Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays the eponymous VEEP, and despite the show’s obvious links with The Thick of It, at no point does her Selina Meyer feel like simply an American version of Rebecca Front’s Nicola Murray, nor does the show come across as just The Thick of It USA. By choosing to focus on the VP, Iannucci has something unique to US politics to sink his teeth into. Here the focus is on a woman just a heartbeat away from the Presidency and the world’s most powerful political office, yet is stuck in a job that carry’s very little in the way of influence, effectiveness or respect.
So when we meet Selina Meyer she’s not embroiled in anything as lofty as economic or foreign policy. “If I can get corn starch utensils in most Federal buildings by the Fall, then the Veep has landed,” she says in the first episode, and that alongside establishing a ‘Clean Jobs’ commission are her two main objectives throughout the season. There’s so little that she can feasibly achieve, but so many opportunities to make a gaff or upset POTUS by straying from the party line.
Crucially we never see the President (neither does he call Selina, despite her constantly checking), and the characters’ political affiliations are never revealed, which is good way of ensuring the audience looks past the real politics and sees the absurdity at the heart of the political processes. There also seems to be a real authenticity to the show – the VEEP’s office, for instance, has been meticulously recreated from Joe Biden’s real office – and it’s a lot easier to laugh at the situations that Selina finds herself in when you can see the inherent truth in them.
But it’s not just a show about politics, it’s also a show about work-based relationships where stress levels are through the roof and the boss absolutely has to be kept happy. Louis-Dreyfus is near flawless in the lead role (and won an Emmy for her troubles), but around her there are also great turns, particularly from Tony Hale as diligent aide Gary, Anna Chlumsky as Chief of Staff Amy, and Timothy Simons as White House chump Jonah. If the show’s missing anything, it’s a personality as big and dominating as The Thick of It’s Malcolm Tucker. While it’s understandable that Ianucci wouldn’t want to tread on such hallowed ground, without such a character, there’s a lack of big laugh-out-loud moment. The show has to get by instead on its constantly funny undercurrent, rather than delivering big punch lines. It’s a minor quibble, but tweaks will have to be made to keep VEEP funny over an extended run.
Extras: Across the eight episodes there are twelve audio commentaries, with Ianucci and Louis-Dreyfus providing their thoughts on each. Aside from those, there’s a 12-minute ‘Making Of’, over 20 minutes of deleted scenes and a couple of outtakes. It’s hardly jam-packed, but the quality and quantity of commentaries go some way in making up for that. 3/5