I love everyone involved in Veep, but I have to say it: the British “version” is better.
Armando Iannucci is a mad genius, and in 2005, he created a show called The Thick of It, featuring the comic stylings of Peter Capaldi, Chris Addison, Joanna Scanlan, and many others I had never heard of before watching it, thanks to an extremely on-point recommendation from a former coworker. I learned new ways of cussing, and also a little about the British government, and I wasn’t the same after completing it. It’s all available on Hulu for free, and… for fuck’s sake, just watch it right now.
Veep has moments of greatness, and I’ve heard successive seasons get better, so I’ll probably check in down the line. But as I watched, I couldn’t help compare the show’s British counterparts and know that the UK actors had done a much better, funnier job. Or maybe it was written better for them. I’m at a loss, because the combination of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matt Walsh, Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky, Tim Simons, and Reid Scott is a fantastic one. It’s just not as fantastic as the Mother Country’s version.
The parallel is easy to draw, especially with the latter seasons of TOI: There’s a competent/incompetent woman leading a bunch of competent/incompetent people through the annals of the government, and the leader of the government is talked about but never seen or heard. In TOI Rebecca Front’s Nicola Murray is undoubtedly intelligent. She’s so smart that her social bumbling and odd bouts of forgetfulness are forgivable, and they make her staff all the more necessary as they carry her through her role as Cabinet Minister. JLD’s Selina Meyer, the Vice President of the United States, on the other hand, does not exude such an air. More simply put, she seems stupid. Not Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin stupid, but getting-there-stupid. I fear that the whole Palin joke has passed, and Veep is still sort of trying to capitalize on it. They’re also applying a bit of the Obama-as-celebrity phenomenon to Meyer’s situation, but while Obama handles it with grace, Meyer just comes across as egotistical and unrelatable. Not that I want to relate to my Veep or anything, and not that comedy doesn’t come from the unrelatable, but I guess what I’m trying to say here is, why the hell was this woman put in office in the first place? She has a terrible relationship with the POTUS, whoever he is, and she doesn’t seem extremely popular with the public. Is she the alternate reality Gerald Ford? Whatever Meyer’s role truly is in government, I can assure you that JLD is the right person to play it, anyway. She’s believable in the position of power, as much as she can be, and despite my struggle to find a reason to like Selina, I like Julia, so I root for her.
The two best characters are Sue (Sufe Bradshaw), Meyer’s blunt secretary and maybe the closest person to Malcolm Tucker that we’ve got, and Gary (Tony Hale), Meyer’s pushover right-hand bitch. Hale is capable of so much more, though, and yet he is essentially Buster Bluth in a suit. I hope Gary gets more confident and interesting as the show progresses, because being a doormat is only funny for so long, and Hale deserves better as an actor. I also rather like Reid Scott as Dan, because he’s the only character on the show with his life together, and enough lines to actually prove he does. The rest of the gang are American hybrids of the characters on TOI. Jonah (Tim Simons) has a bit of Ollie’s (Chris Addison) punching-bagginess, but with a bit of Malcolm Tucker’s (undeserved) cocky walk. Amy (Anna Chlumsky) is Helen Hatley (Rebecca Gethings) to a tee, especially because she creates love triangles wherever she walks. Mike (Matt Walsh, UCB legend) is Glenn Cullen (James Smith), another punching bag, but one with less skill, motivation, or personality. I could go on, but I think it’s unnecessary. You get it.
No one even comes close to Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker, not really even Sue, which is both a relief and a disappointment. I say relief because attempting his brilliance would be impossible, but disappointment because Veep needs a hook as strong as he is for TOI. Jonah may be the bark, Sue may be the bite, but the sum of their parts is still less than Malcolm. Delicately put, American television is still too nice, even with this many profane insults. I’m hoping that, in the coming seasons, this show finds the right balance around JLD, and maybe opts to be a little nicer to itself. There’s something about British television that allows for innate meanness in everyone, but Americans just can’t get away with it. The Office recognized this pretty quickly and made a point of softening Michael Scott, distinguishing him from his David Brent alter-eg-schmoe. I hope Veep does the same, because someone has to be nice and get some work done in that VPOTUS office, or… wait, is this how Washington really works? Damn.