Sunday, 22 April 2012

NEW TV: VEEP



What is it? Give me the set up. Following the inside workings of the US Presidential office in Washington, and Vice President (where the VEEP comes from, it's an acronym) Selina Meyer who has been promoted up from Senator and finds the whole experience daunting and baffling.

Who's behind it? Done anything good? ARMANDO IANNUCCI! It's the writer's first strike on US TV, and considering he's been quiet for the past year or so, new work from him is something to really dance around like a loon about. For those new to Iannucci he's the cheeky godfather of British comedy, throwing up gold with the likes of I'm Alan Partridge, The Day Today, Time Trumpet, and The Thick of It, plus spin-off (and Academy nominated) film In The Loop. Difficult, Difficult, Lemon Difficult! The latter two are particularly relevant here, as VEEP whilst not officially labelled as the US remake to The Thick of It nor an over-the-pond spin-off, shares a lot in common with political satire and farce, and an office full of powerful and influential people who also happen to be bumbling idiots. And being Iannucci, we can expect the same sense of humour too, just this time we're laughing at Americans, and the stakes are a lot higher than a lowly departmental office in Westminster.

L-R: Sufe Bradshaw (Sue, Executive Assistant to VEEP), Matt Walsh (Mike, Director of Communications), Timothy Simons (Jonah, White House Liaison), Anna Chulmsky (Amy, Chief of Staff), Tony Hale (Gary, Personal Aide to VEEP), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Selina, VEEP), Reid Scott (Dan, Deputy Director of Communications)

Who's in it? Should I care? Taking on the main role as the VEEP is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a former SNL comedienne who's best known for her work on Seinfeld and The Adventures of Old Christine, and of course she was "not actually blind" Maggie on Arrested Development. That's more than enough pedigree to carry this off! Joining her to make a complete balls up of things is Anna Chulmsky, who appeared in In The Loop as part of the US political team, but here she is playing a different character. She was of course Macaulay Culkin's love interest in My Girl all those years ago before he got stung to death by bees (HAHAHAHAHA). Also Tony Hale will star in this, Buster from Arrested Development which I can't pretend I'm not hugely stoked about. Matt Walsh (The Hangover), Reid Scott (The Big C) and relative newbies Timothy Simons and Sufe Bradshaw make up the rest of the cast.

Pilot me. In the first episode "The Fundraiser", former Senator Selina Meyer is getting to grips with her new senior role as Vice President and her new staff. Desperate to make a name for herself and to be "visual" amongst the people, she sets about trying to change all the cutlery in the Senate to be more "environmentally friendly" - but not necessarily as useful (watch what happens with the spoon in a cup of coffee) and ends up offending the entire Plastics industry, and then makes a disastrous gaffe at a public relations event after her pre-prepared speech is pulled at the last moment by the White House, leading her even more incompetent staff having to go into damage control mode to keep up her public image. Meanwhile, the President isn't feeling too well, and there's a bit of a faux pas with a condolence card.

And is it any good?
Reviews have been very positive, but you can't expect any less from an Iannucci show. Whether the US audience will get the biting cynicism and awkwardly true to life screwball antics remains to be seen, but fans of The Thick of It will lap it up, though many reviews have commented on the lacking presence of a Malcolm Tucker type character blazing and ripping through the ensemble. This is the perfect role for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who constantly gets to quietly freak out as things collapse around her in the most hideously embarrassing way, and she is so desperate for power and recognition her little spazs of misplaced excitement are wonderfully uncouth. Happily as well, critics have called this Tony Hale's best role since playing the childish Buster of the Bluth Family on Arrested Development and he shines. It's shot in a very similar style to The Thick of It, a fly-on-the-wall approach which echoes similar US sitcoms The Office and Parks and Recreation. With lots of pithy dialogue and creative profanity expect many a quote to pepper your own daily conversations too.


Anything else to intrigue me? Well apart from Iannucci who will be directing and writing the majority of the first season, there's also a refreshingly strong British presence for the rest of the show too - in fact the whole writing/directing/producing talent is almost entirely home-grown. Director Tristram Shapeero (Absolutely Fabulous, Peep Show, Green Wing), writers Simon Blackwell (The Thick of It, In The Loop) and Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show, The Thick of It) will all be involved, and most excitingly Chris Morris (God) will be directing later on in the Series, too. So expect prolonged cringeworthy situations, cockhanded but lovable characters and the comfort and joy of being in capable and familiar comedy hands.

Um...it's not like The Thick of It is it?
YES, AND THAT'S WHY IT'S GOING TO BE UNMISSABLE TELEVISION.

OK you've sold me - when's this thing on then?
Tonight at 10pm on HBO (the lead in to last week's new preview, Girls). Everywhere tomorrow (wow, Mondays are becoming excellent nights for television) and if you want to be all good and proper about it, VEEP starts on Sky Atlantic in June.



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