The F-word flies out of somebody’s mouth a remarkable 27 times during the 30-minute first episode of the corrosively cynical and very funny political comedy Veep, which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a vapid and hapless vice president named Selina Meyer, who drops such elegant turns of phrase as ”pencil f—ed” and ”f—tard” and ”I need a s—.” The West Wing this is not.
Created by British political satirist and notorious cursing virtuoso Armando Iannucci (best known here for his Oscar-nominated 2009 movie In the Loop), Veep follows Selina and her mostly incompetent staff as they navigate a parade of disasters, screwups, and humiliations. The first episode starts off innocently enough, with Selina on her way to talk filibuster reform with a roomful of senators. But that brief opening is her lone flicker of dignity. Soon enough a botched tweet about cornstarch utensils (it’s complicated) leads to Selina spectacularly blowing a speech at a fund-raiser, and the real VP is revealed: a woman who is well-intentioned but politically clumsy, constantly pinballing from one misstep to the next, taken seriously by more or less nobody. After that calamitous speech, Selina plots her own version of The West Wing‘s famous walk-and-talk. ”What we’re gonna do,” she tells her staff, ”is we’re gonna walk slowly to the car, okay? But you guys surround me, very purposeful. We’re discussing important…” She pauses for a long beat, a flash of confusion on her face, before concluding, ”…things.”
Veep recalls other awkward workplace comedies like The Office and The Larry Sanders Show, and its supporting cast is similarly crucial. Anna Chlumsky (My Girl) is a master of comic exasperation as chief of staff Amy, the show’s one truly likable character. Spokesperson Mike (Matt Walsh) offers dubious crisis-management strategies like ”Let’s not make it the story and panic, okay? What if Tom Hanks dies?” And Selina’s drippy assistant, Gary (Arrested Development‘s Tony Hale), hovers at her ear with a patter of facts about the people she’s constantly greeting: ”His daughter Emily just graduated from Harvard” or ”She’s got a small mustache. It’s a little disturbing. Don’t stare at it.” (One character who doesn’t appear — at least in the first three episodes — is the president, whose ongoing lack of communication with Selina is a running gag.)
Charmingly goofy as ever, Louis-Dreyfus isn’t quite believable as a vice president — even a sitcom VP whose lack of gravitas is the show’s central joke. But she’s still a joy to watch, especially when she shows off that famous gift for physical comedy. The first episode’s high point comes when Selina, fed up after one bumble too many, unleashes a full-body heave of a ”What! The! F—!” that’ll have you reaching for the rewind button. Veep‘s mix of energy, obscenity, and enmity is a bleak vision of American political folly. It would actually be pretty depressing if it weren’t so amusing. B+