April 14, 2013



VEEP:  Sunday 10PM on HBO

You wouldn’t expect Armando Iannucci’s VEEP to change much from season to season, and you’d largely be right.  Notwithstanding its four-letter words and bustling cinema verite screwball style, Veep is the most conventional of HBO’s comedies, a workplace sitcom about a group of mostly officious idiots that happens to have the Vice President of the US as its central character.  One way of putting it is that Veep is itself about stasis–it revolves around people whose days, and lives, never change.  Another is that it’s on the edgier end of formulaic comedy.

Tonight’s Season 2 premiere, written by Will Smith (no, not that one) from a story by Smith and Iannucci, and directed by Christopher Morris, takes place on the night of the midterm elections, which are going very badly for the President and Vice President’s (unspecified) party.  As usual, Veep Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her staff care only about the pettiest of their selfish issues that arise from the situation.  Selina herself is hoping to use the bad results to position herself for a more important place in the administration in its next two years, seizing on polling that shows (to an only incidental extent, as it turns out) that her stump appearances were more successful than the President’s.  Gary (Tony Hale), her personal aide, is obsessed, more or less equally, with finding Selina’s preferred shade of lipstick and letting everyone know he has a girlfriend.  Her press secretary Mike (Matt Walsh), worried that things are going south, is trying to sell his boat on eBay.  Dan (Reid Scott), Mike’s number two, is thrilled that the party is losing because it means his archenemy Congressman Furlong (Dan Bakkedahl) will lose his chairmanship and be unable to investigate Dan’s unsavory moves from last season.  Amy (Anna Chlumsky), Selina’s Chief of Staff and the closest thing to a functioning human on the staff, has a real problem because her father may have had a stroke, but even she’s more concerned with what’s happening at the office. In the end, Selina gets a not uncommon “be careful what you wish for” result, as the increased prominence she wanted means she has to take on incomprehensible foreign affairs issues and represent the administration on dozens of morning talk shows.

The half-hour is sharply written and beautifully performed by everyone in the cast–it’s just that it feels like every other episode the show has aired so far.  The only move Veep has made toward opening up its world in Season 2 is the introduction of two welcome additions:  Gary Cole as Kent Davidson, the President’s “senior strategist” and a veteran who has no patience for Selina, and Kevin Dunn as Ben Caffrey, the President’s weary Chief of Staff.  Cole and Dunn elevate just about everything they do, so their inclusion should be for the best, but if they, like everyone else on Veep, just repeat the same character beats each week, they’ll quickly prove to be as predictable as everyone else.

It’s sort of heresy to even mention Veep and NBC’s dreadful 1600 Penn in the same sentence, but while Veep is infinitely smarter and funnier, the two are uncomfortably similar in tone, with all the characters remaining clueless in exactly the same way in every episode.  As with the federal government itself, watching its gears grind over and over without making any progress eventually becomes frustrating.  Washington is a refuge of ineffectual, self-obsessed morons–we get it.  Now what?


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."