Armando Iannucci, writer of The Thick of It takes his foul mouthed political satirising to the US. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the vice president, a pretty powerless position which is staffed by a correspondingly second rate selection of incompetents.
I’ve watched this pilot twice and I still can’t quite decide where I stand on it. Bits of it really made me laugh but bits of it made me cringe. I’m quite particular when it comes to comedy, fundamentally I like smart comedies – ones based on wit, eloquence and cleverness; most comedies however seem to be based on people either being stupid or messing up. Veep somehow manages to combine the two, the dialogue is smart, but the characters are so very stupid.
At one point the vice-president says “the level of incompetence in this office is staggering” and that’s the problem. The characters are not very good at their jobs, they make dumb mistakes and their personalities range from outright creepy through to just plain dull. The only likeable and competent character I saw seems to be the diary secretary and she only gets about 4 lines.
Maybe the biggest problem with the pilot was that I didn’t really ‘get’ the central character of the vice-president. I couldn’t work out whether she was someone actually competent in a terrible job and surrounded by morons, or whether she was just as simpering and short-sighted as everyone around her. She’s smart enough to realise her staff are dumb and have a shout about it, but not smart enough to get through an improvised speech without being offensive. Given that uncertainty in her character, Julia Louis-Dreyfus gives a surprisingly good performance with entertaining reactions and some funny physical comedy.
On the flip side, the dialogue is good; it’s snappy, witty and there are occasional flashes of the brilliance that made The Thick of It shine. I laughed out loud quite a few times and there were plenty of smiles for both the main dialogue and the little asides of characters in the background. The language isn’t quite as… um… colourful as The Thick of It’s, but it has its moments. The problem is that smart words coming out of the mouths of idiots just doesn’t really work. What the show misses is what made The Thick of It so good – the character of Malcolm Tucker and Peter Capaldi’s performance.
For me, comedy comes from looking just slightly sideways at real life. Comedies I love, like Outnumbered (at least the first couple of seasons) are really just day-to-day existence with a slightly better script writer and the chance to redraft things that don’t work the first time. Comedy that has to rely on improbably stupid characters or situations just doesn’t work so well for me. I know that the vice-president’s office is a big step down from the president’s office, but still, surely there are more competent people out there. Maybe I’m over-thinking things, if I laughed a lot then surely it’s a good comedy? So why do I just feel that I didn’t like it very much?
Veep is on Sky Atlantic on Monday nights.
The Guardian – “The script is predictably sharp, fearless, unforgiving – sometimes so of us the audience; this is something you’ll want to watch again, to get nuances”
The Huffington Post – “‘Veep’ simply isn’t particularly fresh or funny, and most of its jokes are telegraphed from a long way away.”