Quietly slipping under the radar with a minimum of fuss, my favourite new comedy of last year, Veep, returned for its second season on Sky Atlantic a month ago. Shamefully, the reason I’m only just writing about it now is because I didn’t even notice it was back.
Focussing on the seemingly-endless problems and arguments the Vice President has to deal with on a daily basis, Veep is a satirical comedy set in and around the West Wing. Power-mad politicians and desperate sycophants surround VP (or ‘Veep’) Selina Meyer, clamouring for her attention or trying to undermine her to make themselves look good. Or sometimes, they do both simultaneously.
It’ll be a familiar story to anyone who’s seen The Thick of It. Both shows were created by the same person, Armando Iannucci. Both shows take a cynical look at the incompetence and egotism present in the corridors of power on either side of the Atlantic. Both shows are populated with characters who are varying degrees of reprehensible – some are just sarcastic and tired, while others are soulless, awful human beings. Both shows revolve around its main cast of spin doctors and government figures trying to please the never-seen man upstairs (the UK Prime Minister and the President of the United States, respectively). Both shows are frequently hilarious and scathingly dark. Both shows are exceptionally well-written, with verbose, flowery dialogue colliding with acidic, barbed profanity all over the script. You will not find more varied and eloquent ways to call someone a fucking idiot anywhere else on television.
Veep is, in many ways, then, an American version of The Thick of It. But it’s also its own beast, with its own characters, issues and things to say. It’s far from being just a carbon copy of The Thick of It with a few names changed. The American political system offers plenty of targets for mockery and satire, possibly even more than the British one, and the crises the Veep and her staff face often have far bigger consequences than the ones that faced Malcolm Tucker and co. For example, the second season so far has played out during the resolution and fallout from an overseas hostage crisis.
The characters’ lives outside the office are also given more of a look-in: plots based around Selina’s daughter and divorce, Gary’s girlfriend and Amy’s family problems allow us to get a deeper insight into the characters (as well as, of course, providing plenty of triggers for more bickering banter). This stops the characters from becoming one-dimensional joke-machines and feel more like actual people. Flawed, horrible people, but still people, who we often can’t help but sympathise with.
The show’s biggest strength is its cast. You could write the cleverest, funniest jokes ever made, but without the right people telling them, they would still fall flat. Luckily, everyone in Veep seems to be a master of comic timing. Jokes, insults and put-downs fly out of their mouths at lightning speed, yet every one is well-delivered or enhanced by a slight change in their expressions. There have been several moments where my laughter covered up the rest of the scene and I had to rewind a few seconds to catch the three or four jokes I missed. A lot of memorable lines are stuffed into every episode, and each actor is given plenty of moments to show off how good they are, particularly Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who plays the Veep and won an Emmy for her performance in the role.
There’s also Gary (Tony Hale from Arrested Development!) as the Veep’s loyal aide, permanently whispering in her ear and offering his help. And Mike (Matt Walsh), the Veep’s director of communications who is treated as a bit of a joke, an old dog well past his prime, often unhelpfully incompetent. Amy (Anna Chlumsky), the VP’s chief-of-staff, always wild-eyed and urgently taking calls to sort out whatever problems the day throws at her. Dan (Reid Scott), one of the ‘desperate sycophants’ I referred to earlier, always trying to say the right thing to further his own career and ambitions. Sue (Sufe Bradshaw),Selina’s personal assistant, has a stern, no-nonsense attitude and never smiles. Ever.
Oh, and there’s also Jonah (Timothy Simons) the White House’s liaison to the Vice President’s office. He’s frequently visiting the VP’s office seemingly just to gloat about his job and be a general nuisance to everyone. It later becomes clear that the main reason he visits so often is because no one at the White House likes him either. He’s a goofy pillock, obnoxious and sometimes dangerously incompetent, but compared to some of the back-stabbing, slimy characters Selina has to face, he’s a harmless annoyance. He’s also very, very funny, one of my favourite characters- though honestly, who my favourite character is changes every few minutes while watching this show. I know I’ve mentioned this already, but everyone’s so good.
As we approach the end of this post, I notice that I haven’t actually mentioned any specific quotes or jokes to show how funny the show can be. Really, too many come to mind to pick just a few. And it’s often the delivery and the timing that makes them truly great, so writing them out in black-and-white does them a disservice. If you’re a fan of sharp, clever comedy, sarcastic satire, rapid-fire dialogue and lines that turn obscenity into a sort of twisted poetry, this is definitely worth a try.
Veep’s second season continues on Sky Atlantic every Wednesday at 10.35pm. Episodes 2-5 of the current season are available on the Sky Player. Season 1 is out on DVD now, and Season 2 will be out on DVD sometime next year.
P.S. This is an entirely different subject, but it’s worth mentioning: there is a lot of Doctor Who-related programming on this week. Like, really, a lot. It’s not just the 70-minute anniversary special on Saturday (BBC1, 7.50pm). There’s also the post-special after-party on BBC3, where actors and fans discuss what just happened, live from the celebratory Doctor Who convention in London (9.05pm, Saturday), there’s also An Adventure in Space and Time, a 90-minute behind-the-scenes drama about how the show was made in the first place (BBC, 9pm, Thursday), Me, You And Doctor Who: A Culture Show Special, which is a tribute to the show, its fans, and its cultural impact (BBC2, 9.30pm, Friday), and Doctor Who: The Ultimate Guide, a two-hour in-depth look at the show, presented by the cast (BBC3, 8pm, Monday). Even on radio, there’s no escape: on Thursday, BBC Radio 2 presents an hour of programmes debunking myths and exposing secrets about the show (The Blagger’s Guide to Doctor Who, 10pm) and asking its stars to talk about the history of Doctor Who (Who’s the Doctor?, 10.30pm). He’s even interrupting the idents,the cheeky sod.
Also, if you missed it, on the iPlayer there’s the Brian Cox lecture on The Science of Doctor Who, and the show’s ten greatest villains are revealed in the ten Doctor Who: Greatest Monsters and Villains Weekend episodes. See? I told you there was a lot.
P.P.S. Haven’t updated for a while due to a mixture of business and not watching much on TV, sorry about that. Normal service will be resumed.