It’s spring break here at Hopkins, so I’ve decided to lighten up with a little bit of political satire in the form of Veep, an HBO half hour comedy series created by Armando Iannucci and inspired by his previous political satire, the British comedy show, In The Thick of It.
Veep, which premiered in April, 2012 with an eight-episode first season, followed by a ten- episode second season, stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, a harried and blisteringly foul-mouthed fictional Vice President of the United States. Veep has garnered lots of acclaim for its humorously critical take on the current state of affairs in our nation’s capitol, receiving several Screen Actors Guild and Critics' Choice awards as well as two Emmy nominations.
One of the first smart observations made by the show is that in politics, there is no real work-life balance. The lion’s share of scenes take place in Meyer’s offices, and staff members must lie and exaggerate their way into time off. Her Director of Communications, Mike McLintock, lies about having a dog in order to go home at a reasonable hour every day and even keeps a fake photo of the dog in his wallet as “proof.”
The show has also made a humorous habit out of lampooning the absurdity of lobby interests and politicians’ tendencies to grovel for approval from big business leaders. During the pilot episode, the Veep finds herself in a hilarious pickle involving her motion to replace plastic utensils with eco-friendly cornstarch ones in all federal buildings. Before she can implement the utensil shift, the “plastics lobby” catches wind of it and chaos ensues. Support for Meyer’s initiative evaporates, and seconds before she is meant to give a speech on her cornstarch aspirations, she receives an unofficial gag-order from the White House.
“We can’t talk about utensils. Utensils are politicized,” McLintock says urgently.
“That’s the entire speech, O.K.?” Meyer says frantically, “What’s left here? I have ‘Hello,’ and I have…prepositions.”
As a Hopkins student, I would be remiss if I didn’t also highlight another episode during the first season, when Vice President Meyer participates in a publicity outing at a frozen yogurt store in order to meet and mingle with ordinary people and show her support for local business owners (with a reporter and photographer present, of course.) The shooting location of the D.C. frozen yogurt store is none other than Dominion Ice Cream on North Charles Street in Baltimore, across from Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus. The Charles Commons Dormitory can be seen in the background of many shots. Much of this episode is concerned with her staff members deciding what flavor of frozen yogurt the Veep should eat in order to convey the right message. They conclude that mint chocolate chip conveys freshness, trust and traditional values, while a swirled flavor promotes racial diversity and willingness to cross the aisle.
Other jokes include an ongoing off-camera presence of the President as a constant obstacle. During every single episode, Meyer’s enters her office and optimistically asks her staff if the President has called. The answer is always no. During another episode, Vice President Meyer and her college-aged daughter decide to adopt a dog, but are thwarted when the President’s staff hears about it, because the FLOTUS has, herself planned to adopt a dog.
“The first dog, or FDOTUS, has been planned for weeks. We certainly can’t have your canine overshadowing the FDOTUS,” says Jonah, White House liaison to the Vice President.
Overall, Veep is an enjoyable watch, with enough satisfying one-liners and guilty-pleasure crudity to hold attention. It is not, however, the kind of satire that satisfies on an emotional level. Truly great satire is meant to vindicate; to speak truth to power and to redden the cheeks of establishment. It’s humor, to be sure, but it’s humor grounded in realism, intelligence, and in the best cases, indignation and rage. Ricky Gervais did it with The Office, Tina Fey did it with 30 Rock, and Stephen Colbert continues to do it on The Colbert Report. So what’s falling short with Veep?
It pokes fun at the bureaucratic political process, highlights the historical impotency of the Vice Presidency, and uses the basic ineptitude of politicians as a springboard for plot, but it is a political satire lacking heart and teeth. The problem with Veep is that it’s lightheartedly cynical when it needs to be angry. But it’s spring break, so this week let’s take a break from being angry, and lighten up with Veep.
The 3rd season of Veep is set to premier on April 6th, with the tagline, “Boldly running for president. Proudly standing for everything.”