A sneak peek at HBO's 'VEEP'

Anna Chlumsky, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tony Hale (left to right)
Anna Chlumsky, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tony Hale (left to right)

There's a big launch event tonight in Washington for the Baltimore-made HBO comedy "VEEP," and I do not want to spoil anyone's fun. So, I am going to be purposefully light on details in talking about the three episodes of this brilliant and biting satire that stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, a former senator struggling to find her footing as vice president of the United States.

I will say this, if you are one of the Washington political workers who have seen Armando Iannucci's "In the Loop"  and laughed yourself silly, you are going to be in heaven at tonight's screening. (And if you haven't seen "In the Loop," you probably shouldn't be working in Washington -- at least not in the staff-level trenches anyway.)

Iannucci focuses his comedic attention on the gridlock, lack of vision,  and sweaty-palmed fear that grips our national politics these days, and as I watched, I realized that for the first time in months, I wasn't feeling quite so desperate, angry and depressed about the state of government and the civic life of the nation today.

It was a little like a good meditation exercise about five minutes in when you start to feel the 10,000 things in your head that are making you crazy quiet down and move away from the center of your brain for a bit.

In an interview for a set-visit magazine piece I recently wrote, Frank Rich, one of the series executive producers, described the show's take on the partisan warfare and gridlock of D.C. this way.

"Rather than writing like a pundit and lecturing or hectoring about it, 'VEEP' turns it into farce, which is what it is," he said.

"And so, for a half hour, people who are seething at the mere mention of the word 'Washington' can laugh their heads off — before they go back to seething."

As part of his research into the American political process, Iannucci told me that he met with workers from the "Pentagon, State Department, CIA and United Nations.

"And the more you know, the more you realize it's far worse and far more stupid than you could ever make up," he said. "And if you made up some of those situations people would accuse you of being too far-fetched."

Speaking of the Republican presidential debates, which were very much in the news the day we talked, Iannucci added, "Rick Perry forgetting which branch of government he was going to close down. And then he has to go on David Letterman and make a fool of himself. … It's so belittling. Politics has become so belittling."

There is no shortage of belittling in "VEEP, " and it's wonderful.

You can read that magazine piece here.

After getting an early look at the Baltimore-made, HBO movie "Game Change" a few months back, I offered a couple quick-hit, hip-shot thoughts. These were more reactions than thought-out bits of criticism.

One was that Woody Harrelson owned the screen every one of the many minutes he was on it. You tell me if I was right.

I had the same feeling about Anna Chlumsky ("In the Loop") after seeing the first three episodes of "VEEP" last night. She plays Vice President Meyer's chief of staff, and she is marvelous.

The ensemble is terrific. Tony Hale ("Arrested Development") has moments as Meyer's "body man" that are sublime. No spoilers, but one involves him triumphantly returning to the office after thinking he has fixed the team's latest screw-up. It's in the third episode, so folks in D.C. probably won't see it tonight.

In the end, this series will probably rise or fall in the hands of the Nielsen gods based on viewer reactions to Louis-Dreyfus. Having an on-screen identity as memorable as the one she helped create for her character of Elaine on"Seinfeld"  is a tricky business. Some people fall so deeply in love with such a character that they never want to see the actor in anything else.

I say bravo to Louis-Dreyfus for taking on this edgy and complicated character. The actress I saw on the screen last night was a daring one taking risks and delivering a precise comedic performance that captured nuances of our national life and consciousness that most people can't find the words to even start talking about.

This is the kind of production that makes HBO a place unlike any other on television.

More to come ....

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