HBO’s Veep: Like a Meat Grinder with No Meat

HBO's Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus

I was really excited for HBO’s new comedy Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Like any good satire, I hoped it would shine a slightly harsh but terribly amusing light on its subject matter — in this case the fraught American political system, and specifically the neutered, ineffectual office of the Vice President. Watching it, though, I was left wanting: for a solid story line, for somewhat believable characters, for a reason to tune in again.

In the first episode, I enjoyed some of the performances — Reid Scott, Arrested Development’s Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky (who I also enjoyed in In the Loop) and, of course, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I was also amused by some of the lines (“Glasses make me look weak. It’s like a wheel chair for the eye”). But on a basic level, I found it hard to believe that anyone could get to the Vice President’s office and be so hapless. Although, true, Sarah Palin came close, Dreyfus’ character Selina Meyer doesn’t seem to have any of the same charms (for lack of a better word). She doesn’t represent any distinct political stripe and doesn’t exude any sort of appeal or sense of passion (misguided, Palin-style passion or otherwise). I also don’t think any Veep would surround herself with such useless aids, including a press secretary whose main skill seems to be putting his fingers in his ears and walking away. Even if the politician is a dud, someone has to be steering the ship, right?

And instead of aping how the Washington sausage is made, what the show offers is a series of half-baked problems (like when Meyer foolishly uses the word “retard” in a speech), and fairly obvious solutions (uh, apologizing for using the word “retard”). There’s very little weight or tension in the seemingly superficial issues, and when they are added together, they don’t point to any particularly substantial story developing beyond the pilot. It’s all so petty. Will the arc of the series revolve around the Veep’s lame attempts to oust plastic with cornstarch-based cutlery in federal buildings? Will the President ever call? Who cares. I might tune in again when I’m bored and want the odd chuckle, but with real life politics so large and out of control these days — after a Santorum-Gingrich-Bachmann-Cain-filled primary season, and with a presidential election on the way — I think reading the news will offer far more in the way of entertainment.

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