At this point, I think that HBO really ought to just give everyone formerly associated with ‘Seinfeld’ his or her own half-hour comedy series. Larry David has been on board for the past decade, and now Julia Louis-Dreyfus joins the network family with the political satire ‘Veep’. Based on the first episode, this one’s another winner.
A clever opening titles sequence succinctly informs us of how Louis-Dreyfus’ bumbling politician, Selina Meyer, wound up in the number-two position on a successful Presidential ticket. Now she is, officially, a heartbeat away from being the most powerful person in the free world. The rest of the episode shows us just how far that heartbeat is.
Meyer has, essentially, no power at all, political or otherwise. No one respects her or even pays her much attention, not even her own staff. She spends the pilot episode, ‘Fundraiser’, trying to push her signature agenda, the “Clean Jobs Initiative,” the centerpiece of which is apparently convincing Americans to use disposable utensils made out of cornstarch rather than plastic. (In a hilarious throwaway bit, Selina’s cornstarch spoon melts in her coffee.) This of course sets off a firestorm of protest from the plastics industry, and thus from Big Oil, who have so many ties to everyone and everything in the government that Selina can’t be allowed to rock the boat. A speech she planned to give is redacted at the last second so severely that all she has left on her note cards are a handful of prepositions and a smiley face drawn in the margin. Her clumsy attempt to wing a new speech results in disaster when she tells a very un-PC joke that went over like gangbusters when someone else told it in the hallway, but is greeting with shocked silence when the Vice President of the United States says it in front of the national media.
The series was created by Armando Iannucci, who’d previously made a similarly-themed show in Britain called ‘The Thick of It’, which spawned the feature film ‘In the Loop‘ a few years ago. He has an ear for blazing-fast, witty dialogue and razor-sharp satire. The jokes fly furiously as the characters circle the halls of power, bitching about everything, sniping at one other, and gossiping behind each other’s backs. In some very knowing bits of observation, almost all of the characters pay more attention to their Blackberries than to what’s happening right in front of them, and the very worst thing that anyone can do is to say in public what they really think about anything.
Louis-Dreyfus is at the top of her game here. While she’s not directly channeling Sarah Palin, her character Selina has a similar problem of clearly being trapped way out of her depth. She’s very shallow and self-serving, though perhaps not totally an idiot. Other members of the terrific cast include Anna Chlumsky as Selina’s dismissive Chief of Staff and Tony Hale as her sycophantic assistant. The show is damn funny, and I set it for a series recording on my DVR immediately.
Now, how long before Jason Alexander or Jerry turn up on the network in something more permanent than the ‘Seinfeld’ reuinion storyline on ‘Curb’?