'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.


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

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.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

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

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