by Gemma King |
For a genre that involves a lot of paper pushing, speech giving and discussion of minutiae, political dramas and comedies are surprisingly beloved. Despite the lack of ostensible action, onscreen violence or laugh-out-loud comedic turns, politics is a topic that has long graced our screens, and based on HBO’s Veep, the genre doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon.
Shows like The West Wing, which explore life and work inside the White House, are revered as some of the finest drama television has to offer. Pop culture productions like Scandal, which began with a unique premise and a great star but quickly veered into melodrama, offer up a more glamorous portrayal of presidential life. Even renowned procedurals like The Wire, which are mostly interested in the crime world and the underbelly of contemporary society, are fascinated by the world of political office, and the pandering, dishonesty and bargaining that seem to be part and parcel of how our laws get made and our representatives get into power.
But perhaps the most inspired, unusual and refreshing political series to have appeared on television is HBO’s Veep, which began in 2012 and wrapped up its fifth season in 2016.
Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, the United States Vice President hoping to become the first woman to make it to the top job, Veep also features Anna Chlumsky as her uptight but painfully competent Chief of Staff, Tony Hale as her lapdog assistant, Sarah Sutherland as her shrinking violet daughter and Matt Walsh, Hugh Laurie, Timothy Simons, Reid Scott, Sufe Bradshaw, Gary Cole, Kevin Dunn and Sam Richardson as her team.
Though Veep deals with powerful figures, sensitive current affairs and high-stakes issues, from reproductive rights to sexual harassment to equal opportunity and beyond, its brilliance lies in its ability to depict the world’s most coveted office as the site of both banality and bedlam. Meyer’s campaign is ever on the brink of meltdown, and she and her team always seem moments away from a full-scale catastrophe.
Though Dreyfus may be best known for her iconic portrayal of Elaine Benes on Seinfeld, Meyer is by far her most complex, accomplished and entertaining performance.
Meyer oscillates between lofty idealism and frustrated egoism; she clearly wants to make the world a better place, but she is even more passionate about being in power. Those who get stressed out by situational comedies that verge on slapstick may withdraw from some episodes. There are a few too many cases in which Selina must manage her personal appearance and political duties at once (from concealing her eye lift procedure in the wake of an international crisis to cringing through a pair of squeaking high heels during the televised walk to her inauguration podium).
But Veep’s shortcomings are redeemed by its script, in which the most filthy and creative insults are delivered by almost every character on a constant basis, with the deadpan aplomb of a perfectly-selected cast. All in all, Veep is a fresh, clever and thoroughly amusing comedy that portrays the madness of political office and the prevalence of sexism in contemporary society with a light hand – and a dirty mouth.
Veep is currently screening on Amazon.