The first season of “Veep” had its moments, but the praise heaped on this rather obvious political comedy gave it the distinction of being HBO’s second-most-overrated half-hour. Season two yields modest improvement thanks to shrewd cast additions, augmenting the pleasures of Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the easily flustered, foul-mouthed Vice President. This remains a series where back-to-back viewing (HBO made four available) somewhat deadens the comedy, since the show repeatedly hits the same beats — awkward photo ops, indignities inflicted by the unseen POTUS, etc. In short, the title character’s merely greatness-adjacent status roughly mirrors the merits of the show.
Series creator Armando Iannucci continues to fastidiously avoid partisan labels, a too-precious indulgence amid these polarized times. As a consequence, Louis-Dreyfus’ VP Selina Meyer gets stuck spouting mealy-mouthed platitudes, which can be mildly amusing in their banality but tedious over the long haul.
There’s also an over-reliance on profanity, which even in pay-cable confines feels more like a comedic crutch than a peek behind the political curtain. Fortunately, the show benefits and then some from the addition of Gary Cole as a Karl Rove-like political strategist (with better hair) and Kevin Dunn as the President’s downtrodden chief of staff, who dryly responds to an attempt to cheer him up after a shellacking in the midterm elections by saying, “That’ll take the edge off this corn-holing.” (In Dunn’s case, the premature end met by HBO’s “Luck” was a lucky stroke for “Veep.”)
That isn’t to say “Veep” doesn’t provoke some absurd chuckles, from Meyer delivering a statement about her support for Israel while a roasted pig revolves behind her to her painfully stilted banter with a group of Marines, with harried aide Gary (Tony Hale) feeding her lines.
Still, in fundamental ways “Veep” plays like the counterweight to “The Newsroom,” which is smart to the point of smugness and politically in your face to the point of didacticism. By contrast, “Veep” is content to revel in the silliness of politics without taking a position, as happy to have Louis-Dreyfus dropping F-bombs and engaging in sight gags as exhibiting any political chops, other than the character’s desperate hunger to be taken seriously.
That can be funny, occasionally, but given all the work HBO has done to garner credibility in D.C.’s power salons, including the movies “Game Change” and “Recount,” “Veep” is satire without much bite. And amid a recent glut of politically themed series, deeming the show a cut above “1600 Penn” amounts to damnation with faint praise.
On the plus side, unlike some pay-cable programs, nobody can accuse “Veep” of taking itself too seriously. It’s just that based on the tepid approval ratings the series earns, nobody else should, either.
(Series; HBO, Sun. April 14, 10 p.m.)
Filmed in Baltimore by Dundee. Executive producers, Armando Iannucci, Christopher Godsick, Frank Rich; co-executive producers, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche; producers, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Stephanie Laing; director, Christopher Morris; writer, Will Smith; story by Iannucci, Smith; camera, Jay Feather; production designer, Jim Gloster; editor, Bill Sneddon; music, Rupert Gregson-Williams, Christopher Willis; casting, Allison Jones. 30 MIN.