HBO has busted out another new series, Veep, and though we’re just three episodes in, we’ve got a clear picture of what the show is bringing to the table. The PPC writers are all pretty bullish (finance term!) on the show. Why you ask? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out, of course.
1. In 10 words or less, how do you feel about Veep?
CW: Love it, fantastic cast with hilarious dialogue.
MR: It’s bizarre, scatological and insanely awkward. So, totally awesome.
BG: A smart, funny look at Washington ineptitude. Elaine does DC!
2. Where does it stack up on your list of comedies?
MR: It’s got a way to go before it ranks alongside Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The (Original/British) Office and my other all-time favorite comedies, but it’s already become appointment viewing. And given how loaded the Sunday night slate is, that’s really saying something.
The networks have been on a comedy tear in recent years, putting out now-veteran gems like Parks and Recreation, Community and Modern Family and strong 2011-12 freshman offerings like New Girl. But this might be premium cable’s best — and best bet to be successful — offering since Curb. Weeds still has a loyal following, but it’s been losing momentum ever since Nancy torched Agrestic; Californication can be brilliant, but it’s too raunchy for the masses; The Big C is one of the more compelling 30-minute selections on TV right now, but when a show’s core premise is life after a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis, it’s hard to really qualify as a “comedy.”
In terms of acting, writing and sheer hilarity, Louie might be the only other cable offering that can match Veep this summer.
CW: It’s rapidly climbing my list. The Holy Grail of sitcoms is still Seinfeld, but these two can’t really be compared (what’s better, steak or Chinese food?). It’s got fantastic writing and the cast executes the dialogue perfectly. I agree, MR, that it still has a way to go to reach the likes of Arrested Development and Curb, but it’s getting there. Quite frankly, three episodes isn’t enough to actually rank it on a list of shows. But I’ll go out on a limb and say I do think Veep has the potential to pass those shows, and here’s why:
It’s premium cable, so it already has an advantage over Arrested Development. The show can just get away with more. The knock I often hear on AD is that you have to understand the characters to really appreciate the show, which I think is precisely why it had trouble breaking out from its cult following. I think Veep offers itself to casual viewers more; you could walk in the room and immediately start laughing, whether or not you know the characters. I’m a huge Curb guy, but I think the cringe-factor was often over the top. Really Larry? You’re going to give a tampon to a young Girl Scout and advise on proper use? Come on man, just call her mom and we avoid this mess. Veep has just the right amount of witty dialogue, situational humor (yes, that includes a few poop jokes) and is set against a famous backdrop to appeal to a much wider audience.
BG: It’s off to a promising start, that’s for sure. Between quips like “Be careful your ears don’t pop on the way down” and “You’re not fucking Thor, mom,” the writing is hilarious. And Dan dumps his girlfriend with a colon and open bracket (for the text-illiterate, :[)! It goes without saying, that’s pretty amazing.
But MR touched on what’s more concerning: The stacked Sunday night TV lineup. Veep currently inhabits the same 10 p.m. time slot as Mad Men. It’s good -- but it’s not that good. Don Draper is still king. For me, Veep is appointment DVR viewing.
3. Which character strikes you most?
BG: Press secretary Mike McClintock (right), and here’s why: He’s painfully awkward, socially inept and, most noticeably, impossibly sweaty. Those traits may make him uncomfortable to watch -- a feeling that’s only intensified by his ‘70s-era pedophile mustache -- but they’re also what make him so endearing. He’s the type of guy you immediately want to dislike, but, for the same reasons, end up growing to love. He has a fake dog called a Bull Shih Tzu! How can you not admire that?
Better yet, Mike has a knack for using analogies that don’t make sense in any situation, meaning they’re applicable in every situation. He says things like, “So now I’m eating everyone’s shit. I’m like the last guy in Human Centipede with this.” I can’t wait to use that next time I’m stuck in traffic. Or standing behind a total stranger at the supermarket.
MR: Gary Walsh, Personal Aide to the Vice President. At the most basic level, Gary is awesome because he's played by Tony Hale, aka Buster from Arrested Development, aka this guy. Gary is also awesome at the Veep-specific level. He's part glorified assistant, schlepping around Selina's purse and fetching her coffee, and part human encyclopedia, always ready with a hilariously random but shockingly useful nugget about the Veep's next mark. (Well, almost always.) He might not take an actual bullet for Selena, but he threw himself in front of a nuclear-grade sneeze to protect her, then bragged about it while turning puce and attempting to avoid shitting his pants as the bug took hold.
How awesome is Gary? Here's how he described his job for his HBO.com bio: "What you see is the swan, what I'm carrying is her two big, very webbed legs and feet." Buster would be proud ... and probably in a photo booth with a sheep.
CW: The characters carry this show. McLintock’s Human Centipede line remains among the top quotes of the show so far. I had tabbed Gary as my favorite character, but that’s probably a Buster-biased opinion (I’m eagerly awaiting Gary to Hulk out and destroy the office: “I’m a monster!!!!”). But it’s the group that makes the show, and as the caboose on this question, I gotta give some love to a few of the others.
First, Selina Meyer is what holds the group together. We still don’t know specifics about what derailed her presidential run, but she’s trying to be the People’s Vice President. She’s not above dropping an F-bomb or two, and (with Gary’s help) can mingle with the best of them. Well, that assumes the rest of them show up. “Did Simon mingle with Garfunkel?” Oh, and did we mention that Julia Louis-Dreyfus looks damn good for a 51-year-old? Seriously, Elaine, what’s the secret?
Then there’s Selina’s secret weapon, Dan Egan. Dan’s an ideas man and generally gets shit done. He’s also classified as “a shit,” but that’s fine because Selina “could really use a shit.” Speaking of shit, meet Jonah Ryan. He actually works in the West Wing (that’s in the White House) and is the liaison between El Prez and Señora Veep. He’s got great pickup lines – “Your shirt is see through, is that intentional?” — and has even talked to the President about trail mix! That’s definitely on my bucket list. I mean, does the leader of the free world pick out the M&Ms first? Does he throw those dried fruit thingies out the window of the First Limo at passing strangers? Seems there are only two people who can answer that.
4. Is Veep effective political satire?
CW: No, but does it have to be? To me, political satire seeks change on the most basic levels, if only by calling attention to the inadequacies of a political structure. Shows like The Daily Show and Colbert Report are hugely popular because they deal with real people’s stupidity in today’s polarized world. Capitol Steps thrives on the same. (Aside: Forcing 7th graders to read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Ye Olde English should be protected by the Constitution.) But satire can come in all forms. Whether King Joffrey is cutting your tongue out for a cheeky jingle or you’re watching Michele Bachmann mashups on repeat, the point is to draw attention and ultimately fix political deficiencies. That’s the idea, at least.
There are some areas where Veep hits it on the head: In politics, everyone is in bed with everyone. Don’t piss off plastics by using crappy biodegradable forks; don’t put an oil man on the energy committee; don’t put a moron on the energy committee; fine, put a moronic oil man on the energy committee. While some political junkies may have a hard time getting past the show’s outrageous premise — “There’s no way it’s that bad” — what makes the show effective is how the characters relate to each other, not how they relate to their political backdrop.
BG: It’s more Seinfeld than West Wing, but that’s certainly not a bad thing. And I agree, Veep is effective in portraying a caricature of Washington’s notorious ass-backwardness, exemplified by last week’s “Catch-44”. But here’s my bigger issue: Veep skirts making any explicit mention of Selina’s political affiliation. Though the script revolves around Dreyfus’s “Now I have a dick AND balls” comments (as it rightfully should!), would it kill HBO to reveal her political leanings?
I don’t want to spark a debate, and I certainly understand the network’s fear of alienating new viewers. But didn’t HBO already produce Too Big To Fail and Game Change? And isn’t The Newsroom scheduled to premiere in June?
I’m not asking Veep to focus exclusively serious topics; in fact, I’d hate that. I prefer poop jokes (or Selina actually pooping her pants after eating Frozen Yoghurt) to hard-nosed politics every day of the week. The banality makes the show funny. I totally get that. Still, the non-partisan stance seems like a cop-out to me. And though possibly controversial, a party disclosure could open the door to a wave of new — and hysterical — Colbert-style jokes.
MR: Only if Ron Swanson is the head writer, and the goal is to make America realize that government officials really should spend their time debating the perfect frozen yogurt flavor name instead of, you know, actually running the country.
CW and BG have it right: Veep wants to make viewers laugh, but it doesn’t mind if it makes them think a little too along the way. In every sea of poop jokes, there’s a little life raft of insight: ambition is a blinding, driving force; every bit of progress results from sacrifice, compromise and bargain-striking; the most powerful people in this country spend a whole lot of time talking about shit that doesn’t really matter. It’s 70 percent farce, 30 percent thoughtful commentary, and that balance feels right through three episodes.
This is a show that accepts the way things are and laughs at that reality, not a show that seeks to change it.
5. Are you into the show for the long haul?
CW: Yes. Well let’s put it this way: It would take a drastic turn for the worse to get me to jump ship. I’ve liked each episode more than the previous one, so count me as a loyal viewer.
BG: Yep. Between the awkwardness, absurdity and prevalence of unnecessary pro-con charts, it definitely warrants a half hour of my time each week. Plus I’m a sucker for terrible puns. This show is full of them.
MR: Definitely. I just wish I had some Jamaican Rum yogurt to eat while watching. Six seasons and a movie!