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Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Vice President Selina Meyer in HBO's Veep
The basis of all fiction is conflict. There are always dangerous quests against dark forces, impossible stars to reach for, and wrongs to be righted, otherwise things get pretty damn dull. And even in stories where there's no antagonist, there's usually still conflict (e.g. life itself). The depiction of government and politics in fiction lends itself well to this idea. God knows there's enough conflict to go around, whether it's a conflict of philosophies, ideas or personalities. And most political conflict is usually based in corruption and egocentrism.

The United States government, and the people that work for it, usually fall into one of three boxes in most films and television shows:

  • Noble: Earnest men and women, who have foregone wealth and status, serve their country and change the world. "Eagleland" is a precious shining city on a hill full of people ready to defend freedom and liberty.
  • Stupid: A government filled with inept, uncaring bureaucrats, that provides neither efficiency or effectiveness. Citizens are forced to wait in lines and fill out forms in triplicate for services based on policies that make little to no sense.
  • Evil: The government is trying to take over the world by any means necessary. Either the very nature of the government is evil, or its secretly run by a cabal of evil people (or aliens) that are stealing taxpayer funds to use on hookers and blow.

With Armando Iannucci's Veep, the satire falls mostly into the stupid category. The series, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, returned recently for its third season, with the story turning toward the beginning of Vice President Selina Meyer's run for president. More after the jump.

Aaron Sorkin tends to gravitate toward the "Eagleland" side of things. A trait common to all of his television series are passionate, idealistic people striving to perform their best at a task. Whether it's the staffers of The Newsroom or the sketch ensemble troop of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Sorkin loves writing about the triumph of courageous people. As I've mentioned before, both The West Wing and its spiritual predecessor The American President proceed from an idealistic, Capraesque vision of American politics that believes in the positive aspects of government and more importantly the positive aspects of people in government. Juli Weiner once penned an article at Vanity Fair in which she argued Sorkin had been influential in shaping the current generation of public servants. In Sorkin's political universe, those in government are good public servants who are trying to do their best to make a difference. Those with principles are victorious over those who spread half-truths and distortions. And all that is necessary for the best political policy to carry the day, no matter how controversial it might be, is the guts to say what you mean and mean what you say.

However, here in the real world, that's not always true. "Good" and right do not always win in the end, lies and distortions can work all too well, and "how" something is said or done can be judged to be just as important, if not more important, than what is said.

HBO's Veep takes its inspiration from Armando Iannucci's sitcom The Thick of It, and its feature film spinoff In the Loop, which have a very dark, cynical view of British politics and have been categorized as anti-The West Wing. To that end, Veep, like The Thick of It and In the Loop before it, exists in a universe where everyone is either a self-centered jerk, someone being exploited by a self-centered jerk and/or a horrible fuckup at their job that's trying to hang on to power or gain more. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is soulless and superficial. And public policy is not borne out of good ideas, but out of trying to spin the bad ideas that didn't play well.
“We’re trying to figure out how I think about this issue.” —Selina
The flaw that every character on this show shares is that they believe they're smarter than they actually are. Unlike Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) on House of Cards, these characters aren't five steps ahead of everyone else. A lot of times they're not even aware of their situation, but they stupidly think they are. And the best comedic moments come from how close to home the absurdity of it reflects reality. In The Thick of It, the characters work for a largely unimportant part of her Majesty's government that no one takes seriously. When translating that to Veep, Iannucci decided its closest counterpart in the U.S. government would be the vice president's office.

The first three episodes of the third season are centered around the stumbling rollout of the "Selina Meyer for President" campaign.

  • "Some New Beginnings: Our Next American Journey": When the series began, Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Selina Meyers came off as what if Sarah Palin actually became vice president and was a Democrat from Maryland? However, as the series has progressed, they've fleshed the character out to be much more than that. Selina is in a lot of ways a horrible human being, but she's no worse than anyone else in this show. Selina wants to be president because she wants to be president, not to implement a policy or make things better for a group of people. She just wants to have the title and position, if only as an affirmation of her own political worth. And I think Julia Louis-Dreyfus is most effective at making the character somewhat sympathetic when Selina notes the stupidity of her position and the public charades that she's a part of when cursing out her staff in private. And I think that Selina is someone people would vote for if she were that "real" in public. (Although, since everything everyone says gets mangled by the press, maybe not.) The problem for Selina is that she becomes the worst type of politician when someone points a camera in her direction. She tries to be all things to all people, and inevitably pisses everyone off by coming off as a phony, out of touch, and is ripe for parody on Saturday Night Live. For example, Selina publishes a policy book because that's what all presidential candidates are supposed to do. Except it's a book with a horrible title ("It's so full of shit there's a colon right in the middle of it") that says nothing. "A big, fat, morbidly obese nothing" that is so nothing Selina has no idea what is written in her name, and when she reads the text she can't decipher the specific policy positions.
.HBO's   2013..VEEP season 301..Characters:..Julia Louis-Dreyfus-  Selina.Sam Richardson-  Richard.
“Freedom means the freedom to choose how to use that freedom to protect the freedom of others.” —Selina
  • Abortion Politics: The second episode of this season has the (unnamed and never shown) lame-duck president switching his stance on abortion from pro-choice to pro-life. Similar to how The Thick of It never specifically mentioned either the Labour or Conservative parties, Veep has never mentioned the specific political parties of the characters, but this would seem to be strongest hint that Selina is a Democrat. The president's switch causes the press to ask prospective candidates to reiterate their own position on abortion. The interesting thing to me about how the show handled the issue is that they both pointed out the sexism inherent to it and how sometimes female candidates are in a "no-win" situation (i.e. the dissection of responses that start with "As a woman ..."), but they also showed Selina to have zero principles. Her entire strategy comes down to polling if there's a certain number of weeks to cut off abortions, and figuring out how many interest groups are arrayed on each side and going through the motions trying to placate them with meetings. And after all of that doesn't work, and Dan (Reid Scott) screams for her to just pick a side, the end result is that she doesn't take a position.
"If men could get pregnant you could get an abortion at an ATM ... Maybe I should just say, ‘Get the government out of my fucking snatch.’” —Selina
  • Hepatitis J: When the series began, one of the main differences pointed out between Veep and The Thick of It is the absence of a counterpart to Peter Capaldi's Malcolm Tucker, who was based in part on Tony Blair's Director of Communications/hatchet man Alastair Campbell. Iannucci has said in interviews that he doubts that someone like Malcolm could actually function in American politics. But I also think the lack of a Malcolm-like character worked for the show's narrative, in it showed that Selina's position as vice president was such a non-factor in politics that she didn't even merit someone of stature to care about her. What she did get was Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons), a White House staffer barely above an intern. Jonah is also one of the most consistently funny elements of the show. This season has seen him fired from the White House and Jonah trying to stake out new territory as a political blogger. However, his blog ("Ryantology.net") is a combination of every "new media" element that people hate.
  • Based On A True Story: Like its British counterparts, Iannucci seems to have based some of the Veep characters on real politicians and their associates, as well as the scandals and troubles that pop up from time to time here in the real world. For example, Governor Danny Chung (Randall Park) has aspects that make him out to be an evil version of John Kerry. Kent Davison (Gary Cole) has similarities to Dick Morris. Selina's husband Andrew (David Pasquesi) is a reworking of the trouble Geraldine Ferraro had dealing with her husband's past during the '84 presidential campaign. Although, I've heard some people say Andrew might be based on the troubles that former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard had with her partner, Tim Mathieson.
  • Take Heart ... There Are Always People Worse Than You At Your Job: Almost everyone on Selina's staff sucks at their job. But they suck in different ways. Both Amy (Anna Chlumsky) and Dan think they're the smartest people on the staff, but both fail because they either have problems with confrontation, or know only confrontation and can't finesse any situation. Mike (Matt Walsh) is a director of communications that has no work ethic and no ability to communicate with the press or anyone else. The only exceptions are Gary (Tony Hale) and Sue (Sufe Bradshaw). Gary is the best "body man" that Selina could ever ask for, but it's a pathetic existence that he wants to escape. However, every time he tries to do something different, Gary fails spectacularly. The only character that escapes looking like a fool is Sue, because Sue is just a civil servant who puts her nose down, does what she's told, and doesn't give a shit about moving up the ladder of power.
  • The Little People: When did it become standard operating procedure to use human props when giving political speeches? If you want to give a speech about law enforcement, you get 50 cops to stand behind you. If you want to talk about national security, you go to a military base and get 50 marines to stand at attention over your shoulder. If you want to talk about the environment, you go stand in a forest and have a bunch of park rangers with Smokey the Bear hats in the background. Instead of sounding like you know what the hell you're talking about when giving a speech, it's now necessary to reinforce that idea by putting a bunch of people in camera frame at the same time. The latest episode centers around Selina's candidacy announcement and is quasi told from the perspective of an activist asked to appear onstage with Selina. Alicia Bryce (Tracie Thoms) is campaigning for universal child care. Who could be against that? Well ... yeah, there's always someone against something. After Alicia arrives at the event, she realizes that she's just one of many "visual aids" (i.e. disabled farmer, injured fireman, foster mom, heroic restauranter, etc.) to surround the vice president.
"Do I look like I rode in on the last fuck truck, Selina? You are smuggling in universal childcare." —Senator Doyle

"You sound paranoid. Ok, I'm mentioning childcare. That's it." —Selina

"Oh, so we can say anything now? Alright, we can say we can heal the sick. We can turn water into blowjobs. Look Selina, play it safe. Put the AARP on those steps. Seniors vote. They've got nothing else to do." —Senator Doyle

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Comment Preferences

  •  Hm. I was thinking that West Wing (10+ / 0-)

    might be some sort of fourth category beyond Noble, Stupid and Evil.

    Capra movies - in particular Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - are Noble, with Evil just there as a plot device (hence "Capracorn"). Yes, Minister tended to be Stupid for the Minister and Evil for Sir Humphrey.  West Wing seemed more balanced that either of these - in Yes, Minister terms, more Bernard-centric.

    I'm not even sure what a fourth category would be called. "Pragmatic"? "Idealistic-but-not-Noble"? "Cynical-but-not-Evil"?

    •  Hmmmm (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nellgwen, Elwood Dowd, Piren, Aquarius40

      I think I would put The West Wing more into the "Noble" category, because it was rare when the darker side of politics actually carried the day in a storyline on the show. That's not to say that there weren't unscrupulous characters, or the main characters didn't suffer setbacks and losses.

      However, you're right that most political fiction is a mixture of these elements.

      •  Of the three, certainly Noble (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Doctor RJ, RandomNonviolence

        It's Bartlet who holds the focus.  It seems much more nuanced than Capra, but that doesn't necessarily bump it into a different category.

        The more interesting stories, I think, are of transitions from one category to another.  The whole point of Casablanca is Rick (our stand-in for isolationist America) awakening from his Evil side (no? tell it to Ugarte) and turning Noble.

    •  And since you mentioned "Yes, Minister" (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nominalize, Piren, Elwood Dowd

      I want to put in a word for "The Distinguished Gentleman". Yes, most anything with Eddie Murphy in it is going to be funny. However, "The Distinguished Gentleman" was directed by Jonathan Lynn, a co-creator of "Yes, Minister". If you look for it, "The Distinguished Gentleman" has some serious content.
      The scene where somebody explains all the loopholes in campaign finance laws to Murphy (as in, the loopholes exist because Congress wrote those laws) is brilliant. I couldn't find a YouTube of that scene, so I've posed this one instead:

       

  •  I rather like Iannucci. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Doctor RJ, nellgwen, madmsf

    He's the best Scotsman working in television. His work is always excellent.

    I'll be checking this show out.

    An Fhirinn an aghaidh an t'Saoghail.

    by OllieGarkey on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 07:19:51 PM PDT

  •  What's with all this DK reporting on TV shows? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MPociask

    Aren't we dumbed-down enough?

    Sorry, guys, your tv shows are just tv shows.  Paying such attention to them is no way to get more or better Democrats.

  •  What about Greedy? (4+ / 0-)

    Seems the prime directive for many Washington politicians is greed — political positions are just the costumes they wear. In the land of hyper-capitalism, lotta' these folks just follow the money.

    The all knowing ... knows all

    by hypernaught on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 07:20:55 PM PDT

  •  Then there was The Wire (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OllieGarkey, Doctor RJ

    which didn't fit neatly in any of those three categories, fortunately.

    Support a Progressive Dem from Maine for US Senate! Bellows for Senate

    by Illegitimi non carborundum on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 07:28:08 PM PDT

  •  Very Unrealistic Portrayal Of VPs Role (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nellgwen

    The VP really is a president-in-waiting who needs to be in the loop, especially during times of crisis.

    Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. -Pascal

    by bernardpliers on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 07:32:11 PM PDT

  •  Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Net Worth $3 BILLION (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dougymi

    http://www.celebritynetworth.com/...

    a little known fact is that Julia is lucky to be the eldest daughter of billionaire Gerard Louis-Dreyfus, chairman of the Louis Dreyfus Energy Services.

    Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. -Pascal

    by bernardpliers on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 07:34:15 PM PDT

    •  plus all that Seinfeld money... (0+ / 0-)

      H/T to Liz Lemon...

      A learning experience is one of those things that says, 'You know that thing you just did? Don't do that.' Douglas Adams

      by dougymi on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 08:03:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  She says not true (0+ / 0-)

      While she is related to the banking family, she is not the heir nor does she partake in its wealth. Or so she says in the recent Rolling Stone cover story. Her Seinfeld cut was substantial, but nowhere near Jerry's and Larry David's.

  •  I just freaking love Kevin Dunn. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Doctor RJ, askew

    He gets more out of a single line than most actors can wring out of an entire script.

    Hey GOP! You'll get my Obamacare when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. And thanks to Obamacare, that just may be awhile.

    by jazzmaniac on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 07:38:41 PM PDT

  •  My wife and I both enjoy Veep. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Doctor RJ, askew

    As cynical as it is, it's not a bad way to close out the weekend and lighten the mood from watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones. It's not consistently funny, but it hits enough marks to make it worth our while.

  •  Never seen this, but I'd like to (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Doctor RJ, madmsf, Trevin, Aquarius40

    Mostly because I love The Thick of It and In the Loop, especially Peter Capaldi as Malcom Tucker (his performance there is why I'm quite eager to see what he does as the new Doctor).

    In the Loop, in particular, is a really brutal look at how we stumbled into the Iraq fiasco. It's a world where the main concerns of politicians is not serving the public and doing the righ things but (a) doing what's advantageous to their careers and (b) making sure their asses are covered if things go belly up.

  •  Timothy Simons (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Doctor RJ

    Is in a recent "Funny or Die" segment that parodied the re-booted Cosmos. They made a creationist version of the show. Definitely worth checking it out.

    http://www.funnyordie.com/...

  •  I've only seen Veep once. (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Doctor RJ, kovie, Trevin, skillet, MPociask, dougymi

    It isn't for me. I couldn't believe it.
    I'll try it again maybe. It just might have been I wasn't in the mood for it at the time.
         I love In The Loop though. I love that line fuck-it-ty-bye.
    And I love Yes Minister. One of the best. I've seen the British House of Cards but not the new one. I'll have to check it out some day. Does the character talk to the camera as in the BBC version?
         Another great show, although it's very dense is, The Fall of Eagles. Patrick Stewart plays Lenin as if he was born to play him. After seeing that you couldn't think of anyone else playing Lenin. But the real treat is Barry Foster as the Kaiser. He plays it with such verve and gusto that sometimes it's just boring if he's not on the screen. Youtube has all the episodes in their entirety.
         Another good one for history buffs is, The First Churchills. Although it does suffer a bit due to the fact that it is one of those shows that is a filmed play.
         For some reason I tend to like the British political shows.

    Well I'm just a tree, but if I were you I'd listen to your GHOST FRIEND! Howard-Big Bang Theory

    by nellgwen on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 08:02:35 PM PDT

    •  I just finished watching all 3 seasons (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nellgwen

      of the original British House of Cards. Although there were aspects of it that I didn't care for (e.g. the long subplot with that semi-disinherited member of the royal family that seemed to go on for too long without an apparent purpose), on the whole I thought it better than the new US remake. The lead character was deliciously and complexly evil, while Kevin Spacey's character seems to lack the fire necessary to be that evil. I don't quite buy his acting there.

      "Reagan's dead, and he was a lousy president" -- Keith Olbermann 4/22/09

      by kovie on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 09:26:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Definitely stupid category (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Doctor RJ

    And also frighteningly real. The last episode wasn't funny.

    "....at last in virtue's narrow cell, the wretched bondsman sits"-Auden

    by pixelate on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 08:49:45 PM PDT

  •  Seen it a few times (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Doctor RJ

    Not really my cup of tea, but I get why some would like it. The characters are on the one hand very unlikeable even if what they do is funny. But on the other hand they remind me of all those idiotic Bushies who ran the country for 8 years, who weren't just mean, petty and selfish, but simply evil. It's too soon for me to relive that. It's not the sort of thing I'm ready to laugh at in THAT way quite yet. But then I'm a huge West Wing fan.

    Also, although it's not often done, I think there's a fourth possible category of political fiction, the kind in which the characters are a mix of all sorts of people in terms of intelligence, competence, integrity and goodness, like, oh, I don't know, in the real world. But since in the US we don't like our fiction OR our "reality" to be real, that would probably never fly here. Then again, slice of real life shows like Hill St. Blues and MASH did do well, so who knows.

    Life is complicated. Fiction is usually overly simple. Shakespeare this ain't.

    "Reagan's dead, and he was a lousy president" -- Keith Olbermann 4/22/09

    by kovie on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 09:19:41 PM PDT

  •  I think my fave line from last night's episode... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Doctor RJ, askew

    was Selina to her daughter, when she came into her office wearing virtually the same dress as her: "What in the wide world of fuck do you think you're wearing?!"

    :-)

  •  OMIGOD! (0+ / 0-)

    This show's been on for two full years? Where have I been - had HBO for much of that time. Just don't spend enough time studying the guide - not that a political series would naturally get me hooked.

    What stronger breast-plate than a heart untainted! Thrice is he arm'd, that hath his quarrel just; And he but naked, though lock'd up in steel, Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted. Henry VI Part II Act 3 Scene 2

    by TerryDarc on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 11:12:25 PM PDT

  •  I haven't watched this (0+ / 0-)

    nor West Wing or House of Cards etc.

    However, I am a Borgen addict. That show transcends stereotypes and easy categorization as far as I can tell. I'm not an expert on the Danish parliamentary system nor their political parties, but everyone in the show is complex and a mixture of good, bad, opportunistic, power-hungry, genuine, humanitarian.

  •  "Conflict" is just a subset of "Challenge" (0+ / 0-)

    People keep saying stories need "conflict". No, they need "challenge". Granted, in our society that usually turns out to be conflict, or challenge is redefined as conflict (climbing Mt. Everest becomes "conquering" Mt. Everest).

    Just sayin'.

    Or rather, the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Melissa Chadburn

    by MrCanoehead on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 06:58:37 AM PDT

  •  "Veep" is just too abrasive for me. (0+ / 0-)

    I watched the first 4 episodes of season 1, and I've yet to find a character I remotely like. I guess that's the point, but frankly that kind of a show doesn't appeal to me. Every character seems just to be a fast-talking moron who is making insulting comments about someone else. I haven't found a "heart" to it yet.

  •  Another good reason to get HBO (0+ / 0-)

    if we needed one after "Game of Thrones."

    The Stars and Bars and the red swastika banner are both offerings to the same barbaric god.

    by amyzex on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 11:28:00 AM PDT

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