For those unfamiliar, here is a brief history lesson on Veep creator / director Armando Iannucci. Iannucci first came to prominence as one of the creators of The Day Today, a UK mock news show that also launched the careers of Steve Coogan and Four Lions director Chris Morris. The core trio were fearless in skewering both the media and political trends of the day, Morris continuing on that line with his subsequent series Brass Eye while Iannucci and Coogan teamed up for a string of enormously popular shows based on Coogan's The Day Today character Alan Partridge. Together Coogan and Iannucci are largely responsible for launching the style of awkward-verite comedy that launched Ricky Gervais to stardom in The Office and while Gervais does it well Iannucci and Coogan did it significantly earlier and better.
Iannucci seemed largely content to live in Coogan's shadow through this period but that all changed with the arrival of The Thick Of It. An incredibly sharp witted and barbed satire of the UK political process, The Thick Of It follows the path of a group of career civil servants in an unimportant government agency as they attempt to spin their way through a series of gaffes and mistakes, far more concerned with preserving their own jobs than with any sort of public service.
The Thick Of It is widely adored, and for good reason. It is brilliantly intelligent and outrageously funny stuff, a series that argues very convincingly that Iannucci may very well be the sharpest political satirist on the face of the planet today. American audiences got their first real taste of Iannucci with In The Loop, his debut feature which mirrored the style of The Thick Of It while also porting several of the major characters of that show on to the big screen. In The Loop clearly caught the eye of HBO and Veep - Iannucci's first effort on this side of the ocean - is the result. And, yes, Veep is very much an Americanized spin on the elements that made The Thick Of It such a hit.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is Selina Meyer, the newly elected Vice President of the United States. It's not going very well. Stuck in a largely ineffective office with an even more ineffective staff Meyer exists at the beck and call of the President with few - if any - opportunities to carve out her own identity and agenda. The solution, she thinks, is corn starch. Or, specifically, a Green Jobs initiative that will push to replace 'dirty' plastics with clean corn starch based replacements. The problem is that plastics are made from oil and the President wants nothing to do with any initiatives that will put him on a collision course with the oil lobby and so Meyer finds herself being undercut by her own government while her own staff has little to offer her than imported European sweeteners for her coffee and the hope that Tom Hanks might die, thereby driving her own public embarrassment off the front page. You never know, you know?
Iannucci is a famously faced paced writer, one who makes even the like of Aaron Sorkin appear sedate by comparison, and that is fully obvious here. He has a large contingent of characters to introduce and a number of plot threads to establish in a very short period of time - his series always continue forward in a single continuous story arc - and the need to do this establishing work factors in strongly in the premiere episode of Veep. While the premiere certainly features bursts of the sparkling dialogue and awkward laughs that Iannucci is known for it also has lulls where the basic work of getting a show like this started takes place. It's certainly quite funny in spots and the entire cast appears brilliantly suited to Iannucci's world but it's also a little bit tamer than may have been expected.
A key factor in the relative tameness compared to previous work is that Veep - at least to this point - lacks an equivalent to The Thick Of It's Malcolm Tucker, the fabulously foul mouthed senior government PR guru who could be counted on to storm into a room and spout off a string of the most outrageously baroque profanity to liven things up before storming off. Tucker inspired a sense of constant fear and impending doom in Iannucci's UK work that is thus far absent from Veep, where the humor so far revolves around self deprecation rather than verbal abuse.
The pilot episode of Veep suffers somewhat among established Iannucci fans by being merely 'Very Good' rather than the 'Brilliant' that was expected. But 'Very Good' is still far better than most and with the establishing work now down the expectation is that Iannucci et al will be off to the races with episode two.
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