By Ygal Kaufman
Julia Louis Dreyfus might be appropriately called the First Lady of Comedy. I don’t want to fire up my Google right now, but I bet you’ll find 30 or 40 publications have already feverishly referred to her thusly, no doubt patting themselves on the back for their cleverness.
But it is a fair label; Dreyfus has been one of the funniest people on TV for over 30 years (though to look at her you’d think that means she was in Gerber commercials in the 80s). From Saturday Night Live to Seinfeld to The New Adventures of Old Christine, she’s the only former main cast member of Seinfeld to remain relevant (sorry, Newman).
Her latest offering, now in its third season, Veep is another fine addition to her resume, and one of the few sitcoms on TV worth watching.
For those who haven’t seen it, the show is a raunchy, behind-the-scenes look at the office of fictional Vice President Selina Meyer, played by Dreyfus, as she and her hapless staff, led by comedy icon Matt Walsh (Upright Citizens Brigade), Arrested Development alum Tony Hale, and former child star Anna Chlumsky (My Girl) navigate the pitfalls of Washington politics.
The show is not that original. Let’s get that part out of the way first. While it may be relatively new to U.S. audiences, Veep’s premise of behind-the-scenes political machinations put to the tune of improv comedy was already perfected in England by a show called The Thick of It. That show was actually created and written by the same man who brought us Veep, Scottish comedy genius Armando Iannucci.
If you have an opportunity, watch every single episode of that show. It will redefine the possibilities of the tired sitcom genre for you in ways no other show can. Thick then made the jump to the big screen in 2009 as a feature film called In the Loop, which was nominated for an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. This prompted a failed attempt at an American remake of the show with the same title, written by Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz and directed by Spinal Tap creator Christopher Guest. Despite all that pedigree, the remake failed, never even hitting the airwaves. Finally Iannucci got it right for us by tweaking the format a bit; instead of following the underlings exclusively, we now have an actual bigwig, the VP, to watch as she makes a buffoon of herself.
Points for originality notwithstanding, though, Veep is certainly among the funniest shows on TV right now. It’s raw, uncompromising, offensive, fast-paced, and surprisingly politically savvy. Though the show’s creators are clearly of the liberal persuasion, they deftly manage to craft a show that correctly points out the one thing we all know, regardless of our political orientation: they’re all bums.
On a weekly basis, Vice President Selina Meyer accidentally gets herself into (or is gotten into by her well-meaning band of incompetents) a new series of embarrassing snafus and politically dangerous hornets’ nests that invariably need a good PR smoothing over. The fast-paced dialogue, cruel put-downs, and somewhat scary realness of it all makes the show a pleasure to watch. It’s basically House of Cards, if it wasn’t written by interminably douchey coke heads with a thin grasp on the U.S. political system. Sorry if that came off harsh, but if Kevin Spacey turns to the camera and looks at me knowingly one more time I’m going to throw a brick at my computer screen.
In short, Veep is the perfect marriage of sarcasm, intellect, heart, wit, politics, and improvisation. Sort of like James Carville and Mary Matalin at a Groundlings performance.
Season 3 of Veep airs Sunday nights on HBO at 10:30 p.m.; the first two seasons are available on DVD and Blu-ray.