Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the lowliest twig on the executive branch
BY LORI RACKL TV Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org April 19, 2012 8:58PM
Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays the vice president on “Veep.”
9 to 9:30 p.m. Sundays on HBO
Updated: May 21, 2012 8:39AM
‘Did the president call?”
It’s a question asked over and over again by Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in the new HBO comedy “Veep.”
And the answer is always a disappointing no.
This recurring gag is a small example of the big humor that can be mined from the office of vice president, a position that can go from powerless to powerful in literally a heartbeat.
“They don’t get a ton of respect,” said former Chicago improv star Matt Walsh (“Hung”), who plays the vice president’s out-of-touch press secretary, Mike.
Walsh describes Meyer as “a capable politician who’s stuck in an impossible position. You’re constantly being undercut by the president’s wishes and waiting for your marching orders, but you’re still a step away from the most powerful position in the world.”
Meyer illustrates that predicament perfectly when she’s told to rush to the White House Situation Room because the president is experiencing chest pains. A mix of joy, fear, shock and schadenfreude washes over Louis-Dreyfus’ face as she struggles to hide her smile.
Like NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” “Veep” is a government-based workplace comedy, albeit one set inside the Beltway instead of Pawnee, Ind. At the federal level, the screw-ups and the swear words are a lot worse.
“Veep” is created by Oscar-nominated Armando Iannucci (co-writer of the 2009 film “In the Loop”) and written by Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche and other Brits who “are oddly obsessed with America,” Walsh said.
The show chronicles the more humorous than glamorous challenges encountered by Meyer, whose full-time job is self-preservation.
This is a woman who eschews wearing glasses because they’re like “a wheelchair for the eye” and make her look weak. When a staffer tells Meyer her Clean Jobs Task Force is likely to get White House approval, she delightedly says that’s great — for her.
“And the country?” her staffer asks.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Meyer responds. “That’s what I meant.”
The talented ensemble cast includes Tony Hale (“Arrested Development”) as Gary, an obsequious, walking Google who’s constantly whispering people’s names and facts into Meyer’s ear — and dousing her palms with hand-sanitizer. River Forest native Anna “My Girl” Chlumsky plays Meyer’s chief of staff.
One person we never see in the eight-episode series is the president. We don’t know what political party he or Meyer belongs to, either.
“To put her in some camp would be to minimize who the show applies to,” Walsh said. “It ultimately applies to everyone in D.C.”