Ah, Elaine Benes. The spastic dancing, the contraceptive sponge hoarding, the big wall o’ hair. She’s the Seinfeld character nearest to my heart, which speaks both to the deep admiration I have for uncouth women with practical, somewhat masculine taste in footwear and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ endearingly brassy performance. Though there was never any reason to doubt her talent during the ‘90s, in my eyes, no TV character that Louis-Dreyfus tackled post-Seinfeld was going to come close to matching iconic Elaine.
At first, this stubborn assessment (originally made when I was a very self-possessed 17-year-old) seemed on point, but then the trailer for her new HBO series Veep was released last week. Even though the comedy isn’t set to premiere until April, it already looks like we have another classic Louis-Dreyfus character on our hands. In other words, if TV shows were potential lovers, Veep would be looking pretty sponge-worthy right about now.
In Veep, Louis-Dreyfus plays Selina Meyer, a former senator who becomes the vice president of the United States. According to the series’ creator Armando Iannucci, the character, who appears to be a feckless train wreck, isn’t based on a real politician. This being said, the brief clip perfectly captures what I think we’ve all kind of imagined it’s like to be the VP: not really knowing what the hell you’re talking about or what you believe in from day to day, peppering conversations and speeches with meaningless buzz words and phrases, and, naturally, waiting around for the president to die. Selina Meyer appears to be a combination of Liz Lemon and Elaine, she’s flawed, coarse, and relatable in her ineptitude. What I hope you noticed (aside from the appearance of My Girl actress Anna Chlumsky) is that this trailer is less than two minutes long but every second of it is funnier than any of the shows built around Louis-Dreyfus after Seinfeld’s finale.
Watching Ellie, her initial, post-Elaine Benes effort, was canceled after two seasons, lumped together with other failed sitcoms starring her former castmates, and taken as evidence of some kind of Seinfeld curse. Then there was the dreadfully titled The New Adventures of Old Christine, which chronicled the dull neuroses of a bumbling, middle-aged divorcee. This one fared better with Nielsen families and Louis-Dreyfus garnered and Emmy award for her performance but the writing was so bogged down in sitcom stereotypes (a forty-something woman dealing with hormones, illogical slapstick), that the humor was never more than just quaint (the kind of jokes that make you think, “I could see how that could make someone laugh” but don’t actually arouse any laughter). Louis-Dreyfus is a capable comedic actress, even with some mediocre work under her belt, that fact is apparent when you consider guest-starring roles on shows like Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm. But that talent obviously needs to be supported by sharp writing and for the first time in more than a decade she’s going to star on a show that might just have that.
Iannucci, who created the British series The Thick of It and directed and co-wrote the film In the Loop, is a shrewd political satirist (there isn’t an unhilarious moment within the first fifteen minutes of the latter). He mixes high-brow, intellectual humor with crude humor and ends up with this great bouillabaisse of wit and, like, jokes about shit. In short, he’s brilliant. HBO has become this prestige network—it’s a place where actors can go to reinvent themselves and I think that’s exactly what Louis-Dreyfus is going to do.
So what did you think of the trailer? Will you be watching Veep on April 22?