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Saturday 16 December 2017

We love the Veep treatment

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Most new comedies take an episode or two to bed in, giving us time to feel our way around the characters and the humour time to feel its way around us. Not Veep, the Washington-set political satire from The Thick of It creator Armando Iannucci.

Veep, made for cable giant HBO, grabs you by the scruff of the neck from the start and throws you right into, well, the thick of it, I suppose. It displays a confidence that's rare in TV comedy but turns out to be justified. Veep is a cracker.

Describing it as an Americanised The Thick of It would be unfair. There are strong similarities, of course, in the style, tone, quasi-documentary feel and constant dropping of the F-bomb. But Washington politics offers Iannucci a bigger, more expansive playground and he runs wild in it.

In The Thick of It, Peter Capaldi's foul-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker was the smart one and the unseen politicians he served (and manipulated) were idiots.

The heroine of Veep, vice-president Selina Meyer, is no idiot. As played by the marvellous Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Meyer is a clever woman surrounded by fools and stuck in an utterly thankless job.

The series immediately recognises the reality that all American vice-presidents spend four years a heartbeat away from the biggest job of all, waiting for the moment when that heart suddenly beats no more.

Meyer has all the trappings of power -- the limousines, the security detail, the retinue of PAs and PRs -- without the power itself.

Iannucci is at pains to point out that Selina Meyer is NOT based on Sarah Palin. Nonetheless, she keeps becoming embroiled in Palin-like embarrassments, chiefly because her handlers are incompetents who put their energy into stabbing each other in the back.

When we meet her she's on a push to have 76pc of federal government offices using cutlery made of cornstarch (which unfortunately curls up in hot liquid) by the end of the year. When an aide tweets the Veep's intentions, all hell breaks loose with the plastics and oil industries, and Meyer is forced into a damage-limitation exercise.

Filling in for the President at a press conference, Meyer finds her speech has been "pencil-f***ed" to remove all mentions of Cornstarchgate, leaving her with nothing but "hello and prepositions", so she has to ad lib -- disastrously.

When the issue of the aide's tweet comes up, Meyer makes a joke about being "hoist by my own retard", to deafening silence. It's a measure of her low standing that, when the gaffe makes the following day's Washington Post, it's on the front page of the style section. Veep's one to keep.

Iannucci's fingerprints, at least as executive producer, are also all over Alan Partridge: Welcome to the Places of My Life, a one-off spoof documentary in which Partridge (Steve Coogan), now working for a lowly digital radio station, takes us on a tour of his beloved Norfolk.

Partridge is a rare comic creation: a character who's evolved over time. It's been an unbelievable 10 years since we last saw him in the brilliant I'm Alan Partridge, which arguably represented the character's zenith, as the layers of buffoonery were peeled away to reveal something dark, sad and tragic underneath.

Welcome to the Places of My Life offers more of the same, yet somehow the effect is less. There were moments of genuine brilliance: Partridge almost drowning in the pool of the local leisure centre ("It boasts a controversial sloped roof") and struggling to hide his admiration for Hitler while relating how, had the Nazis conquered Britain, Der Fuhrer would have given his victory speech from the balcony of Norwich City Hall.

Across an hour, though, it felt strained. A Partridge movie is apparently in the pipeline. A part of me hopes it stays there.



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