Having never watched enough Seinfeld to form an opinion on it beyond “those fucking bass licks are really annoying”, I decided to make it my next series to catch up on this year*. I don’t know that I have much to say about it beyond that it definitely grew on me, that eight seasons of a sitcom is probably too much to watch in a couple of months (haven’t the patience for the ninth yet), that it can be very hard to place yourself in context for these sorts of supposedly trailblazing programs (so many of the plots and jokes have been nicked wholesale by later shows that it leaves the original feeling played-out, unfairly), that I would happily watch the whole season with Kramer entirely excised, and that that fucking bass lick is still really annoying – though not as prevalent as I had remembered.
The main take-away was a little crush on Elaine (Julia-Louis Dreyfus). Which ultimately led me in two directions. Firstly, to Enough Said, a film I had previously been intrigued by for being one of James Gandolfini’s last roles, in a romantic comedy to boot (having watched several seasons of The Sopranos over the summer, this was naturally a delightful prospect). As Dreyfus is the female lead of the film, up for a Golden Globe for her performance, it jumped to the top of my to-watch list. Combined with a favourable Kermode review and a persistent bout of insomnia, I watched it at seven in the morning last week and found it a rather lovely film, with Gandolfini and Dreyfus both wonderful. The whole thing’s a bit predictable, which is no bad thing.
From Enough Said, I bounced to another later Dreyfus work, perhaps the clearest evidence of her putting the “Seinfeld curse” to bed – Armando Iannucci’s Veep. I had watched the pilot a few years before, but it hadn’t really clicked. The addition of a crush on the lead, and the absolute boredom of not having anything to do while not being able to sleep (I thought normal days were boring – when they stretch from five in the afternoon to nine in the morning, they’re excruciating) led to a rather speedy download** of the lot.
Which was followed by an almost breathtakingly quick jaunt through both of its seasons***, which are, admittedly, HBO-comedy short, ten episode deals, but still. As I emerge, blinking from the last episodes of season two, which true to form, I watched in bed on the Nexus before I had even properly woken up, a few thoughts.
It’s a cynical program. There is certainly a lot to be cynical about in politics, generally, and US politics, specifically. The choice of focusing on the office of the Vice-President’s office, in particular, allows the show to get to the heart of power in DC while at the same time having absolutely nothing of consequence happen (from this interview), “”Being vice-president is so near and yet so far. It is a comic situation to be in,””). Seriously, one of the running jokes of Season 1 is that Selina Myers (JLD) accomplishes nothing (Season Two gives her more clout and accomplishment, probably to the show’s benefit). This means it dodges any sort of partisan jokes, which is fine, and heightens the cynicism even more. All the back-stabbing and conniving and self-interest that we all suspect dominates politics might seem a bit more worth it if it enabled real progress and improvement. The impression given by Veep is that it doesn’t. At all. Which as a message, is a bit upsetting.
It’s hard to dispute, however, because Veep seems extremely well observed. Beyond all the office politics stuff that many sitcoms do, there’s that Armando Iannucci Thick Of It focus on the minutiae of politics – the psephology, the 24-hour news cycle and the ravenous thirst for scandals it brings, the naked ambition of everyone involved. It’s convincing as a portrayal – indeed, the second season is weirdly prophetic – from what I understand of the filming schedule, it predicted a lot of what went on in the States in 2013 (for example, an episode about a government shutdown premiered in June 2013 – four months before the real one shut down in a remarkably similar manner).
Most importantly, however, is that it’s funny. Like The Thick of It, the profanity in this show is delightfully creative. I don’t think anyone will ever be able to deliver those lines as brilliantly as the Twelfth Doctor, but JLD and her supporting cast comes close – there are some extremely nasty people circulating around the VP’s office, and none of them seem to like each other. Generally, it hovers on the acceptable side of cringe comedy – there’s the occasional joke that falls flat to awkward silence, but they don’t dwell upon it like other programs. There have only been a couple of occasions where I’ve been tempted to pause and do something else as a crushingly predictable “AWKWARD” scene approaches (think David Brent getting ready for his motivational speaking gig in The Office, or …well, all of Hello Ladies). On those occasions, I was actually pleasantly surprised to see the writers sidestep the possibility of prolonged discomfort.
Julia Louis Dreyfus is absolutely wonderful in the title role – excellent at both the crude insults and the tiny little modulations of her facial expression as she struggles to conceal any compromising reactions. Her team are also all excellent, with characters that are very quickly and clearly defined without being made too one-note.
Overall, it’s a very entertaining program and Season Three is set to come out in April this year, making that month the one I’ve looked forward to, in TV terms, more than any other.
PS: You’ll notice that what I sold as a review of Veep was, in fact, a post going off all fanboy about Julia Louis Dreyfus. I cleverly disguised my true intentions there.
* I’m fairly certain that part of the Erasmus experience should be getting immersed in Spanish culture. Instead I’m using the combination of no financial pressure, no social life, and a fuck-ton of spare time to catch up on, broadly speaking, American culture. Seriously, in the few months I’ve been here, I’ve gone through Modern Family, Community, Seinfeld, Veep, a whole season of Lost, and I’m about to start Louie. If I can just manage The Wire and maybe Breaking Bad , I’ll come home this summer feeling far more culturally enlightened than I would have done had I spent the time dicking around art galleries, to be perfectly honest.
** Well, almost. The start of the downloading coincided with an intense two-day effort to get the Morroblivion mod running on my computer, which involved a whole load of downloading, installing, and moving of large files around, taxing my already-overburdened hard drive more than it could really bear. Typically, the efforts failed, and indeed, the mod seems to have taken the base game down with it.
*** Seriously – I checked my history while writing this – I looked up the download link four days ago, and I’m already done. It’s almost as if I do nothing else with my time.