COMEDY PREMIERE "Veep"
WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO
REASON TO WATCH Julia Louis-Dreyfus returns to series TV.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Selina Meyer (Louis-Dreyfus) was once a senator from Maryland -- her party affiliation unclear -- who now finds herself a heartbeat away from the biggest job in the world, as vice president of the United States. She also finds, however, that the perception of being second in command far exceeds the reality of being second-in-command, and spends her days in pursuit -- figuratively speaking -- of gum wrappers down Connecticut Ave. In the pilot, she's working on a "clean jobs" bill that will spread nonplastic forks and spoons made of cornstarch throughout D.C., or as she puts it: "If I can get cornstarch utensils in most federal buildings by the fall, well, then, the veep has landed." Meanwhile, her loyal staff -- including Amy (Anna Chlumsky), Gary (Tony Hale) and Mike (Matt Walsh) -- help run interference with the White House's meddlesome liaison, Jonah (Timothy Simons).
MY SAY "Veep" is supposed to be a satire, supposed to be funny and supposed to say something interesting about a job that sounds impressive but probably is not. Strike one, strike two and . . . strike three. Intermittently amusing, "Veep" is mostly a surprising disappointment - surprising for HBO anyway - and as you watch, your attention may wander to the pressing question as to "why?" (Mine did.)
"Veep" was created by Armando Iannucci, a British satirist of the first rank who co-wrote a BBC comedy, "The Thick of It," that may well be the funniest hit job on bureaucratic ineptitude in the long history of TV on either side of the pond. Unmistakably, irrepressibly British, its characters are con men, cads and sycophants adrift in a sea of 10 Downing Street lunacy.
"Veep" is not quite a remake of "The Thick of It," but the idea is the same. However, for satire to work -- especially for this one to work -- there has to be a bedrock of plausibility. That's almost completely absent here, and even the blistering use of obscenity feels more designed to shock than advance any sort of comic idea; worse, much of the profanity even sounds phony or exotic, and there are even portmanteaus of cuss words that look like they might be fun to say, but sound ridiculous when actually spoken.
Meanwhile, Louis-Dreyfus' Meyer is a scattered nitwit -- a sitcom figurine who could just as easily be vice president of a paper company in Scranton as vice president of the U.S. She's a Leslie Knope who suddenly finds herself in command of an entire wing of the Executive Office Building, but who in reality is dealing with the same picayune matters she dealt with back in Pawnee.
On paper, the idea sounds amusing, but that's on paper. On screen, "Veep" muddles along, pursuing a funny idea that remains stubbornly, tantalizingly out of reach.
BOTTOM LINE Some amusing lines, but otherwise a disappointing misfire.