TV

'Veep' Finds Humor in Office Politics

Veep finds humor in the contradiction between the staff's renowned arena and the petty ways they get things done.


Veep

Airtime: Sundays, 10pm ET
Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Matt Walsh, Timothy Simons, Reid Scott, Sufe Bradshaw
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: HBO
Creator: Armando Iannucci
Air date: 2012-04-22
Website
Trailer
Amazon

It’s often been said that politics is a boys’ club. So, too, is television production (even if a few top jobs have recently been held by women). Veep breaks through another sort of glass ceiling, with comedy that doesn't center on yet another buffoonish man supported by a woman the straight role.

Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) doesn't play much of anything straight. Neither is she cutesy, quirky or klutzy, like so many women in current sitcoms. She’s not a Type-A personality with one manageable flaw that makes her all the more adorable. In the premiere of Veep, she’s also not lovelorn, lamenting her singlehood or swooning over men.

Instead, Meyer is nakedly and selfishly ambitious, rude to and about her staff, foul-mouthed, and lacking the political know-how and personality traits that make an effective leader, manager or executive. All this puts her more in line with the male characters who drive long-running TV comedies, like The Office’s Michael Scott, or Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David.

Louis-Dreyfus showcases Meyer's multiple edges while still inspiring empathy for her plight. At a recent in-person appearance in New York City to promote the show, Louis-Dreyfus called the character a “thwarted person.” It’s clear that Meyer believes she deserves the Oval Office, and yet she can barely stay afloat in her position, which is both powerful and yet powerless. Even as you watch her struggle to keep up with having no real responsibilities, you can’t help but feel a twinge of compassion whenever she asks, “Did the president call?” The answer is always no.

Louis-Dreyfus can do much with just a facial expression and hand wave. In the premiere, while approving a plan to avert a potential PR disaster, she turns to her chief of staff (Amy, played by Anna Chlumsky), and says, “Can you come up with a Plan B, because...” then generally gestures to the entire office. With just that half-thought, you completely understand her frustrations. It’s further testament to Louis-Dreyfus’ skill that she does this while in no way recalling Elaine.

Of course, it’s not only Louis-Dreyfus’ show (though she is a producer). The creative team behind it includes Armando Iannucci. Though Veep, his movie, In the Loop, and his BBC show The Thick of It, all concern themselves with the business of politics, they don't satirize current events or ideas. (Meyer's political party is never revealed.) You'll recognize types, but no specific personalities among the characters. Meyer isn't Sarah Palin, and neither is she Hillary Clinton. Meyer has her own problems: in the premiere, she stumps for getting utensils made of cornstarch into government buildings.

Veep is more attentive to the day-to-day goings on in the administration, the office politics. “I don’t have time to ignore you right now,” Amy tells White House liaison Jonah (Timothy Simons), “Gary, can you please ignore Jonah for me?” Indeed, much of the premiere is devoted to the ways the staff members are out to get each other, and who is using whom. You get the feeling they're not going to find friendship and achieve lofty goals, but it's funny watching the ways they screw each other over.

In its focus on such details, the show finds humor in the contradiction between the staff's renowned arena and the petty ways they get things done. Dressed in perfectly prim, triangulated politician garb while cursing out her staff for their bumbling ineptitude, Meyer is consistently small-minded and strangely sharp. “Glasses make me look weak,” she says. “They’re like a wheelchair for the eyes.”

At the event in New York, Louis-Dreyfus noted that most films and TV shows portray politics as noble, like The West Wing, or sinister, like Three Days of the Condor. With Veep, politics is drudgery. It’s bureaucracy and backstabbing in small, cramped spaces. They might as well be running a paper company.

7

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image