Typically, news that a cherished British favourite is about to remade for American audiences isn’t met with much in the way of enthusiasm. In fact, the general reaction tends to veer somewhere between a dismissive “meh” and a series of outraged expletives. With Veep however, rightly-acclaimed comedy writer Armando Iannucci is actually handling the adaptation himself, taking his superior political satire The Thick Of It and transplanting it to the US for popular network HBO. As such, the result is sure to be a winner. Or, as the yanks would say, a home run.
All-in-all, the pilot is a solid and consistently amusing start, if perhaps not quite as strong as one might expect. Of course, written by Iannucci (who also directs) and The Thick Of It regular Simon Blackwell (also a regular scribe for Peep Show), there’s plenty of great material. Employing the same cinema-verite style and scarily plausible portrayal of politicians as the Beeb’s scathing Brit-com, “Fundraiser” is littered with great lines (“She’s mediocre. Of all the ocres, she’s the mediest.”), snarky retorts (“Mingle? How do you suggest that I mingle with this few people? Did Simon mingle with Garfunkel?”) and enough throwaway put-downs to merit repeat viewings.
Notably though, the central dynamic is slightly different, given that we’re following a political figure who’s actually in a position of power. Whilst The Thick Of It dealt with MPs from a largely superfluous department (Chris Langham’s hapless Hugh Abbot and Rebecca Front’s naïve replacement Nicola Murray) here the focus is the actual Vice President (hence “Veep”) of the United States. That said, our titular VP still functions as a put-upon sufferer of consistent indignities, while the episode follows the tried-and-tested Iannucci format where the politicos deal with escalation and overreaction after a succession of fuck-ups. From attending a half-empty function (“I am in a room with three people and a fuck-load of quiche!”) to dealing with an ill-advised joke about mental health, it’s the same dig-your-own-grave structure.
As the eponymous lead, some might argue that Seinfeld favourite Julia Louis Dreyfuss is too ‘big’ to disappear into such a part, but she’s inarguably one of the greatest sitcom actresses of her generation. Plus, aside from the fact that her casting will attract stateside audiences, the hope is, presumably, that she’ll make the role her own in the same way that Steve Carell did in the US remake of The Office. Staying with that comparison, whilst Veep’s pilot might not be as instantly insightful or laugh-out-loud as its British predecessor, it’s important to give it time to find its own identity, since NBC’s Americanisation of Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant’s mockumentary classic took a while to master the cultural transition.
Despite being Iannucci’s first attempt to crack the States with an all-American agenda, it’s something of a natural progression after the transatlantic antics of The Thick Of It spin-off movie In The Loop (which saw British politicians in Washington). Inevitably, there’s nobody here who can hold a candle to Peter Capaldi’s magnificent, swear-spewing spin doctor Malcolm Tucker, but the ensemble is well-cast and promising enough not to worry. From timid personal assistant Gary (Arrested Development’s Tony Hale) to chief of staff Amy (In The Loop’s Anna Chlumsky) to egotistical White House liaison Jonah (Tim Simons), this could be a cast worth voting for.