Washington's new monument to smart writing and comic timing
TV REVIEW:THE FIRST EPISODE of a comedy series is always tricky. There’s all that plot exposition to pile on, multiple characters to be introduced, laughs to be generated and, in the case of Veep (Sky Atlantic, Monday), expectations to be lowered after an avalanche of hype – plus, and this is the tricky bit for fans this side of the Atlantic, memories of the UK version, The Thick of It, to be expunged before you can really fall under the supersmart spell of the writing and timing.
The satire of the comedy genius Armando Iannucci has moved from Whitehall to Washington DC, and much of the setup is the same: a female politician – now the US vice-president, Selina Meyers, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus from Seinfeld – is surrounded by a team of varying incompetence tripping on political landmines and then dealing with the fallout.
In the first episode a fork-waving Meyers has the veepish (tokenistic, ultimately powerless) idea of getting cornstarch-made utensils into every federal building. “It’s classic clean-jobs stuff,” she says, until of one her “internerds” leaks the story, and the plastics lobby goes over her head. Sweeping from her motorcade into a wood-panelled hall to announce her initiative, she’s handed her now heavily edited speech. “It’s been pencil-f***ed,” she says, nervously eying the podium. “What’s left here? I have ‘hello’ and prepositions.”
Back in her office there’s the running joke of her isolation. “Has the president called?” she asks. “No,” deadpans her secretary. In her office the banter is bullying, sexist, plain obnoxious and funny. Political correctness is for when the microphones are on. And, as expected, there’s cursing, lots of it – not the volcanic swearfest that was The Thick of It (there’s no Malcolm Tucker character in Veep) but enough to remind you that this is HBO cable TV, not terrestrial US TV, where if someone says damn there’s a sharp intake of breath.
For me the first episode wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, more an “Oh, that’s hilarious” spoken with a deadpan face. Though now it’s up and running, with its whiplash dialogue and a brilliant performance by Louis-Dreyfus, out from the shadow of being Jerry Seinfeld’s sidekick, it’s all set to be an unmissable series.
ANOTHER ONEto set the timer for is Line of Duty (BBC One, Tuesday), a five-part BBC thriller directed by David Carney (Love/Hate) and filmed with an urban edginess by Ruairí O’Brien. It’s tense stuff, pacy and slick, piling layers of personal and professional conflicts on top of the baseline plot, which has anti- corruption pen-pusher Supt Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) determined to hunt out any dirt on the top crime-busting cop, a swaggering Tony Gates (Lennie James).
There are hints in the first episode that all is not as it seems, and this much we know already: Gates has a wealthy mistress (Gina McKee) who drags him into covering up a crime, and there’s a police culture of investigating only crimes that can be solved, to help massage the statistics. This week’s twist was a shocker. I can’t say any more for fear of a flurry of emails from people who recorded the show, but suffice to say cool Det Constable Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), who inveigles herself into Gate’s macho unit, is the one I expect to be nail-bitingly worried about for the next month.
SO RUTH WATSONhas gone from Country House Rescue (Channel 4, Thursday), replaced as presenter by Simon Davis, and it’s the not the same at all. She was straight-talking and down to earth, didn’t suck up to the threadbare aristos in their crumbling houses and was brimming with ideas about how to bring in some cash from their significant property assets. And you just knew she was within a whisker of telling them to cop themselves on, stop resting on their ancestors’ laurels and go out and find work.