The new season of Veep began on Sky Atlantic tonight, and I thought about lying to you about it.
Everyone loves Veep but I'm out in the cold because I can't share the mania. I found it amusing, but nothing more. If you pushed me, I'd say there were some great lines in it. If you pushed me even further, I'd say Julia Louis Dreyfus is brilliant - but that's it.
I had never seen Veep till now and perhaps my reaction was tainted as it's so constantly praised. This makes me suspicious. I fear there's an 'emperor's new clothes' situation afoot whenever critics fall over themselves to adore something. So, maybe I sat down to watch Veep with a shade of cynicism.
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Also, everyone knows the writer is Armando Iannucci and that Veep is spoken of as an American version of The Thick of It. This too might have coloured my reaction as I love The Thick of It. I love it so much that I've considered crushing the DVDs into a fine, glinting powder to be made into a religious medal I can keep round my neck and occasionally soak with kisses. That's how much I love it and that may be why I've avoided Veep till now. It's the same reason I've avoided the American remake of The Office and why I'm lukewarm about the upcoming Better Call Saul: the real thing is so utterly perfect that I don't want any other version, whether it's a straight remake or a wacky spin-off or a transatlantic interpretation.
Nonetheless, Sky sent me a preview DVD of Veep so I decided the time was right, but I knew I was watching with heavy expectations, if not outright prejudice against the whole thing.
For those who're also new to it, Veep is about Selina Meyer, the Vice President (or 'veep'). She is ambitious, inept and callous, surrounded by advisers and idiots.
Season 3 launches with a new twist: the President reveals he won't be running for another term, and so begins the undignified jostling for position. Selina is frantic to ease her way into the Presidential race but the fools and sycophants she relies on are guaranteed to make any campaign disastrous.
Tonight's episode opened with Selina on a book tour. She was plodding around dusty Iowa to flog her autobiography, smiling at the dumpy locals who queued to have their copy signed. She was trying to keep in touch with the news in Washington whilst nodding at the yokels and trying to look appreciative, rather than nervous, when one presented her with a butter sculpture of Iowa.
The scene is set, then. She desperately wants to be President and to govern these very people, but she can't bear to be around them. She soon flees to her hotel room where, behind closed doors, the real business of politics can be conducted.
This storyline gives the new season a vigorous push and, hopefully, an opportunity to develop Selina's character because she sometimes seemed cartoonish. There were shades of the slapstick, such as when she tries to nudge a pile of books with her toe and ends up tumbling off a chair. Satire, eh?
And that was my main problem with Veep; as a satire, Veep - this episode, at least - just wasn't very satirical. Perhaps you have to be American to appreciate its particular style, but surely political satire should do one of two things: reveal the darkness at the heart of power, like the brilliant House of Cards, or ridicule it brutally, like The Thick of It. Veep didn't do either and so seemed rather flimsy.
Of course, it's very polished and stylish and full of white-teethed, famous Americans, but the visual sleekness seeped into the texture of the programme itself, rendering it smooth and witty but never quite able to deliver a punch. There was none of the rough, panicked chaos of The Thick of It or the chill amorality of House of Cards. It was as if these two great shows had mated and produced a very insipid child, but one whom we're all supposed to praise because its father is Armando Iannucci.
There were some great lines, such as 'What's Google's number? I don't know, ask Jeeves.' Or the moment where someone is jostling for position in a wedding photo only to be told they needn't worry as they don't show up in photographs. These were funny lines, but it's meant to be satire, not just comedy. Many people can write comedy (and many cannot, as Mrs Brown's Boys proves) but satire involves an extra layer of brilliance and I didn't see it in this episode. I just saw Julia Louis Dreyfus being quite amusing and sometimes falling off a chair.
Malcolm Tucker would never have performed a clumsy tumble to get a laugh. He'd scream in your face if you suggested it. That was another thing Veep lacked: gutsy swearing. The absence of colourful language added to the sleek, bloodless feel. Where The Thick of It offered swearing to make your ears wilt - florid, freewheeling, curlicued language so foul it left an aftertaste - Veep offered a prim all-American 'fuck' here and there.
So, I know it's near-blasphemy, and I'm only basing this on one episode, but I did not love Veep. Yet, I felt I was obliged to: it's by the genius Iannucci, and all the best TV just now is coming from America, so how can it fail? But it left me cold.
I expect thunderbolts now. I expect plagues of nightmares. I also fully expect to repent once I've seen other episodes but, for now, Veep was disappointing.