Few TV actors can rebound after a successful or iconic show – some notable examples like Bea Arthur (Maude, The Golden Girls), William Shatner (Star Trek, TJ Hooker, Boston Legal), Mary Tyler Moore (The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Tyler Moore), Candice Bergen (Murphy Brown, Boston Legal) and Lucille Ball (I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy) have made second or third acts in their careers. Seinfeld actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus found success on the legendary sitcom as the endearingly unlikable Elaine Barnes. She busted the “Seinfeld curse” by winning an Emmy for a five-year run on The New Adventures of Old Christine, and now is featured on an excellent HBO sitcom Veep, about a gaffe-prone vice president who is chafing at the limits of her position.
Created by British scribes Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell known for the political satire The Thick of It and a film spin-off, In the Loop, Veep is a sharp, acidic take on Washington politics, the media, and politicians. Louis-Dreyfus plays Selina Meyer, a U.S. senator who has been drafted to be vice president of the United States. An ambitious and driven woman, Meyer has a pathological propensity to make all of her situations worse by putting her foot in her mouth, usually as a result of her banging her head on the ceiling of her job. A curious mixture of intelligence, self-absorption, and a complete lack of self-awareness, Selina Meyer is a monster – a politician who cannot seem to make it through a day without pissing someone off. She’s an acrid character and it takes a special kind of actress to play her – thankfully, Louis-Dreyfus is brilliant in the role. It’s nice to see her do something biting and cutting after her excellent, but somewhat bland tenure on Old Christine. And those who hope to see a redo of Tina Fey’s parody of Sarah Palin will be disappointed; Selina Meyers is a distinct creation in her own right.
And even though Veep has a great star, its supporting cast is also fantastic, but a first among equals is Anna Chlumsky, the former child star of the My Girl movies. In fact, as the oft-exasperated and perennially annoyed chief of staff Amy Brookheimer, the actress is wonderful, often threatening to steal her scenes from Dreyfus-Louis. If the show lasts for a few more seasons, I’m hoping Chlumsky will score some Emmy nods for her sure-footed performance that recalls Rosalind Russell from His Girl Friday.
The tight, brisk episodes take on various memes in Beltway politics. Illegal immigration, feminism, filibuster reform, animal rights, environmental lobbying, media spin all get skewered in Veep. The comedy that arises from these shows aren’t necessarily novel or new – it’s the kind of cringy humor that shows like The Office or Extras pioneered; in that respect, Veep is a bit of a retread. But that’s okay, it doesn’t have to be all that revolutionary when it comes to its approach – it’s enough that the writing is consistently on point, and the nimble cast, topped off by a brilliant lead, scores comedic aces.