"‘Veep,’ ‘Scandal,’ and the Political Shows Our Administrations Deserve"
After one of the most memorably ridiculous weeks in politics, whether it’s the state senator who declared that ladies just don’t care about money that much in comparison to gentlemen, or the Fox outlet that referred to a group of Florida neo-Nazis as “a civil rights group,” I was perfectly primed for this observation from Carina Chocano’s exceedingly fun profile of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who is playing Vice President Selina Meyer in HBO’s upcoming political comedy Veep:
Every decade gets the political show it deserves, or thinks it deserves, though some decades are pretty disingenuous. “The West Wing” gave us an idealized account of the Clinton era, with a saintly president and high-minded pols. In the ’00s, “24” offered an ultraparanoid version of the Bush era that legitimized torture as the primary means of dealing with a world in a constant state of crisis.
“Veep,” by contrast, comes not to justify Caesar but to goose him. It captures our post-Reagan, post-Clinton, post-Bush, 24-hour tabloid news and Internet-haterade dystopia, and reflects our collective queasy ambivalence toward a political system that we fear simply reflects our own shallowness back at us. If “The West Wing” was a fantasy of hyper-competence, “Veep” is its opposite: a black-humor vision of politics at its bleakest, in which both sides have been co-opted by money and special interests and are reduced to posturing, subterfuge, grandstanding and photo ops. Naturally, it’s hilarious.
This is true—I’ve seen the pilot for Veep—and it’s uproarious. But it’s not the only show that gets this, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Last night’s Scandal ended with an uproarious parody of the idea that if we got lawmakers of both parties in the room and talked things over sensibly, that Reason Would Prevail and everything would be all right. Faced with a Supreme Court nominee who was facing a prostitution scandal (the hooker he’s patronized turned out to be his wife), gladiator-in-a-suit crisis fixer Olivia Pope combed a DC madam’s records, figured out which Senators had also been her clients, had her minions seek out said men and drop the code words for the sex acts they’d been ordering up all those years, and blackmailed them into keeping their traps shut. It’s an utterly nonsensical scenario, but not actually more nonsensical than the idea that our politicians are people of good will we can just pull together and everything will be all right.
It remains to be seen if USA’s Political Animals, about a First Lady-turned-Secretary of State and her dysfunctional family, and NBC’s 1600 Penn, which will be out this fall, take the same tack. And it’s true that we don’t lack a serious show in the vein of 24, though Homeland‘s paranoia’s aimed more at the national security bureaucracy than at proving we should have all means at our disposal to wring information out of terrorists. But is interesting that a truly idealistic show hasn’t thrived in the age of Obama. Maybe it’s the the ridiculousness of our politics has consequences bigger than the President’s sex life this time around, and idealism would actually be kind of a downer.