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The Comedy of Process: A Look At HBO’s VEEP

May 30, 2012

VEEP just keeps getting better and better. The HBO comedy detailing the career of a failing and flailing Vice President Selina Meyer and starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus is both hilarious and marvelously profane. The shows creator Armando Iannucci, known for “In The Loop”, has made a career of mocking the egomaniacal and power hungry. His work is littered with examples of the various ways a writer can puncture the whimsies of the over-confident and for his characters occasionally angry, but always profane comedy.

VEEP isn’t the first time he’s taken a shot at American politics, but it’s surely the most successful. The show interests itself primarily in the bitter ironies of the Vice Presidency. It sees the presidency much like John Adams as a high profile job that at times seems to offer little profile or real power; seeming to exist on pure potential for both. The premise is simple but it’s take on the complexities of the VP seat makes it interesting; everyone in Washington seems to have more power and influence than the Vice President who is unable to win even symbolic victories despite being the country’s second in command. The so close and yet so far nature of the office makes the cringe worthy mistakes and missteps of Selina and her staff worth it.

With shows like Scandal, Parks & Recreation, and the upcoming USA’s Political Animals and NBC’s 1600 Penn there does seem to be a gluttonous number of political themed television on the air, but VEEP is the only one that satires political institutions themselves and not the politics of government. It’s at heart an office comedy yes, but while it’s not an examination of partisan politics it is an examination of political process.

 Louis-Dreyfus comes across as a talented politician whose won the world’s biggest consolation prize and doesn’t know what to do with the demotion to national office. Her staff seems dedicated and almost predominantly incompetent, not that their boss is significantly better. Selina expects her staff to protect her from making mistakes, undo mistakes she’s already made, and take the blame if any mistakes can’t be undone. She lives a life with reliance; Senators don’t show up to her receptions and the President never calls (despite how many times she asks her assistant).

Carina Chocano’s observations were most apt.

Veep,” by contrast, comes not to justify Caesar but to goose him. It captures our post-Reagan, post-Clinton, post-Bush, 24-hour tabloid news and Internet-haterade dystopia, and reflects our collective queasy ambivalence toward a political system that we fear simply reflects our own shallowness back at us. If “The West Wing” was a fantasy of hyper-competence, “Veep” is its opposite: a black-humor vision of politics at its bleakest, in which both sides have been co-opted by money and special interests and are reduced to posturing, subterfuge, grandstanding and photo ops. Naturally, it’s hilarious.

As Meredith Blake of the AVClub wrote “The joke of VEEP isn’t that Washington bureaucrats are incompetent, idle, or even corrupt. It’s that they’ve lost all sense of perspective.” VEEP doesn’t share a higher desire to make a statement political or otherwise, but what it does do is take office comedies to the OEOB.

Observances Stray and otherwise:

  • Selina on Filibuster Reform: ““If you can get a senate reform bill through the place it’s designed to reform, that would be amazing. That would be like persuading a guy to fist himself.” If someone would say this on a Sunday talk show all would be right with my world.
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