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Cray-Cray: Where Art Imitates Life On ‘Veep’
May 2, 2016  | By Alex Strachan

Two episodes into Veep’s fifth term, one thing is clear: Life is unlikely to imitate Veep’s art in at least one important respect.

The eve after the election to elect Selina Meyer as the U.S.’s first woman president, Meyer faces a possible vote recount in Nevada of all states.

Given the present state of real-world realities, even the thought of a run-off in the state whose motto is “All for Our Country” must be enough to give the Hillary Clinton campaign waking nightmares, given how much sway a certain Donald J. Trump holds on the Vegas Strip.

But then Veep — originally, and mistakenly, assumed to be a satirical spin on Sarah Palin’s 2008 vice-presidential campaign — always had an uncanny ability to separate satire from real life, no matter how cray-cray real life might get.

In real life, Florida, with its large, politically divided electorate and history of voter turmoil, is a natural for vote recounts in the real world, but Nevada is much better suited to a gamble on the future of democracy in an HBO comedy. Roll the dice, spin the roulette wheel and hope for the best — and just pray the whole thing doesn’t come up snake eyes.

Veep is one of the funniest comedies on the small screen right now, but the laughs come with a measure of pain. The laughs are funny because, all too often, they hit close to the bone.

That may be one reason why Veep is still going strong after five seasons. Sex and the City, arguably HBO’s most successful, talked-about generational comedy, lasted six seasons in all.

With the tailwind of back-to-back Emmys for series star Julia Louis-Dreyfus and a 2015 Emmy for outstanding comedy series, Veep looks poised to surpass that record. Eight years — two full presidential terms — is not only possible, but also probable.

Veep’s minders are careful to mind the line between art and real life, even when real life starts to resemble farce. Meyer was no more a spin on Sarah Palin at the beginning of Veep’s run as she’s likely to be a spin on Hillary Clinton if and when she’s confirmed as president — that is, if her various vote recounts, efforts to woo recalcitrant congressmen and dodgy interpretations of election law see her installed in the top job at the White House. Once there, it’s easy to imagine that, like a crusted barnacle — or a Clinton — Selina Meyer will be all but impossible to dislodge.

It’s no accident that, in last weekend’s season opener "Morning After," writer David Mandel — a former executive producer and episode director for Curb Your Enthusiasm — had Meyer deal with a crashing stock market and a “stress pimple.” How zit going, Madam President?

A real-world market crash is not inconceivable to anyone who’s been reading Andrew Ross Sorkin of late, and it’s hard to imagine any greater stress than running the country while facing angry voter calls for a recount.

The support staff in Veep is supportive in name only, and that’s where the world can only hope that Veep is satire and not documentary.

From the personal aide with an infinite capacity for making a bad situation worse — Tony Hale’s enthusiastic but basically clueless Gary Walsh (right) — to a White House chief-of-staff prone to bouts of depression and self-loathing — Kevin Dunn’s bad-tempered, foul-mouthed Ben Cafferty — Veep has a way of squeezing lemons out of lemonade.

As with a Super Bowl-winning football team, though, it’s not about the sum of the parts but rather the unit as a whole that counts.

The funniest lines in Veep can seem flat and uninspired on the page. It’s all in the delivery, partly the point. Veep takes a line that looks as if it could have been written for a Teleprompter, and turns it into a snappy play on words, full of bite and edge. Just one example: Selina Meyer’s morning-after speech in "Morning After":

“My fellow Americans, I stand before you this morning in awe of the majesty of our democratic system. What a night! In a democracy such as ours, it falls to their people to choose their president. And that is what you attempted to do last night.”

Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom!

Or this:

No matter who you voted for, I am your president.

Or this:

And now you’ll have to excuse me, because this pimple isn’t getting any smaller. Kind of like the national debt.

Interestingly Veep’s season debut coincided with a New York Times article headed, “Hillary Clinton’s Campaign, Cautious but Confident, Begins Considering Running Mates,” in which writer Patrick Healy noted that the real-world Clinton campaign is looking for a candidate who can dominate the vice-presidential debate, convince Americans that Clinton is their best choice as president, and be qualified for the presidency at the same time — but not so qualified that he, or she, eclipses the person at the top of the ticket.

In Veep’s world of fakery and political con artists, that horse has already bolted the barn. Selina Meyer’s own running mate, the dashing, debonair Tom James — played by the dashing, debonair Hugh Laurie (right), an actor who can seemingly do no wrong, in any accent — is a shining star gone supernova, even as Meyer’s own light has dimmed and her prospects are poised to go tunneling down a black hole. Whether Meyer wins her bid for the White House or her vice-presidential pick flips the balance of power his way, the roadmap for the season to come is clear.

Meyer will find herself mired in deeper and deeper trouble. Her staff won’t be there to cover her back.

And the nation will lurch from one seemingly unsolvable crisis to another yet somehow manage to stay afloat in the end. Veep, cray-cray though it may be, might not be that much of a real-world stretch after all. 

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