Political office and comedy are intriguing bedfellows. Disregarding every impossible movie that depicts some unqualified underdog rising to the Presidency, there’s a notable lack of humor surrounding the White House. Even small government has only recently been given a spotlight thanks to Parks & Recreation’s current “Knope 2012″ story arc. So when Veep was announced, it sounded a little too good to be true. Television comedy legend Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitting as second-in-command of the United States is funny on paper, but does it work well in execution?
The short answer here is…sort of. Thankfully Veep is taking its cues from established comedies like The Office instead of Showtime’s lackluster House of Lies, proving that whether you’re paying good cash for your programming or not, trends exist for a reason. Veep is essentially The Office but with a more self-aware protagonist (Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer), a more traditional filming style, and a humongous burden on every character’s back. It’s rife with potential, but so far a tad stale.
Appropriately though, the pressure of being a member of the Vice President’s circle is practically a character itself on Veep, luring some into discombobulation and others into minuscule power struggles. Watching Tony Hale as Gary, Selina’s personal aide, stumble around and err at every chance is charming and nerve-wrecking at all times. For Hale, it’s certainly one of his strongest career roles, and should show many Arrested Development fans that he’s more than just the youngest sibling. Selina’s Chief of Staff Amy (Anna Chlumsky) takes on a more aggressive role, although she humorously falls into traps of her own incompetency and stubbornness. Combine these two with Louis-Dreyfus’ proven wit and a few quirky extras, and it’s safe to say that the cast is one of Veep’s strongest assets.
Where it may lose some though is its presentation. Veep is about the men and women whose purpose is simply to make one woman look good, yet everything is just glorified office politics. A few good pieces of the pilot take advantage of this, namely Selina’s failing “Clean Jobs Commission” and a gloating White House liaison, which help everything to work conceptually. Most of the humor isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s constantly surprising and deceptively well written. Catching a quick comment here or there makes some situations worth the build-up, while others (the overall plot in the pilot, for instance) can fall fairly flat in comparison.
Veep will surely not be for everyone. As with most comedy pilots, it hits a few strides well but flounders on the bigger ideas. But not all shows can beg for reactions or stuff dead seconds with laugh tracks, and of this year’s selection of new shows so far, Veep shows some of the most promise. Try it out, and look forward to our review of HBO’s other new comedy Girls, coming soon.