With series five just around the corner, Hannah Dunleavy tells us why we shouldn’t miss the fucks, fucking and fuck-ups of HBO’s superlative comedy series.
It’s in a great comic tradition
Good political comedies always age well – regardless of how much they also say about the time they were written. Whatever the fashion or technology on show, they hinge on the timeless fact that immutable self-interest, staggering ineptitude and an over-inflated belief in one’s abilities will always drive politics.
Veep‘s no different in basis to classic series Yes, Minister and The Thick of It, as Vice President Selina Myers and her team make fuck-up after fuck-up while fretting about her legacy/their jobs. Which is a good thing. It’s densely plotted, with almost every decision Selina makes coming back to bite her on the arse, days, even months later.
Created, like TTOI, by Armando Iannucci (although he’s taken a step back in the latest series), it also ups the funny by mining the innate comedy value in having a job that only requires being there should you be needed: A Veep, an understudy or Prince Harry.
It’s relentlessly quotable
This might be made by HBO, but it’s still American dagnammit, so it might have quite a lot of effing and jeffing, but it’s nothing like as fuck-fuelled as TTOI. Despite this, or maybe because of it, its dialogue is still full of some of the most creative and enjoyable put-downs currently being written.
The series has also given the English language the expressions ‘daughter-boarding’, ‘Defcon Fuck’ and ‘a hangover worse than the film they made after The Hangover.’
“The Veep is effortlessly beautiful and disgustingly vain. She’s really clever but completely stupid. She’s the sanest person in the room and utterly delusional.”
It’s outright dark, with Selina’s staff hoping at various times that Tom Hanks will die to take them off the front pages or that Selina will be assassinated before a story breaks.
But Veep‘s also all over the light-touch physical comedy, lapsing sparingly and highly efficiently into outright slapstick. (The episode in which more and more of Selina’s staff are forced to join in a fun run as a political drama breaks will never not be funny.)
Louis-Dreyfus has won four Emmys for playing Selina. Nuff said. But just in case it’s not, it’s worth knowing she’s so brilliant, it’s hard to imagine who else might pull it off.
The Veep veers wildly between emotions, going from (mostly) childlike highs to (mostly) childlike lows in a matter of seconds. She’s effortlessly beautiful and disgustingly vain. She’s really clever but completely stupid. She’s the sanest person in the room and utterly delusional. She’s got balls of steel and a world-class cowardly streak. And she says things like, “What were you bobble-heads doing when I was getting ear-fucked by Father Time?”
I say again: Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
The personal politics are what really drive it
Selina’s got a team of varying degrees of effectiveness and moral fortitude and she has a distinct and entertaining relationship with all of them. As do they with each other. There’s Mike, the ineffective press officer, and Dan, her arsehole-at-large – as good a description as any for the man she once summoned with the words “to the bastard mobile.”
Most interesting are her relationships with her wired Chief of Staff Amy (Anna Chlumsky) and her faithful hound, prompter and ‘body man’ Gary, played by fellow Emmy-winner Tony Hale.
Despite being denied the job security their value to her should demand, both are (in different ways) entirely devoted to her. But they also both become aware that the Selina Meyers show couldn’t function without them and it makes for an interesting dynamic. Not least because it allows each a believably huge row scene with their boss which packed an emotional wallop. Amy’s season four meltdown is such a triumph of straight talking in a series where virtually no one is speaking the truth, it deserves an air punch.
There’s Something About Sue
I know human existence isn’t a competition, but if it were, Sue, personal assistant to the Veep, would win. Played by Sufe Bradshaw, she’s the sort of person who could be shipwrecked and when the search teams found her she’d have started construction of a new civilisation. She’s staggeringly efficient, unfailingly organised, straight-up gorgeous and rude as fuck to them that deserve it: I’d like to employ Sue more than any other character in fiction.
In fact, such is the wonder of the PA, that pollster Kent (bravo Gary Cole), a man who seems entirely without human emotion, is often compelled to voice his undying admiration for her. Theirs is maybe the most insubstantial and strange relationship on television but, like so much about Veep, it positively crackles.
It’s an entirely new perspective on power
While she might have little or no sense of solidarity with womankind – or certainly no more than she has with the rest of humankind – the fact that Meyers is a woman does enable the writers to have a field day with the issues regarding females in power.
The media and the electorate judge both her successes and failures within those terms and other questions, such as the Veep’s love life and her stance on issues such as abortion, are viewed through a particular moral prism. And Amy drives that point home by highlighting the undeniable fact that other women will be judged by Selina’s performance.
The Veep is perhaps most keen to be seen as a good mother – she’s not – and her strained relationships with her much dumped-upon daughter Catherine (played by Sarah Sutherland, daughter of Kiefer and granddaughter of Donald) is a blackly comic treat.
Series five of Veep starts on 2 May on Sky Atlantic.4211 Views
Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.