The HBO comedy series Veep is pretty funny. The first season of eight episodes is out on Netflix and I watched it over two weekends. The backstory is that Selina Meyer is a US senator who tried and failed to get her party’s nomination for the presidency, then accepted the role of running mate and became vice-president. She finds that in the world of Washington politics, she now has far less clout than when she was a senator, reduced to making human interest appearances at kindergartens and yoghurt stores and the like. She has all the trappings of power (massive security detail and six limousine motorcades wherever she goes) but not the reality and the show deals with her frustration and insecurity at being deliberately excluded from the really important decision-making processes.
The West Wing this is not. This show is not about big issues. Any serious matters that are mentioned are merely backdrops to the intrigues. It is about Meyer trying to increase her visibility and her clout, and all the backstabbing and lies that people in politics tell in order to get what they want and get ahead, and pretending to be more important than they really are. There is a running gag in which Meyer’s aides constantly tell her in public that she has a call from the president in order to extricate her from difficult situations, when in actual fact he never calls her.
The series creator and director is Armando Iannucci from the UK who has a similar show about British political insider intrigues called The Thick of It and whose 2009 film In The Loop was a big screen version of the same kind, except that it straddled both UK and American politics in a thinly disguised plot involving the phony case made jointly by the US and UK for the invasion of an unnamed middle eastern country. I wrote about that film last year. (Incidentally, Garry Trudeau, the author of the Doonesbury cartoon strip, has also written a new political comedy called Alpha House about four Republican senators who share a house in Washington. It also promises to provide a cynical view of politics. It is produced by Amazon and you can see the pilot episode here, which was not bad.)
In Veep we see politics at the pettiest level. Iannucci’s signature style is rapid-fire dialogue riddled with profanity and vulgarity in which everyone is a fast-talking, ambitious, schemer, constantly trying to take credit for any success and avoiding blame for any failure, seizing any opportunity to kick even a colleague to the curb if that would advance their own careers, and putting on a show of friendship with people whom you hate and despise. It is not a world that any reasonable person would ever want to be a part of. The president never appears (you just see his aides conveying his words) and you don’t even know which party is in power, which is Iannucci’s snide way of making the point that the two parties are pretty much the same.
The casting is excellent with Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine in Seinfeld) playing Meyer. Here’s the trailer