It’s almost certainly a trait of British resilience, but we’re fortunate enough to enjoy some of the most biting political satire in the world. Unsurprising really, as it speaks to the flustered Whitehall officials, the ‘faces’ of government, who stockpile bureaucracy and pose for the cameras. Armando Iannucci’s The Thick of It perfectly lifted the curtain on political chaos: outwardly, well-advised speeches are made and events precisely coordinated, but flick all the lights on and our hapless leaders are trying to crowbar the D: drive open. Veep is The Thick of It’s HBO cousin, Iannucci’s foray into how equally clueless US democrats are.
Just as we never see the Prime Minister in The Thick of It, we never see the President in Veep. Instead, we’re privy to the inner-workings of Vice President Selina Meyer’s (Julia Louise-Dreyfus) office and her four-handed team of ham-fisted staff: Chief of Staff Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky), Personal Aide Gary Walsh (Tony Hale), Director of Communications Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh) and his deputy Dan Egan (Reid Scott). Iannucci unravels the legacy-chasing and petty manoeuvring at the top of the political ladder and how dreams of writing history are torpedoed by the legal system.
Although Veep contains Iannucci’s trademark comic flair, the series is much nimbler than The Thick of It. The characters are harder to care about, the humour marginally more slapstick and the bickering is annoyingly American. In terms of satire, it’s nowhere near its British counterpart, admittedly very watchable and instantly seductive, but garnering little impact. As most of the gags take place inside the VP’s office, it uses the bedroom farce tactic that made The Thick of It so wonderfully fraught, but doesn’t accelerate it enough to add real drama. Instead, Veep centres on the clumsiness of political mistakes; episode four stands out as Selina makes a comment about one of her rivals which is misconstrued as a racist jab.
As her team try to massage the incident, Iannucci pinpoints how a career can be eviscerated by a poorly timed remark. These all feel like trivial observations; it has to be admitted that Veep simply misses a Malcolm Tucker character. The ensuing mayhem of a visit from the Caledonian Mafia (Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker or Paul Higgins’ psychotic Jamie) gave the series extra personality. There’s nobody in Veep who instils that hilarious sense of alarm, only Jonah (Tim Simons), the President’s liaison whose “I work in the White House” smugness rubs off well.
The series trades with a strong license, it just falters in a few departments that The Thick of It excelled in. As with most HBO comedies, it’s light, airy and stands close to the forbearance of Lena Dunham’s recent hit Girls. It’s probably an overhang from the days of The West Wing, but if elected folk don’t walk and talk every two seconds, it just seems plain wrong. We can forgive Veep that much, but can hope that Tucker makes some kind of cameo in Season Two.