Veep creator Armando Iannucci’s characteristically profane stateside take on his BBC political satire The Thick of It premiered in the US last night. So what are the critics saying about the series – and about former Seinfeld star Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s performance as desperate, impotent Vice-President Selina Meyer?
Entertainment Weekly begins its review with a thinly veiled dig: “Julia Louis-Dreyfus gives such a commanding performance in Veep, that the opening half-hour sped by so quickly and so enjoyably, I barely noticed that I never actually laughed during its 30 minutes. Which could be a problem for a sitcom going forward…”
The Huffington Post called Veep’s comedy “predictable”, saying: “I like the cringe-inducing comedy of awkwardness as much as the next person, but Veep simply isn’t particularly fresh or funny, and most of its jokes are telegraphed from a long way away.”
But the San Francisco Chronicle praised Veep’s topical humour: “The jokes in Veep are funny and fresh – as fresh as the daily headlines.”
The Chronicle also liked Veep’s “biting satire” and thought scheduling it in the run-up to an election was a bold move: “You really have to hand it to [the writers], and to HBO, for daring to put this on TV while the presidential race is building steam and offering a chance to compare real-life officials to the satirically fictionalised variety.”
Variety disagreed: “HBO’s Veep chooses to mine that scenario for laughs at a slightly misguided time – after arguably the most influential VP ever, Dick Cheney – and does so in disappointingly pallid fashion, conspicuously sidestepping questions of policy or politics.”
Entertainment Weekly was unimpressed by the fact that characters’ political affiliations were not revealed: “You mean to tell me the makers of this show can pride themselves on their fearless use of foul language, but they’re afraid of alienating some segment of HBO viewers by revealing that this administration is Republican?”
The Huffington Post found Veep’s treatment of politics, like its comedy, lacked anything new: “Despite the clear talents of the assembled cast, Veep merely reinforces what most people already think and revisits territory many other politically-oriented movies and TV shows have thoroughly covered.”
Selina Meyer v Malcolm Tucker
The Hollywood Reviewer called Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s performance as Vice-President Selina Meyer her best since Seinfeld and “an Emmy-worthy effort”, yet still thought spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) was superior: “Iannucci hasn’t quite created a character as momentously awesome as The Thick of It’s angry, foul-mouthed buzzsaw Malcolm Tucker.”
The Huffington Post said Capaldi’s “volcanic” performance as the “unsurpassed maestro of take-no-prisoners politics and awe-inspiring profanity” gave the series “a centre to pivot around” that Veep lacks.
“Despite her ample comic skills, Louis-Dreyfus simply doesn’t project a charismatic presence, nor does she possess an undeniable appeal that holds your interest even when you think her character is doing dumb, pathetic or unpleasant things,” it concluded.
But Entertainment Weekly said “Louis-Dreyfus and Iannucci have collaborated to create something special here: a potent female eunuch.”
The overall verdict
“Despite its shiny credentials, Veep doesn’t offer much in the way of rewards,” said The Huffington Post, while Variety called it “essentially a limp version of Curb Your Enthusiasm against a DC backdrop.”
Entertainment Weekly said “the show isn’t as funny as it could be. Which is not to say I won’t be watching Louis-Dreyfus and her staff every week, f*****g up and trying to make shinola from s**t.”
The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, hailed Veep’s authenticity, saying “Most important, Veep looks as if it’s being filmed right next to the real thing and as if Iannucci and his writers are simply mirroring the ineptness and soul-crushing compromises around them.”
Veep will air on Sky Atlantic in June