Sunday, April 14, 2013
Veep: A View Of Honesty In TV Dialogue
We watched four episodes of VEEP. We laughed, we were entertained, but we didn't finish the disc and we sent back both discs, Numbers one and two of Season One.
Something about the series struck me as futile. I will give ANY series a reasonable shot. It's hard to produce quality work in this medium and the work is arduous. I've seen pilot episodes that seemed like crap but the episodes got better as the series progressed. The writers got their stride, the actors inhabited their characters and that ineffable magic of FILM started to work.
VEEP has talented people. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has the authority to make a credible Vice President and she uses her patented body language to great comic effect.
Still, there's something missing from VEEP. It has no core. I didn't see any change in the characters. Four episodes is enough to reveal whether or not a series has a dramatic structure, whether or not the characters are going somewhere. They might be going to Hell but still, at least they're in movement, they're changing. Veep lacked this sense of dynamism. The characters kept repeating the sharp, witty and very nasty banter ad infinitum. They kept trying to climb over one another's social and professional errors to enhance their own careers. So what? Isn't that what everyone does? Not necessarily, but this kind of one-upsmanship has become a staple of television comedy. TV and movie characters now speak, and act, as if their internal censors have been turned off. I first noticed this tendency on SCRUBS, and it was brilliant. There was something shocking about the way Doctor Perry Cox spoke to his interns. He spoke the absolute, devastating truth, nothing was watered down. Sometimes it was inappropriate. Dr. Cox couldn't care less. He abandoned the idea of "appropriate" because it was useless. He played a teacher/physician and if he couldn't resort to blistering character assassination, one of his students may fail to learn a life-saving lesson. On SCRUBS the characters routinely spoke dialogue that cut through the usual pleasantries of social life. It was seldom less than hilarious. From Dr. Kelso's blithely honest selfishness to The Janitor's pointless malice, the characters on that groundbreaking series ripped away the masks that people use in polite society. This mask has a name in psychological parlance. It's called The Persona.
As I watched the characters in Veep attempt to mine these same veins of ruthless truth-telling, I felt as though this indicated a complete paradigm shift.
The Persona is disappearing in television and film. Characters actually say what they think and feel. This may enhance a sense of authenticity but it also points to a vanishing civility. People are becoming more rude, and not just in TV and film. They may be more real, but they are also less concerned about one another and more concerned with themselves. Honesty is a good thing but there's an evil side to such candor. It has become a license to hurt.
SCRUBS had heart. It had a moral premise. Dr. Cox's ferocity was offset by his vulnerability. We knew that people weren't as cruel as they seemed to be. They were just tired of the same old shit. The producers of that innovative series made comedy gold out of the idea that characters could say the craziest things, especially when they were true.
I abandoned VEEP because I didn't feel that same sense of compassion. There was no moral thrust to the stories. VEEP seemed to be amoral, and that was ultimately boring.
As comedy, VEEP can't touch SCRUBS, and as political drama it doesn't even kiss the hem of WEST WING'S robe. I give it two muskrats for the inventiveness of the dialogue and the sadly funny viciousness of its put-downs.