense in this obscenity-laced ensemble tale as nothing goes quite as planned for Vice President Selina Meyers (Louis-Dreyfus). Even something as simple as selecting a yogurt flavour for a photo op (“Jamaican Rum? It’s unexpected. Funky. Sexual…”) or choosing a breed of vice presidential dog (“Terrier? That’s a diva dog”) proves to be fraught with political implications and unexpected media fallout.
Still, Selina is no Palin. She’s smart, very capable, and has a long history of serving her nation. Indeed, unlike most sitcoms, VEEP is full of very normal, intelligent characters good at their jobs. But as Selina herself notes in an early episode, “I’ve met some people. Real people. And a lot of them are f***ing idiots.” So even when her staff makes logical decisions, they are undone by unanticipated, outside idiocy.
Creator Armando Iannucci – best known for his British political satire The Thick of It and the movie spinoff In The Loop – also finds humour in the office of the vice president itself. In Iannucci’s world, the job of the VEEP is filled with important daily activities and policy decisions, yet ultimately at the mercy of presidential whims and political machination.
Selina may be only a heartbeat away from Leader of the Free World, but being the backup goalie comes with little respect. Like in episode #3, where her efforts to find an oil industry advisor for her Clean Act Bill are constantly derailed by her attempts to have the name of the upcoming storm “Hurricane Selina” changed to something less personal.
“You can’t control the weather,” notes Selina’s daughter. “You’re not Thor.”
And adding to the fun is a style that plays out like a Robert Altman movie. We never quite know where the camera will settle in a crowded room of VEEP staffers and hangers-on.
As for the VEEP herself, Louis-Dreyfus plays it straight. Her character is smart yet frustrated. She’s a good person – but working in a job that seems to defy goodness. She’s self-centered, yes, but you have to be when everyone is out to get you. This is a paranoid world she’s working in, and the actress hits the right note.
The rest of the ensemble – headed by Anna Chlumsky (My Girl all-grown up!) and Tony Hale (Arrested Development) – are great in roles that require them to work around the edges of the frame. Much of what they say is only half-heard – lost in the chaos that is the VEEP’s office. Luckily, this is HBO. So all us ‘f***ing idiots’ at home will have no problem watching VEEP repeatedly to catch all the funny bits they missed the first time around.
VEEP airs Sundays, 10 p.m. (ET) on HBO-Canada.