Sunday, April 28, 2013

Black Sheep does TV: VEEP Season 1

Julie Louis-Dreyfus has tried a couple of times post "Seinfeld" to find a television vehicle that would properly capture her brilliantly sharp comedic savvy. Attempts to fit her into played out network sitcom scenarios, where she plays sympathetic characters surrounded by silliness, were blatantly obvious miscasts. They felt like nothing more than forced, desperate plays to capitalize on her notoriety. Safe sitcoms are not where this girl belongs. It would appear though that she may have finally found her niche on the HBO cable series, VEEP, where she plays the Vice-President of the United States as a reluctantly useless figurehead. Apparently, it is a lot easier to love Louis-Dreyfus when you are loving to hate her.

VEEP was created by the incredibly witty, Arnando Iannucci, who previously skewered American politics with his 2011 satire, IN THE LOOP. It is unfortunately nowhere near as biting or hysterical as that is but the momentum the show develops as it finds its footing and voice gives me great hope for its prospects. All we are told about how Selina Meyer (Louis-Dreyfus) found her way to her VP post is in the very brief opening credit sequence. She was on something of a meteoric rise during the presidential primaries and could have even taken the presidency. Then something happened, something we don't know about, and she began to publicly melt down. And so she was tossed the VP position as something of a consolation prize. Resilience is this character's forte though so she resolves to make her vice-presidency matter. She takes on filibuster reform and clean jobs and quickly realizes that her job is more for show than anything else. She wants to matter, to make change and leave something of a legacy, but her intentions are always so intensely selfish that you would think it would be incredibly difficult to muster any sympathy for her. All the same, Louis-Dreyfus gets it out of us, which is the crux of her genius. Selina Meyer, like Elaine Benes before her, is not that great a person on paper but yet somehow, you still want her to be happy.

Selina's team is a bunch of bumblers but the actors playing them are spot on. From Anna Chlumsky (an IN THE LOOP transplant) as an aid who can hardly keep up with Selina's constant foibles, to Tony Hale, taking his ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT obsessive worship to the next level as Selina's personal assistant and gopher. VEEP finds its focus about five episodes into the first season, in an episode named "Nicknames", in which she learns that her staff has to Google search a plethora of pseudonyms, like Veep Throat or Viagra Prohibitor, in order to stay on top of what the press is saying about her. That being said, there are only eight episodes in the entire season so finding your way half way through may be a bit late for some. Still, this first term has me intrigued to see what comes from the second.

VEEP Season 1 is available on DVD and Blu-ray now. Review copy provided by HBO Canada.

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