Veep season 1 episode 1: Fundraiser
It's the American Thick of It. And hopefully one day we'll stop referring to it as that.
US Air date: 22 April 2012, HBO
The Thick of It's journey to American television screens has been a predictably tortuous one. Originally cherry-picked by ABC, their pilot - which cast Oliver Platt as Malcolm Tucker and John Michael Higgins as newly elected Congressman, Albert Alger - failed to be picked up after a pilot that Amando Iannucci - who was only partially involved - called, "terrible... they took the idea and chucked out all the style."
That ABC passed was a blessing really. That meant that HBO - always a more natural fit with Iannucci's misfit tendencies - could step forward and welcome Iannucci in, offering him the freedom to do an American version the way he wanted to. So now we have Veep, which isn't a remake of The Thick of It, but more a sister show. It shares the same clothes as and language of The Thick of It, just not its accent.
Veep is set in the office of Vice-President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis Dreyfuss), so we're several rungs up the career ladder from The Thick of It's departmental dramas. But while part of the joke is the flabbily-defined role of the VP (FDR's Vice-President John Nance Garner famous described the post as "not worth a bucket of warm piss"), it means she's still too powerful to have a Malcolm Tucker spitting fire at her.
While the first episode manages to people its world with strong characters whose rat-a-tat rhythms are half Sorkin, half Iannucci, the lack of a show-defining character like Malcolm does makes it all seem a teensy bit rootless. Still, the dialogue still fizzes in the same way as the best of The Thick of It's does, even though the swearing's been dialled right down.
Veep's semi-improvised and savagely edited style births as many good lines as The Thick of It, even without Malcolm's verbal piss bombs ("I'm fluent in bastard," says Meyer, after choosing to hire one particularly hated new staff member), and the whole thing seems meticulously researched. It's thick with governmental detail, sometimes dizzyingly so.
The lack of a Malcolm probably won't mean as much as this series goes on and firms up its own identity. It's a smart show, but its relentless cynicism may be hard to sell. The West Wing sugared its portrayal of the madness of Washington politics with the occasional idealist and a President straight out of an HBO subscriber's wettest dreams. But then in America all the right people will talk about it and love it, and as David Simon knows, that's sometimes enough.
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