First Night: Veep, Sky Atlantic, 10pm

Now Washington's in the thick of it: Iannucci conquers America with a very British farce

Tom Sutcliffe
Tuesday 26 June 2012 11:53
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"What have I been missing here?" asks Selina Meyer as she enters the office of a senator she's trying to schmooze. "Power," the senator replies lethally.

On paper, Selina Meyer is number two to one of the most powerful men on the planet; in practise, though, as the senator knows, even the Oval Office's liaison nerd has more clout.

To add to the cruelty, she's under a permanent spotlight, so that even her smallest verbal slip will become an instant headline.

That's the central joke of Veep, in which Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell apply the mordant documentary realism of The Thick of It to Beltway politics. Already a success in America, Sky Atlantic last night gave British viewers their first opportunity to judge whether this acidic brand of Whitehall farce can be effectively reconfigured for Washington politics. The short answer is "Yes".

The dynamic here is a little different. Where Malcolm Tucker was the black, splenetic heart of The Thick of It, Veep revolves around the spun not the spinner. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Meyer as a character who deserves our sympathy as well as our scorn.

She may trade her principles as readily as any of The Thick of It's politicians but she's smart enough to see the plight she's in, and witty enough to give it sharp expression. She couldn't for a moment be taken for Palin; this is a comedy about a woman who's better than the office she occupies, not beneath it.

Meyer's office retinue exemplifies the desperation for personal advancement that was also a feature of In The Loop, Iannucci's feature-length comedy about the special relationship. But the directed political anger of that film has gone. There's no firm indication of what party Meyer belongs to and the satire is mostly reserved for the agonising business of trying to look as if you're in control when circumstances are pulling all your strings. "This has been pencil-f**ked?" says an appalled Selina when she sees that the speech she has to deliver in 30 seconds has been gutted, on White House orders.

It's not unknown for a form of editorial rape to take place when American television executives get their hands on a British script. Not here, I think. "I'm the user and he's the usee," says Selina at one point, defending an ethically dubious hire. Happily for audiences, I think this was a consensual affair.

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