“People say satire is dead,” said Robin Williams during the George W. Bush presidency. “It’s not dead; it’s alive and living in the White House.” Or in the case of Veep, which premiered on HBO last night, it’s thriving quite nicely, thank you, at Number One Observatory Circle. Written by native Brit Armando Iannucci, and boasting Frank Rich as an executive producer, the show stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, whose proximity to the nuclear codes should strike fear into the heart of any American. Not because she’s ridiculous on the scale of an Elaine Benes, say, or a Christine Campbell, or even a Sarah Palin; but because the casual incompetency and professional chaos that surrounds her is just too close for comfort.
Warning: This post is going to contain more f-bombs than that scene in season one of The Wire where McNulty and Bunk solved a murder purely through deduction and repeated utterances of the same four-lettered profanity. As we first meet Selina, she’s preparing for a meeting with senators to discuss her platform of green jobs and cornstarch utensils. “If I can get cornstarch utensils in every federal building by fall,” she tells her staffer Mike (played by Arrested Development’s Tony Hale), “well, then, the Veep has landed.”
“Like a big, beautiful eagle,” Mike replies.
Things, naturally, don't go according to plan. Despite assurances from Selina's chief of staff, Amy (My Girl's Anna Chlumsky), that 50 to 60 people are expected, only a handful show up, causing Selina to throw a minor fit when Amy instructs her to mingle ("How do I mingle with this few people? Did Simon 'mingle' with Garfunkel?"). Amy, in turn, calls for backup: "Mike, talk to me. I'm in a room with three people and a fuckload of quiche." And Selina's beloved cornstarch spoon gets too close to a cup of hot coffee, causing it to wilt like a pitifully phallic, woefully bendy boomerang. "What am I supposed to do with this?" Selina asks. "Eat around corners?"
In other antics, Selina meets with a senator (Kate Burton), whom she hopes can help her make nice with Big Oil after an ill-phrased tweet from one of her staffers pisses off the plastics lobby. "Did you fire your tweet monkey yet?" asks Burton's character. "You've really been hoisted by your own retard . . . ." And naturally Selina repeats this joke at a fundraising dinner the President forces her to attend, which lands her on the front page of the Washington Post style section the following day. While certain staff members are horrified, Mike (Matt Walsh) insists it may not be that bad--the whole incident could totally blow over if Tom Hanks dies.
At the beginning of the show, Selina asks if Senator Reeves is dead yet. "Mostly intravenous," replies Amy. "So many tubes he looks like a pair of bagpipes." When the elderly senator does shuffle off the mortal coil, someone asks Selina if he was full of wisdom. "He was full of bourbon," she replies. "And he grabbed my left tit." Later, a card is passed around for the senator's widow by an obsequious presidential aide, Jonah (Timothy Simons), who utters the following words of wisdom: "Guys, when a sexual harasser dies, we sign his wife's card. That is how Washington works."
What's remarkable about Selina's staff, for the most part, is that a group of people so blindingly incompetent it's a wonder they can manage to put their own shoes on in the morning actually have jobs, let alone work for the second most powerful person in the country. Only, as Veep shows, the office of the vice presidency is a joke, a lark, an empty shell. "Sue, has the President called?" Selina asks her assistant, unfailingly (he hasn't). Dan (Reid Scott), a ruthlessly egotistical press secretary, wangles his way into Selina's employ by telling her what she did wrong in the primaries (spend too much time in New Hampshire and run attack ads too early). Thoughtful, Selina asks Mike what mistakes he thinks she made. "You were tired a lot, and the hat," is his reply.
In fact, compared with her staff, Selina's a veritable Machiavelli, hampered only by her inability to remember people's names, and her brilliantly offensive turns of phrase. "Glasses make me look weak," she tells a staffer early on in the episode. "They're like wheelchairs for the eyes." But it rapidly becomes clear that she's as clueless at figuring out exactly what her job should entail as everyone else. Clad in a surprisingly sexy red dress for much of the episode, and either manipulated or ignored by most of her colleagues, she's more like a pompous figurehead than a Hillary-esque power player. When she tells the incredulous Amy that she's hired Dan to work in her communications office, she describes it this way: "He's shitty me. I need a shit. I need a shit!" Or in other words, she needs a seasoned Washingtonian.
What were your thoughts on last night's episode of Veep? Let us know in the comments.