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'Veep' Still Cutting a Fine Figure After Four Frantic, Funny Seasons
May 29, 2015  | By Alex Strachan  | 3 comments

Never mind the veep. Is America ready for a female president?

To anyone who lives outside the U.S. it’s a silly question. In Europe, an ever-calm, ever-collected Angela Merkel has practically made a public sport out of staring down her frosty, faraway-so-close neighbor Vladimir Putin.

If you think Merkel has it tough, think what Dalia Grybauskaite and Laimdota Straujuma have to put up with as, respectively, President of Lithuania and the Prime Minister of Latvia.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has had to juggle the aftermath of bloody border incursions in neighboring Sierra Leone and a serious Ebola outbreak in her native Liberia.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has ruled Argentina since 2007, and few in Buenos Aires have any doubts about who’s in charge, for better or worse.

Even Canada has had a woman prime minister: professor, diplomat and occasional Real Time with Bill Maher panelist Kim Campbell (left), who briefly led the Great White North in the mid 1990s.

No fewer than 22 countries, from Brazil to Norway, have a female leader right now.

Which brings us to Veep.

One of the truly wonderful things about satirist Armando Iannucci’s whipsaw smart cinéma vérité starring a rejuvenated Julia Louis-Dreyfus as, this season, acting President Selina Meyer, is that it treats the idea of a female president as an afterthought — more "So what?" than "Ain’t it grand?"

Veep wraps its latest, arguably most entertaining season on June 14, with the aptly titled episode "Election Night." So far this season, Veep has featured outings with clever, insider-y titles like "Joint Session," "East Wing," "Mommy Meyer" and, this weekend, "B/ill," in which Meyer tries to finesse her Families First Bill through the House while lying in bed ill with the flu.

When Veep premiered on HBO in the spring of 2012, some assumed it to be a cautionary riff on the potential vice presidency of Sarah Palin. Game Change, Jay Roach and Danny Strong’s HBO docudrama starring Julianne Moore as Palin and Woody Harrelson as GOP campaign strategist Steve Schmidt, had aired just six weeks earlier. And Dreyfus, as a bespectacled Meyer, bore an uncanny facial resemblance to Palin.

As Veep has shown in the weeks and months since, though, Iannucci had something much smarter and more ambitious in mind: A fictionalized White House in which a well-intended if not always self-aware female politico rises to power in spite of, not because of, a staff so brazenly incompetent it’s breathtaking to watch. And why not? After all, as Bloomberg’s Albert Hunt noted in a real-world New York Times op-ed piece earlier this month, presidential campaigns aren’t sunk by policy mistakes or opponents’ attacks. They result from self-inflicted, unforced errors.

Veep is funny, too.

That’s Veep’s real secret, the reason it has been nominated three years running for the Emmy for outstanding comedy series; why it won last year’s Television Critics Association Award (left) in a tie with the equally audacious but very different Louie; and why Louis-Dreyfus has won enough lead comedy actress Emmys to stake a claim as this generation’s Candice Bergen.

Veep has managed to be funny without being smug or condescending, which is a tricky high-wire act for a political comedy to walk. Not even Aaron Sorkin, when he was racking up Emmy win after win as the campaign operative behind The West Wing, managed to avoid the smugness and condescension label every time out. And comedy is harder than drama.

Veep, freed from the constraints of network TV, has some of the most liberal — and creative — cussin’ and swearin’ on the small screen today.

It’s clever, too, not coarse. Those cutting, witty lines lean to imagery more than four-letter words to make a point, as when Kevin Dunn’s White House Chief of Staff Ben Caffrey looked to a hapless aide in one early episode and muttered, “Well, that was like a wire brush to my hemorrhoids.”

The politics is smart, too, from the rigmarole of a parade of endless photo ops that always seem to go wrong in the worst, most unexpected way, to its insider depiction of how legislation is passed or, more often, blocked owing to the vagaries of human nature, coupled with the law of unintended consequences.

This latest season has seen the introduction of Hugh Laurie (right) as Selina Meyer’s presidential running mate Tom James, a rakish rogue so charming that everything he touches turns to gold, putting Meyer in the awkward position of being upstaged by her running mate smack in the middle of a tight, divisive election campaign.

Veep isn’t torn from the political headlines as much as it eerily predicts and predates them, as in the May 3 episode Tehran, written long before President Obama’s recent, real-world nuclear deal with Iran.

In the episode, penned by UK radio writer and Veep co-executive producer Tony Roche, Meyer and her staff jet off to the Islamic Republic of Iran for, among other things, delicate negotiations to free an American journalist who’s been detained for doing his job.

The episode ends with one of Veep’s typically funny-but-real sight gags, in which hapless presidential aides Mike (Matt Walsh) and Dan (Reid Scott) are running though the concourse at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, trying to catch their flight, when their carry-on bags suddenly burst open, sending dozens of stolen bottles of booze from the hotel minibar clattering across the noisy marble floor while customs officials look on with bemusement. Spoiler alert: They miss their plane.

True, Veep is likely to appeal to liberals more than conservatives. Regardless of one’s political stripe, though, most people like to laugh.

And it’s hard not to like a comedy with lines like, "He’s completely inept . . . but you can make inept work;" "What a great convention! Best one in four years!"

"There are pros and cons to every candidate, so we just need to weigh out the pros and cons;" "God, you’d think they’d get that right: Death row. The clue is in the title;" and, "Because I’m the president, see? Everything’s my fault now."

Well perhaps not everything. Veep is presidential material.

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Craig Smith
Sorry to pick nits, but I believe it was Mike and Gary (Tony Hale) who were stranded at the Tehran airport. But it's probably entirely appropriate that Gary not receive credit for, well, anything.
Jun 1, 2015   |  Reply
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