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In which Arts Desk and DCist discuss Veep, HBO’s new comedy about the vice presidency
Ben, I have to disagree with your response on one point: I’m not convinced that Armando Iannucci‘s decision to leave the characters’ political affiliations ambiguous is a wise one. His argument about the nature of federal Washington is rather Machiavellian: As far as we can tell, the few politicos we met in last night’s episode are motivated by self-preservation, self-advancement, and the managing of special-interest umbrage. Selina doesn’t care enough about recycled spoons not to immediately backtrack once one of her aides has ticked off the plastic lobby. (“I hope that’s one of our celluloid flags,” says Selina’s last appointment of the day as he enters her office at the end of the episode.) Dan, an aide to a U.S. senator, throws his boss under the bus—-and dumps her daughter, whom he’s been dating—-when he finds a way to a job in Selina’s shop. No one here believes in anything.
Which might be right in the long view—-and it certainly conforms with a certain cliche of Washington insiderism. But I’d wager the current real-life Congress—-with its wacky, Tea Party-elected freshmen and constipated fiscal disputes—-is a lot more interesting than the hyper-cynical one on Veep, or at least funnier. Hopefully Selina will encounter some extreme ideologues in future installments who will expand the show’s comedic vocabulary. I’m not saying her own political ambiguity is unrealistic; I just think ideology shouldn’t be ignored as a source of humor. EW‘s Ken Tucker, whose review you also pointed to, sees another problem with the political-party ambiguity:
You mean to tell me the makers of this show can pride themselves on their fearless use of foul language, but they’re afraid of alienating some segment of HBO viewers by revealing that this administration is Republican? (And let’s face it, that is the party affiliation that would be nervy for an HBO sitcom to brand with.) If Veep revealed Meyer’s party affiliation, it would open up new avenues for splenetic attacks on party positions on both sides of the aisle; as it is, the show must remain hemmed in, kept to details about the brutal niceties of political discourse rather than political policy.
In other words: It’s a lot safer to call everyone—-and the process—-ugly than to engage some of the substantive policy ideas that also bear heavily on our federal clusterfuck.
I’m glad you pointed out the show’s (indeed) Altmanesque ending—-one meeting ends, another begins, and without any culminating dramatic beats, the credits roll on one side of the frame. There’s a weird grace to Iannucci’s shaky-camera kinetics: It’s not realism, though it might be a cousin to The Office‘s unaired-reality-show conceit. Either way, there’s a freeing unpredictability to Iannucci’s tableaux, as when Selina flings a cup of coffee and it splatters on the camera lens. (It also stains Gary’s coat, which means he must borrow a woman’s when he visits the West Wing minutes later. “You look exactly like a pimp,” says one of the president’s aides.)
As for the Style section taking pride in its cameo? The Post‘s TV critic already rewarded it with a “holla!”