Veep Preview: Second in Command, First in Funny
Veep is a hilarious new comedy that premieres this Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO.
The series stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Vice President Selina Meyer, a woman just one step away from the most powerful position in the world, but, as played by this Seinfeld alum, that is one seriously bumbling, funny step.
Let it be said up front that this is no parody of Sarah Palin. Meyer doesn't have an accent, she makes no mention of Russia in relation to her house and the sitcom, overall, doesn't touch upon either political party.
Instead, Meyer is simply a woman who wants to be a lot more important than she is. She asks her secretary in practically every other scene if the President has called and you can guess the answer each time. (It's been noted that the President will never actually be seen or named, making him as mysterious and distant to viewers as he is from Selina.)
She aims to leave her legacy via a clean jobs bill, seemingly more focused on how she'll be helping the country, not on how the country will actually benefit from her actions.
And Louis-Dreyfus portrays Meyer in a constant state of ditzy rage. She's not a complete moron, but she lacks most social graces, relying on her mostly inept team to help her conquer the D.C. game and growing frustrated at their constant screw-ups (such as signing the wrong name on a condolence card for the widow of a senator), while also recognizing that she would truly be nowhere without them.
Anna Chlumsky (eerily grown up since My Girl, which, I know, came out in 1991) plays Amy Brookheimer, Meyer's Chief of Staff and the employee most effective at her job. She curses a lot, and she has a love/mostly hate relationship with Dan Egan, the cocky new Deputy Director of Communications, portrayed by Reid Scott (What can't he do? Foreplay, direct sunlight, Amy says of her ex...) - but Brookheimer has a mostly firm grip on the tasks at hand.
I suppose the same can be said for Tony Hale's Gary, although, as Selina's body man, his tasks merely include getting his boss coffee, lip gloss and even more coffee. All he wants to do is please Meyer (and likely take her to bed) and Hale excels at the kind of air-headed antics and attitude he perfected on Arrested Development.
But Gary is no Bluster Bluth. He's at least somewhat self-aware, taking issue when Dan makes fun of his position by rightfully saying he spends more time with the Vice President than any other staff member.
Then there's my favorite character, Mike McClintock, (Matt Walsh). He's the Director of Communications who has been around forever, understands he'll never make it to the White House (and takes out that irritation on the annoying Jonah, a recurring character who does work at the White House and spends his scenes reminding the Veep office of that very fact) and simply doesn't care anymore. About sweat stains on his shirt, about current events, about anything, really.
Veep is seriously funny, but it manages to include political undertones as well. There's noting overt, nothing that would offend either the Left or Right, just sly commentary on how staffers place importance on the flavor of ice cream the Vice President should choose when making a public appearance, while also referring to interactions with voters as "normalizing."
Like The West Wing, we're also treated to quick dialogue and storylines based on corn starch, big oil and filibusters. None of it is dumbed down for the audience, but none of it plays a central role in the jokes or for the characters, either, for those uninterested in such capitol details.
Overall, Veep is one of the more intelligent comedies on TV. It features a great cast and characters that are taken to the extreme, yet never come across as caricatures. They're simply trying, and mostly failing, to be good at their jobs.
The running joke on Veep may be that Selina is anything but Presidential, but the pace and humor with which this series operates makes it easy for me to give the show a huge vote of confidence. Tune in.