I’ll leave the lavish praise to others with their own intellectual bent, and I’ll simply come at HBO’s VEEP from an honest, bipartisan angle: what’s so disappointing (if not confounding) about VEEP is that – so far as the humor is concerned – we’ve seen so much of this before. The rapid-fire delivery. The high-placed doofus in charge of other high-placed doofuses (or is that ‘doofi’?). The biting insider perspective on gutter politics. And histrionics punctuated by vulgarity, from the F-word to the A-word to the S-word and no doubt all the others. And it’s been done so much better elsewhere.
I found myself wondering: how can you stuff so many performers, arguably at the top of the comic game, and dump them into such horribly retread material? Julia Louis Dreyfus made a career out of playing “Elaine Benes” to TV’s Jerry Seinfeld; there, in the company of other like-minded simpletons, the schtick worked. Here? So much of what the writers try to do is elevate the mundane by lacing it with profanity. Still, she attacks her dialogue admirably, and that deserves praise, however modest. Tony Hale made “Buster” a famous household name with ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, and his Vice-Presidential aide Gary Walsh isn’t a far cry from that role; much of Buster’s lovable cluelessness is gone – a necessity of the environment – and I found myself rooting that Hale gets more screen time when VEEP returns for its next season. I’ve been watching Matt Walsh since DOG BITES MAN; here, he plays high-placed Veep staffer Mike McLinktock with much of the same cadence to his speech that he’s adopted everywhere, and it works to great acclaim. Walsh’s problem is that he doesn’t “look” the show-leading-man type, but that never stopped Louie CK, so here’s hoping some inspired production company snatches Walsh up and gives him his own program some day. Anna Chlumsky – as assistant Amy Brookheimer – just feels so horribly miscast in the ensemble; perhaps if she’d cut her teeth on greater comic fare, then she wouldn’t deliver big lines with so little aplomb. She’s an anchor weighing the group down, but again, some of that may be the fault of the uninspired material and not her skills as a Thespian.
Of course, it’ll be a hit with HBO’s largely left-siding audience, but that doesn’t mean folks on the Right should avoid VEEP. It’s seriously worth a view if for no other reason than to marvel at how quickly so many actors and actresses can deliver their lines at lightning-fast speeds. The problem is, at that rate, the jokes go by too fast – there’s no time to stop and enjoy the moments of mirth. Here’s a tip: when everyone speaks at sixty miles an hour, there’s bound to be a pile-up. When that happens, you slow down, stop, and marvel at the wreckage. VEEP presents plenty of wreckage, but it’s seriously void of any moments of reflection UNLESS that reflection comes at the expense of the other characters. Even in satire, you don’t always need to be insulting people, places, and events; some of the humor just comes from natural human expressions.
Comedy shouldn’t require Cliff Notes, and VEEP could use some good old-school antics instead of trying to force feed its audience what he thinks are highbrow laughs laced with an expletive. Eddie Murphy made a career on uttering one expletive after another; Julia Louis-Dreyfus didn’t, so maybe ease up. When you leave the launch pad believing you’ve artistically constructed “a comedy for the ages” but you haven’t ironed out all of the particulars, you end up with set pieces which – by no one’s intent – can be painfully unfunny, which is how I found much of the first season. Not everyone in AudienceLand believes the Vice-President of the United States is and should be reduced to a political joke. I know that’s what much of the mainstream media would have you believe, but, sometimes, such banality really IS thin.
Mildly RECOMMENDED. As I’ve stated above, VEEP deserves a second season if for no other reason than I’ll hold out hope that the writers actually develop some genuinely funny material. With this much comic presence on the screen, one can only hope that they’ll start “earning” their laughs instead of “telegraphing” political irony.