Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for April 20th, 2012

What the Veep do we know?

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Earlier this week, my wife and I were lucky enough to attend a special screening of two episodes of HBO’s Veep, the new political comedy from the British writer and producer Armando Iannucci. I was excited to see it because I’m a big fan of Iannucci’s In The Loop, one of the best comedies of recent years, and because I love many of the actors in the cast, especially Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Vice President Selina Meyer and Tony Hale (who played Buster on Arrested Development) as her bodyguard and personal assistant. And Veep is, in fact, a very good, if not quite a great show: the pilot is mostly outstanding, and although the second episode I saw—which I believe is the third to be aired—isn’t quite at the same level, there’s still a lot of promise here. (I’ll give a shot to any series that refers to one of its characters, a White House liaison played by Timothy Simons, with the line, “Are we really going to let the guy with the police-sketch face of a rapist tell us what to do?”)

Of course, handicapping a television show based on its first two episodes is a fool’s game. We just don’t know where a series like this will go, and as with most shows, Veep needs to be judged less on its own merits than on the potential of the team it has assembled, and in this case, it’s a great one. I’ll happily watch Tony Hale in anything, and as for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, well, she’s spectacularly smart and attractive and funny, to an extent that may even undermine what the show tries to do with her character’s desperation. Still, she knows how to sell a joke. The scene where Selina Meyer leaves a meeting to briefly freak out over a mistake by her chief of staff—who has signed her own name instead of the Vice President’s on the condolence card for a deceased senator’s widow—is my favorite moment in the pilot. There’s no political subtext here, just pure comedy, and if the show can continue to deliver such payoffs, it’s going to be worth watching.

All the same, the show isn’t perfect. It leans heavily on farce, returns a few too many times to the same comedic wells—characters pretending to have deep conversations while other people are watching, for instance, or saying something offensive without realizing that someone is standing behind them—and occasionally slips into the stray Britishism. Its conception of political horse-trading is probably no less contrived than that of The West Wing, but it feels more like a television writer’s idea of how American politics works—it’s vaguely implausible without being redeemingly absurd. But the show’s strengths are evident as well, especially the luxuriantly profane dialogue, which is such a central part of Iannucci’s work that he outsources much of it, according to the New Yorker, to a profanity consultant (Ian Martin, who is also a writer on Veep).

It’s especially fun to watch Veep now that I’ve finally begun to work my way, in parallel, through the entire run of The West Wing. For whatever reason, I never watched the show when it first aired, but I can’t put it off any longer, especially with the recent resurgence of Aaron Sorkin as perhaps our most talented screenwriter—a gift that he evidently honed through years of writing a great television show. Veep is clearly positioned as a kind of rebuttal to The West Wing—Simons’s character is constantly mentioning that he works “in the West Wing of the White House,” prompting another character to ask, “Is there another West Wing?” And while The West Wing famously inspired many young people to enter politics, as noted in a recent Vanity Fair article, Veep may inspire members of the next generation to stay the hell away. As if they needed any other reason these days.

Written by nevalalee

April 20, 2012 at 9:58 am

Quote of the Day

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Novel writing has an entrepreneurial element: to invent a central story which can function simultaneously as a plausible action and as an emblematic or symbolic one is akin to inventing a new machine or product, a patent that will run and run.

James Wood, The Irresponsible Self

Written by nevalalee

April 20, 2012 at 7:50 am

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