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"Veep": The Complete First Season Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Veep: The Complete First Season Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack box cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Veep: Season One (2012)
Show & DVD Details

Creator: Armando Iannucci / Executive Producers: Christopher Godsick, Frank Rich, Armando Iannucci

Writers: Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche, Sean Gray, Roger Drew, Ian Martin, Jesse Armstrong / Directors: Armando Iannucci, Tristram Shapeero, Christopher Morris

Regular Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Selina Meyer), Anna Chlumsky (Amy Brookheimer), Tony Hale (Gary Walsh), Reid Scott (Dan Egan), Timothy Simons (Jonah Ryan), Matt Walsh (Mike McLintock), Sufe Bradshaw (Sue Wilson)

Recurring Cast Members: Phil Reeves (Senator Andrew Doyle), Andy Buckley (Ted Cullen), Kate Burton (Barbara Hallowes), Brian Huskey (Leon West), Peter Grosz (Sidney Purcell), William L. Thomas (Martin Collins)

Notable Guest Stars: Brent Jennings (Anthony Holland), Geraldine Waters (Maria Holland), Sarah Sutherland (Catherine Meyer), Eddie Jones (Chuck Furnam), Patsy Grady Abrams (Mrs. Reeves), Alison Daniels (Carol Hallowes), Randall Park (Governor Danny Chung), Brad Leland (Senator Bill O'Brien), Patrick Fischler (Ken), Kevin Heffernan (Fast Food Executive), Barry Shabaka Henley (Fast Food Executive), Jim Palmer (Himself), Jake Arieta (Himself), Tommy Hunter (Himself), Dan Bakkedahl (Congressman Roger Furlong), Nelson Franklin (Will)

Running Time: 221 Minutes (8 episodes) / Rating: TV-MA

Blu-ray: 1.78:1 Widescreen; DTS-HD MA 5.1 (English), DTS 5.1 (French), DTS 2.0 (Spanish)
DVD: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Spanish)
Blu-ray Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
DVD Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Complex Chinese, Korean, Thai
DVD Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled in English, French, and Spanish
Season 1 Airdates: April 22, 2012 - June 10, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $49.99 / Blu-ray Release Date: March 26, 2013
Three discs (2 BD-50s and 1 DVD-18) / Digipak and Folder in Cardboard Box
Also available in standalone 2-Disc DVD ($39.98 SRP)

Buy Veep: The Complete First Season from Amazon.com Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy DVD

The "Seinfeld" curse seems pretty easy to dispute these days. Jerry Seinfeld has little interest in new enterprises. Michael Richards is sidelined due to his unfortunate improvised response to hecklers.
Jason Alexander has struggled, but he was always a comic sidekick, not a leading man. That leaves us with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who has built the strongest case against a so-called curse befalling the actors on the most revered sitcom of the past twenty-five years.

After one NBC sitcom that didn't last a whole season, Louis-Dreyfus found "The New Adventures of Old Christine", a CBS hit for which she won an Emmy and received four additional nominations. "Old Christine" wasn't "Seinfeld", but how could it be? Its 5-season, 88-episode run, giving way to a syndicated presence, was nothing to scoff at. After that, Louis-Dreyfus didn't wait long to get back in the TV game, following in "Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David's footsteps and going to HBO, where she would star in "Veep", a single-camera comedy created by Armando Iannucci.

My appreciation for the Scottish Iannucci extends back to his work in British television in the 1990s, specifically three series starring Steve Coogan as self-absorbed failed chat show host Alan Partridge, which I discovered on a transatlantic recommendation nearly a decade ago. While Coogan's comedic brilliance there remains unknown to most of America (which an upcoming Partridge movie seems unlikely to change), Iannucci gained some notice for his 2009 entry into the world of film, In the Loop, which drew acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. That film and "The Thick of It", the ongoing BBC series that inspired it, offer a blueprint for "Veep."

Flanked by secret service, Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) continues to consult staffers (Matt Walsh, Anna Chlumsky, and Tony Hale) on an elevator ride to a public function.

Like them, "Veep" is set in the world of politics and relies on fast, filthy dialogue. Not to be confused with HBO's Sarah Palin telemovie Game Change, "Veep" centers on Selina Meyer (Louis-Dreyfus), an already elected fictional vice president of the United States. At all times, Selina is surrounded by advisors, aides, and secretaries, who whisper information in her ear, prepare her for situations, and attempt to maximize impact and minimize fallout from her every documented action.

The dialogue-heavy presentation and all-work focus take some getting used to, but "Veep" entertains from square one, establishing characters and rhythms. Despite the setting and unlike many decorated recent HBO telemovies, this is not a politically biased series. We know that Hollywood leans left and for that matter so does most of the entertainment industry worldwide,
but this series' laughs stem from nonpartisan gaffes (Selina's party affiliation is never identified) and high-pressure workplace interactions.

Iannucci is endlessly fascinated by all the drama and deliberation behind the confident appearances and carefully calculated maneuvers that the general public sees. He and his few fellow writers (all of whom also follow from Loop and "Thick") do not give us the sitcom version of politics. The issues and concerns are realistic, only played for comedic effect with snappy, frequently off-color banter. The result is like a lighter "The West Wing" or an even dryer, less silly version of "Parks and Recreation" without the first-person addresses (but with some supporting cast members in common). The show holds politicians up to a comic microscope, commenting on just how coached and counseled they are to pretend to remember the family make-ups of infrequent colleagues or fake knowledge and interest in professional sports.

Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gives a calculated speech to a hospital hall of injured citizens in HBO's "Veep." Three of the VP's closest staffers (Anna Chlumsky, Matt Walsh, and Reid Scott) fear for their jobs.

As she has shown in her "Curb Your Enthusiasm" guest appearances, Louis-Dreyfus is comfortable with TV-MA dialogue and fast, creative comedy based more on moments and at least partly improvised exchanges than the high-concept, fully-scripted plots she had on "Seinfeld." "Veep" became the third comedy series to win Louis-Dreyfus an Emmy acting award and that stands as the series' biggest honor to date. Others around her, a mix of comedy veterans (like Upright Citizens Brigade founder Matt Walsh and "Arrested Development"'s Tony Hale) and up-and-comers (In the Loop's Anna Chlumsky, still best known from My Girl, and cable veteran Reid Scott), are equally capable at this game.

A few weeks before "Veep" returns to the air for Season 2, The Complete First Season hits DVD and the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack reviewed here. While it seems like Blu-ray should have been able to fit the eight half-hour episodes and predominantly audio extras on one disc with no problem, this set fills two BD-50s close enough to capacity to easily justify the disc count. Plus, if you're unfamiliar with HBO home video releases, there are a number of nice, unusual touches adding to the data used here.

Gary (Tony Hale) dons a woman's coat to retrieve a mis-signed sympathy card from Jonah (Timothy Simons), the White House's tall, unpopular liaison to the VP, in the series premiere. An unwell Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) poses for an unflattering photograph with the frozen yogurt store owner (Brent Jennings) who dedicates a flavor to her.

Disc 1

1. Fundraiser (29:17) (Originally aired April 22, 2012)
The plan to switch from plastic utensils to corn starch ones results in plastic industry dissent and a small speech turnout. A politically incorrect joke requires action.
A mis-signed sympathy card needs a fast-thinking fix.

2. Frozen Yoghurt (27:43) (Originally aired April 29, 2012)
In filibuster reform talks, the VP agrees to a senator's terms. The staff debates over what frozen yogurt flavor the VP should pick in her honor. The staff gets sick.

3. Catherine (27:40) (Originally aired May 6, 2012)
The VP celebrates her 20th anniversary in government. She attends the dedication of a pool to the recently deceased Senator Reeves. Selina's nomination of a former oil man to the Clean Jobs task force faces resistance. The Veep's collegiate daughter visits and helps her pick out a dog.

4. Chung (28:11) (Originally aired May 13, 2012)
The Veep and her staff have to do damage control after derogatory remarks about a governor are recorded at the end of her "Meet the Press" appearance.

Gary (Tony Hale) impresses others with his ability to blindly pull out specific items from the giant bag he carries. The VP's (Julia-Louis Dreyfus) happy endorsement of an Ohio congressman (Dan Bakkedahl) comes at the end of a tense, bumpy road.

Disc 2

5. Nicknames (26:32) (Originally aired May 20, 2012)
Concerned that the President, unseen as always, is avoiding her, the VP learns of and is bothered by some of her blogosphere nicknames. Dan hangs out with Jonah to get intel about the POTUS.

6. Baseball (26:22) (Originally aired May 27, 2012)
A gas leak keeps the VP stuck at Oriole Park with fast food executives who feign interest in combatting obesity. Meanwhile, the divorced, unremarried VP worries that she might be pregnant.

7. Full Disclosure (27:34) (Originally aired June 3, 2012)
In doing damage control over the controversial reassignment of a Secret Service agent, the VP's office initiates a full disclosure policy, dropping an abundance of information for press to sort through. Also, Selina has Gary break up with her boyfriend for her and considers firing one of her closest staff members.

8. Tears (28:09) (Originally aired June 10, 2012)
After the VP's approval ratings drop, an Ohio congressman asks her not to endorse him, prompting a number of emotional reactions from the Veep.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Unsurprisingly, "Veep" boasts terrific picture and sound on Blu-ray. The 1.78:1 widescreen video and 5.1 DTS-HD master audio are comparable to high definition broadcast, but a tad better. This is not the most cinematic show on television, but the handheld imagery and dialogue-driven mix both meet tall expectations. HBO kindly even provides a couple of dubs and subtitles in English and six foreign languages (plus another four on the DVD).

"The Making of 'Veep'" takes us behind the scenes of HBO's behind-the-scenes political comedy series. Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) takes an interest in her daughter Catherine's (Sarah Sutherland) reading in this deleted scene.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Extras are divided among the two Blu-ray discs.

First up, every episode is treated to an audio commentary, the first half of them to two. The first group of speakers on Episodes 1-4 features creator Armando Iannucci, his fellow executive producers Chris Godsick and Frank Rich, producer/star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and writer Simon Blackwell. The second commentary on Episodes 1-4 provides the supporting cast perspective, gathering actors Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Reid Scott, Timothy Simons, Matt Walsh, and Sufe Bradshaw. The final four episodes each get a single commentary from a merged group, as Chlumsky, Simons and Walsh join Iannucci, Louis-Dreyfus and Blackwell.

All three lineups are easygoing and prone to laughter, while dispensing some information about each episode's composition. As you might guess, the first lineup speaks more to the general creative side and the second focuses a bit more on lines, appearances, and guest stars. There's a little overlap to those dual tracks and none of it is essential listening, but fans of the show will enjoy the widespread participation of cast and crew on these.

Video extras, all of which are presented in HD, are mostly relegated to Disc 2. Just a couple of short clips are found on Disc 1. The vice president issues a retraction regarding her "Meet the Press" remarks on Governor Chung (1:17). That is followed by in-character outtakes (1:28) from that retraction address.

On Disc 2, "The Making of 'Veep'" (13:24) provides a general overview of the series with cast and crew talking heads, clips, and copious amounts of B-roll. While certain aspects, like character descriptions, seem aimed at someone who hasn't yet seen the show, there's enough information regarding production and costume design to inform and engage established fans.

Deleted Scenes are presented in a big reel (24:52) that arranges them by episode and chronology and fits them with unnecessary temp score. Many of these are just snippets demonstrating more of the cast's improvisational skills.

An outtake shows Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) not entirely comfortable recording an Anti-Obesity PSA. When it comes to episode menus, nobody does them better than HBO.

Finally, in the same vein as Disc 1's clips, we get the VP's Anti-Obesity PSA (0:44) and in-character outtakes (1:10) from it.

Disc One opens by streaming a long general promo for HBO series on Blu-ray.

"Veep" represents my first taste of one of an HBO Television combo pack, something no other studio has regularly been giving television series. The studio has clear ideas for the format's utility that keeps the disc count and production costs down. Rather than simply including the two DVD discs sold on their own, this set's DVD combines them into one double-sided platter (a DVD-18).
It retains all the same bonus features as the Blu-ray, even that 3 minute HBO promo at the start of Side A.

Meanwhile, the digital copy is reasonably relegated to an Internet download with unique redemption code. Though not yet accessible, it appears to be offered both in iTunes and UltraViolet, should the DVD not be a portable enough medium for you. The glossy box packs the DVD in a slim folder and the Blu-rays in a more traditional Digipak. Each is nicely illustrated. Meanwhile, a cardboard wrap-around designating this a combo pack is affixed to the back of the box by adhesive. Two other inserts advertising the possible need for a firmware update and an HBO survey sweepstakes are found loose in the box.

Typical for an HBO comedy, the menus play disc/side-specific highlights (i.e. memorable lines) from the season. Those clips are topped by a border of patriotic graphics. The static secondary screens on DVD and pop-ups on Blu-ray kindly include episode synopses, credits, access to episode-specific extras, and 30-second previews. Somewhat annoyingly, the Blu-ray's menus include listings for extras on the other disc which simply tell you to swap discs (even though there's enough free space to include all bonus videos on each platter, only the episode previews are repeated). The Blu-rays sadly do not support bookmarks, resume playback, or offer a season play feature like other TV BDs.

Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) fears she just committed a gaffe while still microphoned for her appearance on "Meet the Press."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Even if you're not ordinarily drawn to politics or satire and don't find the subject matter and storylines the most compelling, "Veep" will still probably win you over with its appealing atmosphere and sharp writing. It's rarely hilarious and it could use the occasional breather and more opportunities to humanize these characters. Still, it's smart and palpable comedy that plays to and off its cast's considerable talents.

HBO's Blu-ray combo pack is easily the best way to see the series. It provides a great series presentation, a substantial load of bonus features, all the versatility you could want, and for just a few dollars more than the DVD-only set. All of that makes it easier to recommend the show, which makes for supremely fast, easy, and often enjoyable viewing.

Buy Veep: The Complete First Season at Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy DVD

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Reviewed March 17, 2013.



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