Published Apr 28, 2015Veep creator Armando Iannucci's approach to political discussion is very different than the traditional pop sensibility. Rather than spin the usual conspiratorial yarn with endless nefarious dealings and abject morality, he throws together a cast of educated and ambitious, but flawed and human, people managing a series of unavoidable and ridiculous situations that exist within the lexicon of the political machine. And while his unique ability to come up with exceedingly coarse and wildly clever insults generates consistent laugh-out-loud comedy, it's the insightful situational humour, wherein the absurdity of any given moment is exposed and reduced to its core meaning, that makes his particular style so compelling.
In the third season of the Emmy-winning HBO series, Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is ramping up to announce her bid for President of the United States. Her Chief of Staff, Amy (Anna Chlumsky), and her Deputy Director of Communications, Dan (Reid Scott), are competing to be her campaign manager, while Jonah (Timothy Simons), the White House liaison discovers the negative repercussions of creating a conflict of interest. Much like the comedy stemming from hackneyed publicity stunts and inadvertent slips of the tongue in the first two seasons, the satire here stems primarily from the delicate balancing act of trying to appeal to the media machine and the general public while avoiding saying or doing anything controversial within a system that demands it.
Within the first three episodes, Selina has to confront controversies that force her to weigh in on divisive subjects like abortion and fracking. Rather than taking a Newsroom approach and politicizing the topic in an overly glib way, Veep removes the emotional tapestry and focuses on the comedy of trying to avoid pissing off gullible idiots. The issues themselves are a moot point; what's concerning Selina and her staff is what to say about these issues that will limit public outrage.
For the overly idealistic, the consistently biting dialogue and the utilitarian approach to triage could easily be dismissed as cynicism. But for a discerning audience that understands how many social customs are entirely silly and arbitrary, the incisive way that Veep rips through the phoney artifice of it all proves extremely refreshing. Even an appearance at Clovis — a Google-like corporation filled with 20-something employees playing ping-pong and worshipping the affectations of a narcissistic and pretentious president — tears through the bullshit of it all, exposing the hypocritical nature of start-up business politics. And what's particularly fantastic about it all is that the evisceration and resulting hilarity stems from practical observation and an overall tendency to pick at flawed logic and faux-liberal presentation rather than the usual parade of self-righteous pageantry (again, see The Newsroom).
The perspective that drives Veep says something interesting about the institutions that guide western culture. Though the main characters are all highly intelligent and capable — and even have some forward-thinking ideas about job creation and social productivity — they're constantly limited by the ridiculousness of social convention. For every inch of progress made, there are endless apologies for misinterpretations and the kneejerk reactions of bourgeois drones, as well as the constant reassurance of various insecurities and egos involved in the parade of fake niceties and leveraged favours. The perpetual placating façade necessary to keep people from solipsistic freak-outs is so exhausting that it's nearly impossible to get anything constructive or progressive done.
In this, Iannucci finds comedy, which is a seriously glass-half-full look at an incredibly empty social landscape.