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'Veep' Review: Closer than a Heartbeat Away from Comedy Gold

'Veep' Review: Closer than a Heartbeat Away from Comedy Gold

Let’s get the obvious question out of the way – is the main character in HBO’s new political comedy “Veep” based on Sarah Palin?

The answer is a quick and firm, “no.”

What’s equally refreshing is the show’s biting sense of humor. The premise is almost too simple to be believed, and that’s part of its beauty. “Veep,” debuting at 10 p.m. EST Sunday, centers on a politician who wields very little power in a town where power means everything.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is Vice President Selina Meyer, an ambitious politician desperately trying to make a difference but being thwarted nearly every step of the way. She’s shadowed by an uber-suck up (Tony Hale of “Arrested Development” fame) and a chief of staff (Anna Chlumsky) asked to pave over the Veep’s litany of tiny miscues.

The first episode features Selina trying to appease several interest groups while attempting to forge a semblance of a legacy for herself. She’s battling to replace the plastic cutlery in government buildings with forks made from corn starch, but they quickly wilt in a cup of hot coffee.

Louis-Dreyfus navigates it all like the sitcom pro she is, conquering the slow burns as well as the physical shtick. The show’s second episode is a howler, an inspired cousin to the ultimate gross-out scene in “Bridesmaids” that easily trumps that film’s laugh quotient.

The first few “Veep” episodes don’t indicate Selina’s political party, although the talk of clean energy and other pet causes clearly make it a Democratic administration. Still, it’s as oddly apolitical so far as an HBO program can be.

It remains to be seen, though, how well the show will wear on viewers. Selina can be an off-putting character, a foul-mouthed type who can’t hide her glee when she learns the president might be suffering from a heart attack. And she’s eager to paint the “normals,” as the show calls American citizens, as bleeping idiots.

Her aides aren’t much cozier. They’re all hopelessly shallow and career driven. You long for an innocent thrown into the mix, even if he or she would likely flee long before the season ends.

“Veep” also transforms every character into Aaron Sorkin doppelgangers. They’re all whipsmart and eager to let loose with dialogue that simply couldn’t flow naturally from a Beltway type’s mouth. It makes for a steady stream of richly comic exchanges, but by enabling nearly every character to speak so smoothly it has a somewhat deflating impact.

The show’s cynicism runs so deep it could chase political junkies back to Fox News or MSNBC. An upcoming episode finds the Veep planning a trip to a local yoghurt shop (yes, the “H” is intentional), which forces her staff to argue over the most politically expedient flavor to choose.

We also get plenty of new, potential catch phrases.

“He was nice to me. I was niced up,” Selina wails after being hit by a politician’s charm offensive. When the White House redacts most of a speech Selina is scheduled to give, she says she got “pencil-fucked.”

It’s a far cry from “yada, yada, yada,” but the gags are so smart it’s likely a few of them could stick in our popular culture.

“Veep,” from “In the Loop” creator Armando Iannucci, may be astoundingly dark in both its tone and view of Beltway machinations, but it’s got a vibrant voice and a passel of comedic actors ready to rip into the ripe story lines.

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