Sky Atlantic, Monday, 10pm
Line Of Duty
BBC2, Tuesday, 9pm
Alan Partridge: Welcome To The Places Of My Life
Sky Atlantic, Monday, 9pm
A GOOD test of good comedy is how often you have to replay it to get all the gags. There was one scene in a closet in Veep which I had to watch six times. Only then did the additional seventh funny line “I will not strategise in a closet!” reveal itself. By the end of the 29-minute first episode, I’d filled four A4 pages with jokes (a record) and laughed out loud eight times, an exceedingly high score when you’re watching at work and don’t want to seem like you’re enjoying yourself too much.
Veep is The Thick Of It transferred from Westminster to Washington with the same set-up – bewildered politician surrounded by variously shouty, backstabbing, sycophantic, incompetent aides – and slightly less swearing. There’s isn’t a Malcolm Tucker (altogether now: one f***ing Malcolm Tucker, there’s only... ) but this is still exceptional comedy, with a zingy script from Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell and performances to match.
Julia Louis-Dreyfuss is Vice-President Selina Meyer who isn’t so much without portfolio as purpose. Last week she turned up expecting to meet 60 senators and found the room almost empty. “What’s going on, Amy?” she asked. “There aren’t enough people in here to fill a f***ing canoe.” Urged to circulate, she said: “How do you suggest I mingle with this few people, Gary? Did Simon mingle with Garfunkel?”
Gary is the most unswervingly loyal of her staff, always there when she forgets a name or needs help to reach a high podium (“Box me!”), although sometimes his attentiveness can be oppressive (“Senator Dorsey at two o’clock” ... “I’m not a sniper, Gary”). Amy – played by Anna Chlumsky, who was in the Tucker-goes-to-the-White House flick In The Loop – is less in love with the V-P (hence Veep) and possibly more dim (required to forge the V-P’s signature on a condolence card she signed her own name instead) but has a great way with a put-down whenever Dan or Jonah are around. Dan would flog his granny to get ahead, which impresses the boss but not her. (V-P: “Is there anything you can’t do, Dan?” Amy, muttering: “Foreplay, direct sunlight... ”) Jonah is supposed to be Selina’s liaison with the President but I expect we’ll never see the main man all series long. And the best bit? The logo flashed up at the end which exclaims: “Dundee.”
There’s some great jargon in Veep (Selina, after the President’s office has edited her speech: “This has been pencil-f***ed completely!”) and if anything even more in Line Of Duty, a cynical new cop drama from Jed Mercurio who made his name in Scotland with the blackly humorous Cardiac Arrest. Here crimes are “down-processed”, offences “re-crimed”. It’s all part of a stats-massaging drive so the Metropolitan Polis appear to be on top of things like knife attacks when in fact the opposite is true. Victims of less headline-grabbing crime will never see justice and by way of compensation get to tell their tale of woe to officers who “empathise”.
One officer in particular is suspected of cooking the books for the greater glory of himself. DCI Tony Gates (Lennie James) has just picked up another top cop award but AC12 are on to him. This is the polis’s anti-corruption unit or rather it’s the unit’s boss, played by Adrian Dunbar, because Martin Compston’s character isn’t sure (“You think he’s Bob Beamon whereas I think he’s Ben Johnson”), although he was starting to come round to the idea by the end of the first episode, at which point Gates was cherry-picking another juicy case (“It’s big, it’s sexy and that makes it mine”) while attempting to make his mistress’s hit-and-run simply disappear.
It looks open-and-shut: Gates is a right bad yin, has to be. But there are four more episodes and I’m hoping for plenty of twists. Line Of Duty, being about cops investigating cops, is reminiscent of Between The Lines from a few years back and I loved that. As ever with Mercurio, the dialogue crackles, such as when Gates happened upon murder-scene rubber-neckers on a grim housing estate: “Get that lot back to watching Jeremy Kyle and get the kids back in school ... unless they’ve been excluded.”
A good week for sharp writing also included Alan Partridge: Welcome To The Places Of My Life wherein Steve Coogan’s chat chump took us on a personal tour which included his radio station (“My coalface, my canvas, my lathe”), the fitness centre (“A diet of Tracker Bars means I’m able to lead the kind of physically active life that’s simply out of reach for many men my age such as Eamonn Holmes”) and his favourite beauty-spot (“For some Thetford Forest means dogging and suicide but I’m old-school and I’m off for a walk!”).