The Bottom Line
- Stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Matt Walsh, Reid Scott, Timothy Simons, Sufe Bradshaw
- Created by Armando Iannucci
- Airs Sundays at 10 p.m. EST starting April 22, 2012, on HBO
Despite being the first female vice president and having served with distinction as a senator, Louis-Dreyfus’ Selina Meyer discovers that her position carries very little authority or power, so she and her staff attempt to pursue their modest agenda while hoping not to be derailed by more high-profile matters. Although In the Loop was a fairly brutal satire on the way that politicians are happy to ignore or subvert facts in favor of their own petty interests, even when that means engaging in an unjustified war, the stakes on Veep are considerably lower. Despite her proximity to the (never-glimpsed) most powerful man in the free world, Selina focuses on small-scale efforts like promoting environmentally friendly jobs or combating excessive filibustering.
Selina and her staffers are generally well-intentioned, and Veep isn’t about rampant corruption or immorality in government. That can make the show more appealing to watch, since the main characters are likeable, but it also makes the comedy a little limp, without the kind of ruthlessness that Iannucci demonstrated in In the Loop. Some of Selina’s staffers, especially her right-hand man, played by Arrested Development’s Tony Hale, and her head spokesperson, played by Upright Citizens Brigade’s Matt Walsh, are comically inept, but they’re clueless and awkward rather than malicious. Hale and Walsh are seasoned comedy pros, but their performances are a little too cartoonish to fit in with the more grounded political humor that Iannucci does best.
Louis-Dreyfus does a better job at balancing the absurd and the realistic, and the show’s third episode, which shows Selina interacting with her college-student daughter, offers the best sense of how Veep could succeed as a character-driven comedy in the absence of any incisive political commentary. Anna Chlumsky, who co-starred in In the Loop, also gives a very good performance as Selina’s put-upon chief of staff, who, like Selina, actually knows what she’s doing but is still stymied at every turn by the ineptitude or antagonism of others.
As a workplace comedy, Veep does feature some solid laughs, and the disconnect between Selina’s policy ambitions and her everyday reality is a strong source of humor (the running gag in which Selina constantly asks her receptionist if the president has called only gains more amusing pathos the more it’s repeated). But compared to Iannucci’s past work, it’s a little toned down, which is disappointing given the free rein HBO usually affords its shows. Veep has plenty of vulgar language, but it doesn’t do much to make the show funnier. Still, there’s a solid comedic ensemble here, and if Iannucci can focus on the strong character-based humor over the muddled political message, Veep could end up being a pretty entertaining sitcom.