Judge Erich Asperschlager has strong approval ratings.
"Ma'am, you need to kill the dog. Not literally…But yeah, if it comes to it, then literally."
After scoring a hit on the BBC with the political satire The Thick of it, creator Armando Iannucci brought the concept overseas, first as an aborted ABC pilot in 2007, and then to HBO where it became Veep. Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a vice president in turmoil, the series proved a good fit for the premium network, where it got great reviews, strong ratings, and several Emmy nominations. The second season begins in April, making this a good time to catch up on the first eight episodes with Veep: The Complete First Season on Blu-ray/DVD.
Facts of the Case
Following a failed presidential run, Selina Meyers (Julia Louis Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine) has been relegated to second-in-commander-in-chief. It's a thankless job that puts her at constant odds with the White House and its smarmy liaison Jonah (Timothy Simons, The Craft Store). Her attempts to craft filibuster reform and clean jobs legislation are thwarted by political backstabbing, dumb luck, and her often ineffective underlings: Chief of Staff Amy (Anna Chlumsky, In the Loop), director of communications Mike (Matt Walsh, Ted), and scheming deputy chief Dan (Reid Scott, The Big C). The only effective staff member is personal aide Gary (Tony Hale, Chuck), and all he does is fetch her coffee and hand sanitizer. There are many obstacles to Selina's success and happiness, including nasty senators, lobbyists, and her tendency to put her foot in her mouth when joking about minority groups and the disabled.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus may never truly escape the Elaine Benes-shaped prison of Seinfeld's success, but Veep goes a long way towards further denting that public perception. The show is the perfect showcase for Dreyfus's nuanced comedic style, and her Selina Meyers is easily the best thing about a series that has plenty going for it. Veep's combination of complicated political processes and neutered frustration is somewhere between a funny House of Cards and a more mean-spirited Parks and Recreation, with an ensemble cast to match both.
Veep is full of recognizable actors. Tony Hale has done plenty since Arrested Development, but he is just as shackled to his famous character as Dreyfus is hers. While Hale's Gary has traces of Buster, he's a hoot as "body man" Gary, a lackey with too much respect for Meyers' office and an uncanny ability to recall obscure details about everyone she meets. Viewers of a certain age know Anna Chlumsky for playing My Girl. Her Amy has the difficult job of being a strong woman in Washington while working for a strong woman in Washington. It's clear she's had to fight for every advantage in her rise to sort-of power, which is why Amy takes it so hard when Selina hires upstart Dan (played by Reid Scott from the solid TBS sitcom My Boys), on the strength of his quick mind and slippery ethics. It's not long before everyone sees him as a threat, even Matt Walsh's Mike, a lazy guy who'd rather eat free food and use a fake dog to get out of overtime than push the Meyer agenda. Veep isn't quite as improv-oriented as HBO's premiere comedy, Curb Your Enthusiasm, but what it lacks in zany antics it makes up for in nuanced performances from a rock solid cast.
The laughs in Veep come largely from the way characters snipe at each other. The show is part political farce, part insult comedy jam. The put-downs are believable given the partisan rhetoric that dominates the actual news. If politicians up for election are willing to call opponents names in the press, just imagine what they say behind closed doors. Veep benefits from Iannucci's extensive research into how Washington works, including time on the Hill and with the real vice president. The world of the show feels real. What looks like a series of well-appointed offices and meeting rooms is a battleground that has seen the politically ambitious chewed up and spat out many times over. That Selina's battles—both external and internal—are so funny says as much about the state of American politics as the talents of the show's writers.
In line with HBO's recent combo packs, Veep: The Complete First Season comes with two Blu-ray discs, one flipper DVD, and a card with instructions to download a digital copy. It is presented on Blu-ray in sharp 1.78:1 1080p. Although it would be easy to dismiss the presentation as just another faux-documentary style office comedy, the attention to detail is remarkable, creating a world of D.C. offices, hallways, and ballrooms that is so believable it's easy to forget how much work it took to put it all together—the curse of the spot-on satire. The show's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is just as natural, buzzing with background atmosphere that doesn't obscure the biting dialogue.
Along with the multiple ways to watch the show, Veep: The Complete First Season comes with a solid batch of bonus features:
• Audio Commentaries: 12 informative, conversational tracks in total. Two each for the first four episodes—divided between producers' and actors' commentaries—and one for each of the last four episodes on disc two.
• "Making Veep: (13:24) This behind-the-scenes featurette covers the production from all angles, including the cast, sets, and writing.
• Deleted Scenes (24:51): This lengthy collection of bonus snippets from all eight episodes is fun to watch, although they made the odd choice to underscore the scenes with a looping bed of instrumental music.
• "Governor Chung Retraction" (1:16), "Governor Chung Outtake" (1:28), "Anti-Obesity PSA" (0:44), and "Anti-Obesity Outtakes" (1:10). These in-character bits feature Selina apologizing and advocating to camera, sincerely and with fake behind-the-scenes snark.
The first season of Veep builds slowly, establishing the characters and stakes for what will hopefully be a long series run. It's a smart show, and the smartest decision made by creator Armando Iannucci was casting Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the lead. Her frustrated political maneuvering is funny, but the biggest laughs come from the insults hurled back and forth by all of the characters. If real politicians were half as creative in their obscenities, America might have stronger voter turnout.
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