‘Veep’: the new golden age of TV continues

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veep2“Genius” is the most overused word in the Hollywood lexicon, but it’s hard to think of a better one-word description of Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Worthy of comparison with any of the top comediennes in movie or TV history, Dreyfus has hit a new peak with her HBO series, “Veep,” which starts its third season on April 6.

She’s got the pure acting chops of such Golden Age greats as Jean Arthur and Rosalind Russell combined with the zany energy of a Lucille Ball or Carol Burnett. The part of vice president Selina Meyer allows her to combine satire of the role of women in today’s political scene with personal moments of observational humor on a par with the work Dreyfus did on “Seinfeld.”

HBO Video has just released “Veep” season two and it was impossible for me not to race through all 10 episodes last weekend.

The fact that the whole season only adds up to about five hours makes the show perfect for a binge-watch that doesn’t keep you up all night (I’m wary of some of the hour-long cable series because of the lost weekend quality of my dives into “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards”).

For no good reason — other than an ever-growing pile of unwatched DVDs — I didn’t get around to watching “Veep” until last weekend veep4and I started with season two. All the good stuff I had heard turned out to be true, and I was happy to have no problem starting in the middle of the story (season one is now at the top of my list for my next free five hours).

The series was created by Armando Iannucci who was Oscar-nominated for his “In the Loop” screenplay. The 2009 film was Washington, D.C.-based, too, but I thought it suffered from the attempt to spoof U.S. and British politics in one feature-length film — too much of the joking was silly and big chunks of the film appeared to be improvised.

The much tighter focus of “Veep” and Iannucci’s collaboration with producer Frank Rich (the New York Times writer who now works for New York magazine) makes the political satire feel more accurate than the scattershot approach of “In the Loop.”

Dreyfus is a producer of the show, too, and she no doubt played a major role in surrounding herself with ace comic talent. The star’s interactions with her personal assistant Gary Walsh, played by Tony Hale, are especially funny because these scenes examine the added fashion and make-up burdens faced by any woman in politics. Selina is expected to look much better than her male equivalents and yet if it appears she spends too much time on the way she looks, she will be criticized for that, too.

The central joke in the show is the huge difference between the witty and profane behind-the-scenes Selina and the image she is forced to project whenever she is in public. One of the best scenes in season two shows us the vice president having a tense dinner with her ex-husband and their college student daughter where the pasted-on smiles are at complete variance with what the three people are saying to each other.

“Veep” delivers satire and old-fashioned entertainment in a manner that might have pleased the Frank Capra of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” I can’t wait to see season three and how Dreyfus and company will handle Selena’s stepped-up quest to replace her boss.

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Joe Meyers

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