Confession time -- I love network television. Love. Lurrrrve. I know it's not super-sophisticated, and because I write about all kinds of TV shows, I should be more turned on by what cable offers, but I just don't. I like being able to watch a show, enjoy it, and not have to take it so seriously. Reading that back, it sounds like a backwards compliment, but there's something so ... I don't know, comforting about the longing between Castle and Beckett, the banter between the "Big Bang" nerds, and the singing on "Smash."
But I'm not a total cable snob. While I hate blood and gore and nudity, two of my favourite shows are "The Walking Dead" and "House of Lies" (aside: I can't explain why walkers don't freak me out, but Freddy Krueger still lives in my basement; nor am I Prudence McPrude, mayoress of Prudytown when it comes to seeing Don Cheadle's ass), but still, for some reason, I can't get into "True Blood," "Spartacus," "Sons of Anarchy" or -- gasp! -- "Game of Thrones." I know, clutch those pearls.
So after not loving "Girls" last week (don't hate me; I just didn't relate to any of the depressing characters -- though it did make me thankful I was not a single, miserable twenty-something living off my parents in NYC), I was wary of "Veep," HBO's latest offering. But I needn't have worried, and it's all thanks to former sitcom queen Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
To the millions of "Seinfeld" fans -- and the considerably fewer millions who followed her to "Watching Ellie" and "The New Adventures of Old Christine" -- Louis-Dreyfus is top-tier stuff, and only a handful of other comedians can rival her knack for unbridled goofiness and well-timed, near-slapstick delivery. Elaine Benes was the hardest, most jaded and bitter of the fab four on "Seinfeld," and her clueless self-satisfaction and smugness as Christine Campbell are brought together as one character: Selina Meyer, vice-president of the United States. Ahhh, the best of both TV worlds.
"Veep," created by Armando Iannucci, follows Selina and her staff as they tackle various disasters thrown the second-in-command's way. But in no way is this "The West Wing," nor can it be viewed as a political series. This is a workplace comedy to its core, in the same vein as "The Office" and "The Larry Sanders Show."
Like a bad "American Idol" audition, you don't know if you should root for or against Selina, but there's something so mesmerizing about watching JLD do her thing. My absolute favourite moments are watching her explode with quiet rage (very Elaine-like), or unleash a flurry of expletives that would make the "South Park" boys blush. (Another confession: I love the F-bomb. There's something so fantastic and free about it, especially delivered by Louis-Dreyfus, who we're not used to hearing curse, and it only makes the moments in "Veep" that much funnier.)
Really, though, JLD isn't particularly believable as a vice-president, even a bumbling one who isn't in on the joke that she's the joke. But in typical form, Louis-Dreyfus is wonderful to watch and her almost-constant eye rolls and looks of exasperation are a delight. In last night's premiere, there's a scene where she loses it after a series of blunders, and her entire body spits out a "What! The! F--k!" that may be the debut's highlight (though it's topped by the halfway point of the second episode, where Selina is unable to hide her glee upon learning the president -- whose lack of communication with his vice-president is a running gag ---may be at death's door).
Despite a stellar supporting cast (including Anna Chlumsky from "My Girl"), "Veep"s success rests solely on Louis-Dreyfus' shoulders -- and despite her small stature, she's more than capable of doing the job. The premiere may have started innocently enough, but just like a spectacularly bad game of Jenga, the pieces start to fall around Selina and we soon realize who the vice-president really is: a political dolt with good intentions who isn't taken seriously, no matter how hard she tries and no matter how many missteps she bounces back from. In its own way, "Veep" could have been as bleak as "Girls," but the workplace comedy is saved by its offensive, outrageous hilarity. And the great Louis-Dreyfus, of course.
Follow Denette Wilford on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DenetteWilford