Imagine an episode of WEST WING, with rat-a-tat, wall-to-wall dialogue but funny. Well, keep imaging because VEEP isn’t that. It wants to be. And oh Lord does it try. But what you’re left with in this new HBO entry is an exhausting half hour that manages to waste the talents of one of TV’s best comediennes, Julia Louise-Dreyfus.
Good luck following the story. Or caring. She’s championing cornstarch silverware or something and coming up against the big bad plastics lobby? There’s something called the Clean Jobs Commission that’s she for because it’s good for her. Why, I don’t know. She calls someone a retard in a speech and is surprised it causes a shitstorm because she said it as a joke? Meanwhile, we never know her politics. Is she a Democrat or Republican? Isn’t that sort of important when defining a character who is the Vice-President of the United States?
So here’s what we do know – she’s ambitious, she’s kind of ditzy, she can deliver lines as well as anyone ever could because she’s the wondrous Julia Louise-Dreyfus. She surrounds herself with a WEST WING-like support staff (more wasted talent in ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT’S Tony Hale and yummy Anna Chlumsky) who are relegated to toadies.
There are some real lessons in comedy here. One: Pace needs to be varied. Yes, it can be zippy but the audience needs to breathe. When the pace is relentless, things don’t land. And eventually the audience gives up. Laughs come from reactions, from little behavior. Take the time.
Comedy is specific. If you’re going to do a political satire you have to declare your position. I know the danger, that you may alienate the Blue States or the Red States, but so what? You’re a show about politics. Take a stand! Being edgy and fearless doesn’t only mean your characters get to say fuck.
Comedy is characters. Audiences get drawn in because they care about the people. Especially in a pilot, devote the time to letting us know who they are and what their relationships are. Does Julia’s support staff like her, admire her, thinks she’s a nightmare, what? Instead of all this talk about plastic forks, let’s learn who these people are.
And finally, don’t try so hard. The desperation to entertain is palpable. Have faith that your characters are compelling enough, your story engrossing enough, and your jokes are funny enough that you don’t have to create an artificial razzle-dazzle to hold our interest.
What’s most disappointing is that I was so looking forward to this show. The trailer was intriguing. I love the arena. The cast is awesome. And it's a comedy geared for grown-ups. Please live up to your campaign promises.