HBO's Veep needs more mean

Soft serve
By RYAN STEWART  |  April 23, 2012

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GET NASTY! Despite Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the title role, Veep isn't nearly as funny — or brutal — as it
should be.

Reality, right now, is so absurd that almost everyone has already adopted a "laugh-to-keep-from-crying" approach to the news. We don't need someone to tell us how truly horrifying our political landscape is. So what's a satirist to do?

If there's anyone who's equipped to answer such a question, it's Armando Iannucci. He's well-regarded in England for his work creating I'm Alan Partridge and The Thick of It, and his 2009 film In the Loop (spun off from the latter), which eviscerated the architects of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. His new show, HBO's Veep (Sunday at 10 pm), takes more direct aim at American politics. And though the laughs are there, it does not showcase Iannucci at his most brutally incisive.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Selina Meyer, the vice president of the United States. Wisely, Veep does not give us an origin story; Meyer is already installed and in the middle of two large policy battles — one over a commission for creating environmentally friendly jobs and one over filibuster reform. Getting both pieces of legislature enacted seems like a Herculean task: to shore up support for filibuster reform, she must make promises to keep certain organizations away from the clean-jobs panel, but doing that will alienate some of the other lawmakers who have already pledged conditional votes. A stray tweet about an alternative to plastics threatens the entire operation, and there's also that pesky president (unseen and unnamed in the three episodes available for review), who has a way of taking over news cycles and generally exerting his will.

The comment here seems to be that, Dick Cheney notwithstanding, the vice president has it rough: a nominal position of power that's easily stymied by the will of others. Meyer can't even buy a dog for her daughter without creating controversy. It doesn't help that Meyer, though well-meaning and, we are to assume, mostly competent, is prone to gaffes, some of her own making (like her use of "the 'R' word" during a speech at a fundraiser) and some not (like her staff's bungling of an appearance at a local frozen-yogurt stand). Those who follow policy battles may wish for more material on the impossibility of turning two reasonable-sounding ideas into reality, and some would probably like to see Iannucci attack the greed, dishonesty, and intransigence of members of Congress with more ferocity. Beyond that, some of the jokes about Washington don't work as well as they should — the material about the superficiality of Beltway friendships is familiar, and though there's potential for cringe-inducing humor in the idea of Meyer having to act respectful around the widow of a Senator who was also a notorious sexual harasser, the set-up falls short execution.

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  Topics: Television , Television, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, HBO,  More more >
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