If you watched Monday’s premiere of HBO‘s really, really funny new show Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, you may have noticed something about her character, Vice President of The United States Selina Meyer, that made her a most intriguing choice for Vice President of The United States. Yes, she’s a she, and no, she’s not a spoof of a recent
vacuous famewhore vice presidential candidate. (C’mon, y’all – this is Elaine Benes. Think she’d be cast as a faux Sarah Palin?) I’ll let you think about it for a moment.
For those of you who didn’t watch and who have already forgotten the contents of the first paragraph of this post, Veep is off to a promising start simply by not being about Sarah Palin. In fact, it’s more like a very cynical version of The West Wing, in which idealism and the whole Mr. Smith Goes To Washington spirit of righteous government for the people get tossed out the window. Forget about the first female vice president ushering in a new era of equality and change. Selina Meyer is a working middle manager of sorts, charged with carrying out the boss’ orders in an often thankless job with few guarantees of moving up the ladder. She’s surrounded by people who either tell her what she wants to hear or are too busy keeping her out of trouble to give her decent advice. She’s not hypercompetent like a certain Jed Bartlet, but she’s smart enough to wrangle her staffers and keep them in line.
The show’s premiere episode should be a pretty good indicator of what the series will be about. Meyer’s decision to go green by getting rid of plastic utensils in favor of cornstarch-based ones raises the ire of the plastics industry; she adds to her woes when during a speech at a fundraiser she refers to one of her staffers as…well, I won’t spoil it, because it’s a tastelessly funny line in a scene that’s full of them. (Damage control takes the form of Meyer’s press secretary hoping that something else happens to take America’s mind off of Meyer’s gaffe: “Tom Hanks could die. There could be a forest fire in L.A.”) Veep isn’t really a political comedy – we’re never told what party Meyer belongs to – as much as it is a workplace comedy. There’s no talk about the consequences of policy or the responsibilities our elected officials have to their constituents or the demanding nature of life at the highest levels of government. (Press Secretary Mike McClintock, played by Daily Show alum Matt Walsh, responds to Meyer’s “we’re gonna have to pull an all-nighter” with “I can’t tonight, I have the dog.”) Instead, the characters argue about work, rag on each other, and try to score points with the boss.
A show like this doesn’t work unless it has something or someone to keep viewers on the hook. Anyone remember that show with Geena Davis where she played the first female American president? Commander-In-Chief, I think? Lasted about a month? Apparently the producers had never seen Cutthroat Island. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is perfectly cast here; her ability to switch up emotions on a dime serves her well, and for my money she’s still one of the best comic actresses working today. But that’s not the really, really interesting thing I alluded to in this post’s title. Like The West Wing, the show’s dialogue is fast and furious, and like every other HBO show you really need to pay attention. And if you did, you found out that the Vice President is divorced, and has a kid. Yep – the Veep is a single mom. So maybe she is a Democrat after all.
Oh, and if you didn’t catch the show, when you’re done here, go over to YouTube and watch the whole uncensored episode.