Julia Louis-Dreyfus won her third Emmy in as many series for Veep and it’s not hard to see why. She’s more than just a funny lady here – though to be sure, you may not see anyone quite as funny on television today. Underneath her hapless vice president’s pratfalls and panic attacks, she conveys a strange and abiding sadness. This figure is smart and capable. She wants to make the world a better place. She possesses the tools to leave the government in a better place than she found it. But by the very nature of the system in which she’s trapped, all her assets come to naught. She can only flail about in a mad effort to protect her image and her standing, a process as hysterical as it is quietly troubling. Hit the jump for my full review.
And, as the first season of Veep makes disturbingly clear, it may reflect how politics in Washington D.C. actually works. Once a fast-track Senator on the road to great things, Selina Meyer (Dreyfus) finds herself on the losing end of a presidential bid and shunted into the Vice President’s office. Now stuck as the much maligned appendix of the federal government, she struggles with such monumental issues as a meet-and-greet at a local yogurt store, or a trip to Camden Yards to promote good nutrition. She and her staff – consisting of equal parts ambitious weasels, simpering yes-men and a few genuine good eggs just doing their best to stay above water – mostly deal with PR crises of the “I misspoke” variety, creating a series of mini-disasters springing from nowhere and amounting to nothing.
In and of themselves, they make for potent comedy, reveling in the trivialities of gotcha politics and suggesting that even the most capable person reverts to flailing idiocy in such an absurd environment. Selina, however, is painfully aware of the trap she’s stumbled into. She seethes against it with every fiber of her being, battling each humiliating setback and cursing her thwarted ambitions to do something more. But secretly in her heart of hearts, she suspects she may not be up for something more, as in one early episode where the President suffers heart palpitations and she gets a brief, horrifying look at the various apocalyptic crises that compose the average day in the Oval Office. It’s a sobering process, underscoring the show’s big laughs with a surprising amount of thoughtfulness.
It wouldn’t work without Dreyfus in the lead. Having honed her comic timing to a keen edge on Seinfeld and elsewhere, she deploys it with ruthless efficiency here, creating a character equal parts scary, endearing and pathetic. Most importantly, we never lose sight of the real person underneath the superfluous fluff. This isn’t a caricature or some wild-eyed broadside at politics in general. We ultimately root for Selina in spite of ourselves, knowing that she’s doomed to failure and hoping for better regardless. Dreyfus makes that all happen, and while her supporting cast members (including Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky and Matt Walsh) are all spot-on, they ultimately play attendants to her bewildered queen bee.
It’s telling that we never learn which political party Selina belongs to. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. The system itself is Veep’s primary target: a calcified, overwhelming apparatus that reduces even the most eloquent philosophizing to partisan sound-bites. Veep knows that game too well to misstep; show runner Armando Iannucci perfected it with his earlier BBC series Thick of It and the very funny movie In the Loop. He loses none of his satirical bite with this show, though he perhaps emphasizes the wail of despair at the heart of it just a little bit more. Veep isn’t so much a demand for wholesale change as it is a very funny eulogy for those deluded enough to try.
The Blu-ray set of the first season is fairly typical and no-nonsense. Two Blu-ray discs contain all eight episodes, while a third DVD disc holds the entire season in and of itself. Sound and image quality are fine, though superfluous for a single camera comedy show like this. Extra features include a making-of documentary, a PSA and phony interview from the show, deleted scenes, previews of individual episodes culled from the original airings, and audio commentaries from the cast and crew scattered across all eight episodes.