A pair of US comedy box-sets go head-to-head in this week’s DVD round-up.
Created by BAFTA-winning writer Armando Iannucci, (The Thick of It, In the Loop) Veep: The Complete First Season (HBO Films) is an all-too-rare example of a US comedy spin-off that manages to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its British counterpart. US vice president Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Seinfeld) is a former senator and one-time presidential candidate, who despite her enviable position is stranded in political no-man’s-land. Kept at arm’s length by the President, Selina and her staff attempt to make their mark on the political landscape without getting derailed by the political games that define life on Capitol Hill.
Whereas In The Loop offered a transatlantic slant on The Thick of It’s caustic political satire, Veep sees the ever-impressive Iannucci and his team of writers plunge headfirst into the toxic US political cauldron -without a Malcolm Tucker-shaped safety net. Their evident grasp of political machinations Stateside is extremely impressive, and the satire is utterly convincing throughout. The top-notch ensemble cast includes Anna Chlumsky (My Girl), Matt Walsh (The Hangover) and Tony Hale (Arrested Development), but the excellent Louis-Dreyfus steals the show, and her irresistible comic timing is pushed to the fore.
Veep may lack a foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker style bogeyman, but it seems like a wise move from Iannucci not to try and emulate his best known character. That said, the dialogue still fizzes, and any British viewers lamenting the end of The Thick of It, should find that Veep is the perfect antidote. The slick US prime-time sheen may seem slightly alien, but the awkward comedy is pitch-perfect. Chalk it up: another success for Iannucci -and for HBO.
Created by, written by and starring Saturday Night Live’s Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein from cult 90s band Sleater-Kinney, Portlandia -Seasons One and Two (MediumRare) makes its DVD bow after surfacing on Netflix last year. A quirky fusion of sketch show and sitcom, the series takes a withering look at life in Portland, Oregon -widely held to be the alternative lifestyle capital of the North West. The show debuted on the Independent Film Channel (IFC) in January 2011 and is currently on its third series. Befitting the show’s growing reputation, seasons four and five have already been green-lit for 2014 and 2015 respectively.
With the show executive produced by Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, Armisen and Brownstein evidently have friends in high places, and this is underlined by the number of celebrity guest stars who jostle for space across these two series. In an early skit, Steve Buscemi feels the wrath of the owners of feminist bookshop Women & Women First, while Kyle MacLachlan has an extended cameo as the mayor who spends his downtime playing bass in a reggae band. Most inspired is singer-songwriter Aimee Mann (the woman behind the excellent Magnolia soundtrack), who has now fallen on hard times, and is forced to clean the houses of smug young professionals.
Inevitably, not all of the sketches ignite, and some are so drawn out and meandering that you will consider reaching for the ‘off’ button. What makes the scattershot hit-rate even more perplexing is the fact that I cried with laughter several times -which is an endorsement of sorts! It may be frustratingly inconsistent, but there are more than enough laugh-out-loud moments to make it worth the trip to Portlandia.