Hopeless in the Hot Seat
Clift, Eleanor, Newsweek
Byline: Eleanor Clift
HBO is poking fun at politics. Will anyone crack a smile?
If you're turned off by politics and yearning to confirm your worst instincts about what politicians are like, you'll love HBO's new series Veep. It's satire, and British satire at that, and for Americans who basked in the idealism of The West Wing and how it foreshadowed Barack Obama's election, Veep does the opposite. It looks back, elevating a Sarah Palin-like figure to the vice presidency with a narrative that relies on one-liners that provoke uneasy laughter and expose the smallness of the veep's vision.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Selina Meyer, whose party is not revealed, but it doesn't take long to determine she's a liberal version of Palin, identified with clean-energy jobs and filibuster reform. The titans of Capitol Hill are wary of this woman crashing their party, and Meyer doesn't inspire confidence. Ideology aside, she has a high dingbat quotient. Think Elaine from Seinfeld, scattered and a bit bizarre, and a heartbeat from the presidency.
I had to keep reminding myself this is comedy, because Elaine, or Sarah, or Selina, take your pick, is not who you want answering the phone at 3 a.m. Comedy writer and director Armando Iannucci, acclaimed for his satirical portrayals of British life, manages to perpetuate the worst stereotype of a female politician. Insecure, emotional, and self-involved, Selina questions if she should she wear glasses or not. "Glasses make me look weak," Veep pouts, likening them to a "wheelchair for the eye." Either way, there's a sycophantic aide at her elbow ready to agree with whatever she says.
In fairness to Iannucci, Veep was in development in 2010 when the aftertaste of the Palin campaign was still lingering, and insider accounts revealed just how unprepared Palin was to step into the presidency, should that be required. There is a scene in Veep (which premieres April 22) where the president experiences chest pains and Meyer is rushed to the Situation Room, barely able to contain her glee. In language as fatuous as it is funny, she calls the ailing chief executive "a faultless GPS in guiding our nation." Told to stand down, that the president is fine, an aide notes dryly, "The president is back in charge of the GPS. …