Veep, Season 1

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.

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happythankyoumoreplease

It gives me great pleasure to unleash praise on a talented person. Josh Radnor is that talented person, and the praise is for his directorial and screenwriting debut, happythankyoumoreplease. It’s a sweet little indie movie, wherein Radnor (Ted Mosby, the still-single centerpiece on HIMYM) plays a character who is way less awesome than his real life self and is surrounded by many cool actors. No, it’s better than that. I was just trying to distill it down to a meaningless stereotype.

Anyway, yes, Radnor’s character is every bit as boringly lovable as Ted. Sam Wexler is a writer, a writer of short stories. (Wait for the metaphor to come up later. It’ll seem obvious and you’ll feel stupid, but then you’ll admire Radnor for getting you to suspend your disbelief.) He has a best friend with alopecia (the very convincing Malin Akerman), a whiny sister-like figure (Zoe Kazan) with a really awesome boyfriend (Pablo Schreiber), and a conscience that forces him to take care of a kid that gets left behind on the subway. He also encounters a major hottie (Kate Mara, who is indeed super hot) and convinces her to move in with him for three days. All the cliche stuff happens to make you feel good at the end of the movie——Sam gets his girl, friend learns to love herself (and Buster Bluth! Tony Hale for the win!), best friend fixes her relationship with her boyfriend, kid gets returned to the law, all that sort of stuff.

But I really like how Radnor went about describing the lives of these young New Yorkers, and that’s why I think Radnor has so much more interesting stuff up his slightly baggy sleeves. It’s as if he was telling a story, one without a beginning, a middle, or an end, or a climax, or any of that stuff. Just relating very good, delicious details about a few select people, and because he’s such a natural wordsmith, those stories wove their way into the story arc and made themselves a movie. It’s very relaxed and natural, and that’s why the “short story = guy can’t commit” metaphor still impressed me, even if I should have seen it coming.

Ted Mosby isn’t everyone’s favorite character, nor is Josh Radnor everyone’s favorite actor, and it’s probably because neither guy is particularly unique from a first impression. But that’s what I like about Radnor, and about all the Ted-like characters he plays. They’re dudes that you actually know, who are good at the core but wholly inconsistent and impulsive in their day-to-day behavior. I think Radnor captures that whenever he’s on the screen, and even more impressively, he can do it behind the camera and with pen to paper. I look forward to seeing what else he comes up with, and I can only hope that he won’t be pigeonholed into nice-guy roles for the rest of his life. Maybe he should attend the school of Fred Savage and Ron Howard and see how life is behind the camera more permanently. It certainly suits him. (Suit up!)

The Informant!

This was one of those movies that should have been even greater than the sum of its parts. But it wasn’t. Sad horn noise here.

I’ve never been one for dry, or shall I say arid-humored movies. Some of the Coen brothers’ works, like A Serious Man and Burn After Reading, went completely over my head because of how dry the humor was. And this film had a similar feel, or at least the first 50 or so minutes did. I understood the basic gist of the movie, that there was this idiotic informant who was screwing things up left and right because he couldn’t keep his facts straight and he had a bit of a memory problem and couldn’t help but throw in an occasional lie here and there. That part was obvious. What wasn’t obvious was the humor. Because this film was based on a true story, it’s hard to tell what character traits were built into the story and what character traits were added by the writers and actors. I couldn’t quite figure out what to laugh at until the midway point, and by the time I got there, the movie was already halfway done. Oh, well. I guess it’s not for everyone.

On the bright side, this movie had an incredible cast directed by the esteemed Steven Soderbergh. He somehow managed to make Matt Damon, Joel McHale, Scott Bakula, Tony Hale, and Patton Oswalt look incredibly ordinary and boring, enveloped in that mid-90s brown-ish color that is all of a sudden associated with those years. Damon, as the titular and exclamation-pointed informant, had a wicked ugly mustache and big ass glasses. Bakula and McHale sacrificed the height of their normally nice hair for the sake of their straight-laced FBI characters. And Hale and Oswalt got the chance to play characters more dignified than usual. I could see the appeal of the movie for actors like them, because it gives them a chance to play something serious that they don’t have to take too seriously.

While I was let-down by the whole movie (and honestly, a little depressed by the plot), I was amused and intrigued by the names that signed on to the project. That’s got to count for something, right?