Sunday, July 7, 2013

Witty, But Not Worth Buying, Veep Season One Hits Its Note Repeatedly.

The Good: Moments of humor, Some decent moments of performance
The Bad: Nothing special on the character front, Short season, Not as funny as it could be
The Basics: In its first season, Veep presents a comedic view of how bad being the Vice President of the United States can be . . . only it doesn’t do that very well.

I swear, it has not been a concerted effort of mine that I have been watching a lot of HBO-produced programs lately. In fact, my wife has a good friend whose tastes I loathe because he seems only to like whatever is trendy on HBO, Showtime, and AMC at any given moment. I like a wide variety of things, but I certainly don’t need it to be trendy and approved by hipster culture to think something is worth watching. I picked up Veep Season 1 because I was legitimately interested in the show. I like Tony Hale on Arrested Development (reviewed here!) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus caught my attention on Day By Day and I thought The New Adventures Of Old Christine was underrated. So, I was actually eager to check out Veep.

Unfortunately, over the course of the pathetically short eight episode first season of Veep, the show hits the ground running, but then does almost nothing with its initial momentum. In fact, Veep might be one of the best examples of how a show can completely stagnate. I’m not talking about the hilarious recurring joke “Did the President call?” “No.” Instead, the show is very much like The Office in that it hits the deadpan note, but given how many strong deadpan shows there are now, something about Veep just seems . . . flatfooted.

Selina Meyer was a Senator who ran (unsuccessfully) for President of the United States. She then became Vice President and since then she has been struggling to appear relevant. Her big initiative initially is to get the Federal buildings to use corn starch utensils, but that quickly alienates the plastics industry. Soon, she and her staff are fighting for a Clean Jobs Bill which is being menaced by a sponsor who does not want anyone from Big Oil on the bill and Big Oil that doesn’t want the bill at all. As the President’s agenda changes and as Meyer’s political capital virtually expires, she finds that her endorsements might be toxic and her political career might be dead.

Veep is built around the Vice President’s office and her staff, which includes an awkward body man (Gary, who has a mystery bag all the time which is filled with everything Selina ever needs – whether she knows it or not), her chief of staff Amy (who takes the heat for her on numerous issues and is the adversary of Jonah and loathes the way Dan is horning in on her territory in the office), Mike McLintock (a washed up speechwriter who is in Meyer’s office as his last hurrah), Dan Egan (Mike’s much younger and more ambitious rival), and Sue, who never gets to leave her desk and is the gatekeeper for Meyer’s calendar. A frequent invader to the office is Jonah Ryan, who works for the President and rubs that in the face of everyone who works for Selina Meyer.

The unfortunate thing about Veep Season 1 is that it gets its biggest moments right out of the way (the dry wit of Mike asking Jonah where he works is hilarious) and then doesn’t follow up with enough to be truly engaging. On the character front, Selina Meyers is not portrayed with any sense of realism to make it believable that she had the charisma to ever make it to the U.S. Senate, much less the vice presidency. Unlike something like The West Wing (reviewed here!) where the humor is overt and calls “bullshit” on hypocrisy in U.S. politics, the producers of Veep (in the DVD bonus features) claim that they are going for realism and letting the humor naturally appear. Unfortunately, I didn’t see that. Instead, many of the jokes are clearly jokes or appear on the limited humor of politicians swearing like sailors, and fall flat as a result. Even House Of Cards (reviewed here!) managed to be more politically engaging because it created a world of cold, cruel politics. By contrast, Veep is just The Office with only half the cast and set in a Vice President’s office.

That said, the cast in Veep’s first season is good, even if the writing and situations are not incredible. Anna Chlumsky lights up the screen as Amy and based on her performances in Veep and Burt And Arnie’s Guide To Friendship (reviewed here!) it is easy to see she has made the effective leap from child star to legitimate adult actress. Matt Walsh has amazing comedic timing as Mike and Timothy Simons plays the arrogance of Jonah perfectly. For all my enjoyment of Tony Hale’s performances, he does not give viewers anything really new in Veep that we haven’t already seen in his other works.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is good at Selina Meyer. The character does not give Louis-Dreyfus much room to move, but she plays the role as well as she is written and the failures of the first season are not from her.

Veep Season 1 drops on DVD and Blu-Ray with a load of bonus features, none of which are quite enough to justify the HBO prices for the set. Even so, there are thorough featurettes, a load of deleted scenes and a number of commentary tracks. While they give the viewer more information, it does not make the source material any funnier. HBO might do drama exceptionally well, but their comedies are hit-or-miss and Veep Season 1 is a miss, albeit a near one.

For first seasons of other HBO works, please visit my reviews of:
The Newsroom - Season 1
Girls - Season 1
True Blood - Season 1
Game Of Thrones - Season 1
Carnivale - Season 1
Extras - Season 1
Rome - Season 1
Six Feet Under - Season 1
Sex & The City - Season 1


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment