with Hamish McKenzie
If you were lucky enough to catch British political comedy In the Loop - and we can't recommend it enough - then the chances are you're going to go ga-ga for Veep (right). Especially if you're at least remotely interested in American politics.
Veep (HBO, tomorrow at 10pm) was created by Armando Iannucci, the Glaswegian who directed the foul-mouthed and fast-paced In the Loop, as well as its television series predecessor, The Thick of It. Veep comes with Iannucci's trademark smart-assery, playing up the bloviatory ineffectualness of many world leaders and giving truth to the line, 'Those who can, do; those who can't, teach; and those who just don't seem to care, lead.'
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (her of Seinfeld fame) plays vice-president (or 'veep') Selina Meyer, 'the second most powerful person in the world', according to her executive assistant. Meyer is a pitch-perfect send-up of the quintessential American politician: hair always perfectly in place, smile worth a million bucks and a paralysing dependency on talking points and her savvy aides. Well, half of them are savvy. 'I don't read half the stuff I'm supposed to read,' her director of communications inadvertently confesses during one back-and-forward with colleagues.
It's not just the subversive political commentary that makes this show a winner; much of its joy is to be found in the characters, who serve as too-close-to-the-truth-for-comfort representations of the douchery that abounds in Washington DC, a city full of government cling-ons, brown-nosers and ego-trippers who dress up their insecurities in well-pressed suits. Its own inhabitants call it, accurately, 'Hollywood for the ugly'.
From the puffed-up pomposity of the 'White House liaison', a lowly messenger who carries an air of superiority because he's ostensibly employed by the president's office, to the deputy director of communications, who does new media but considers himself 'the vice president's secret weapon', the characters are cringe-inducing, weirdly endearing and utterly recognisable. The prevailing message is, 'This could be your office'. What makes it funnier is that it's the office of the person who is a heartbeat away from the most powerful position in the free world.
You might want to stay up late tomorrow because after Veep, HBO is again showing the first series of the excellent Enlightened followed by the pilot of the equally great Girls (11pm), a show about a group of twenty-something female friends in New York who are living life 'one mistake at a time'. Writer, star and executive producer Lena Dunham is an awesomely anti-Hollywood figure. She hasn't featured on any big-name shows (although she directed the 2010 indie film Tiny Furniture). And she has created a series about feisty young women in New York that doesn't revolve around high heels, cocktails and 'empowerment' through wanton fornication.
Instead, the characters of Girls are fumbling and awkward, smart and clueless, highly strung and just plain strung out.
The show centres on Hannah (Dunham), an aspiring writer whose parents have unexpectedly cut off her funding. Suddenly she has to fend for herself in hipster Brooklyn with a job in a dump of a coffee shop and an aloof love interest who sometimes seems as if he doesn't exist. One of the few clear signs he does? 'This huge bruise on my ass,' as Hannah tells her friends.
We love Girls because it's a TV show set in hipsterland that is unpretentious and honest at a time when hipster culture is anything but. We are also just a little bit in love with Dunham, who is a grade-A talent. Watch this woman's career because, if there's any justice in the world, it'll take off into the stratosphere.