“Democracy is so overrated” remarks the shrewd Frank Underwood in the Washington D.C thriller “House of Cards.” While Netflix’s most popular drama satirizes the corrupt world of Washington D.C through the use of suspense and drama, another political show, “Veep,” demonstrates the same thesis on the futility of democracy in the completely opposite way using comedy and absurdity. The HBO show sharply uncovers the comedy in the inherent corruptness of American politics, as it demonstrates that politicians are inept narcissists and never determined reformers. Few comedy shows–I think the only other one is “Louie”–can tread the line between potent significance and hilarity as well as “Veep.”
In the wake of Colbert, Stewart and Underwood shedding light upon the often ludicrous nature of Washington, “Veep” follows female Vice-President Selina Meyer as she and her dedicated staff commit media faux-pas, make snide remarks to constituents and scheme to take power away from an unseen president, only referred to as “POTUS.”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Selina, fantastic in the role that has given her two Emmys. Selina is practically a clone of Elaine Benes, Louis-Dreyfus’s earlier career-making role on the 90’s mega-hit sitcom “Seinfeld” (also my favorite TV show).
As anyone who watches Seinfeld knows, Elaine is superficial, neurotic, bad-tempered and totally self-absorbed; her Selina is the same, but now the second most powerful person in the free world.
Unlike “House of Cards’” Frank Underwood, Selina’s corruption does not come from anything like murdering her enemies or manipulating politicians. Instead, she is corrupt in her political incorrectness, self-absorption and sarcasm. As an avid fan of both shows, I find myself rooting for Frank Underwood more than Selina Meyer. He is obviously a worse human being, but he is also a better politician. I would prefer him as president to Selina because he is smart and capable while she is a spoiled narcissist.
As the April 6 season three premiere demonstrated, the new season will follow Selina’s presidential campaign, as the current President is not running for a second term. Selina will leave Washington and hit the campaign trail, giving her even more chances to express her gaffe-prone, foul-mouthed and impatient tendencies to potential voters. Now that the job of president is involved, we can be sure that the level of self-centeredness that the characters already exhibit will intensify in the coming season. I’m dubious of the long-term prospects of this storyline, since the show’s premise places her as the disgruntled VP, not as the powerful president.
In the season premiere, Selina is cut off from her staff on a book tour—a book her staff wrote for her—in Iowa. Now as any follower of politics knows, Iowa is the first state in the presidential primary and thus the most important campaigning state for any potential candidate. We watch her as she mutters curses at the public, childishly rotates in a swivel chair and pokes fun of her new naïve aide.
During Selina’s absence, her staff attends the wedding of Mike, the apathetic director of communications. In order to avoid distraction, every wedding guest must place their cell phone in a box during the party. For a group of Washington officials, this is akin to solitary confinement, satirizing their dependence on a constant flow of information. Dan, the ambitious smooth talker, and his rival Amy, the pedantic chief of staff, both conceal a second phone in case of an emergency.
The focus of season three’s second episode, which premiered April 13, revolves around Selina’s position on abortion. When POTUS suddenly switches his stance on abortion, Selina and the team must scramble to figure out her opinion on the hot button issue. It is apparent that Selina has no belief of her own and is looking to say whatever necessary to get elected. In the real world, the issue of abortion is usually tied to one’s political party—pro-life for Republicans and pro-choice for Democrats. But, the show never reveals her political party affiliation.
“Veep” tries very hard to be apolitical in order to be uncontroversial. This centrist approach makes sense in that the show is not actually about political issues, but the trade off is that the show can feel unnatural when it mentions a controversial issue such as abortion without actually addressing it in a political manner. Clarity in the show’s political inner workings would make the satire appear more real. Then again, the show’s comedy comes not from its political roots but from its witty writing and funny characters. In fact, the content matter of the politics, or the lack thereof, allows for the show’s focus to remain upon the absurdity of politics. The officials we elect are not focusing on their beliefs—which remain unclear to us as audience members—but are tied into the “game” of procuring their public image.
The reason you should watch “Veep” is because it is the best and smartest comedy writing currently on television; the off-the-cuff one-liners and witty disses make the show worth watching. In this sense, “Veep” is the comedic offspring of “The Office;” both shows focus on character relationships. Indeed, both shows are shot with a handheld camera in an improvised style. “Veep’s” depiction of office politics is much better than its depiction of real politics.
This is quite unfortunate for season three, which focuses mainly on the latter. But, it’s not politics that keeps me watching, it’s the characters. We laugh, while perhaps hiding our disgust, at the show’s characters’ clumsy and ridiculous antics. We are not annoyed with the ridiculous nature of D.C. politics because we are constantly reminded the show is not grounded in reality.
Nevertheless, the brunt of the joke isn’t the foolish characters themselves—we are the foolish ones for electing them.