This post contains spoilers for the April 15 and 22 episodes of Girls and the April 22 episode of Veep.
On a superficial level, Selina Meyer and Hannah Hovarth, the main characters of HBO’s new Sunday-night half-hour comedies, have nothing in common. The former is the Vice President of the United States. The latter just lost her internship at New York’s Smarmiest Publishing House because her boss wouldn’t hire her without photoshop skills. Selina has a great wardrobe and a body man named Gary to attend to her needs as they arise. Hannah’s clothes don’t fit—”I’m a growing girl,” she tells her mother who’s complaining about her wolfing down spaghetti in a nice restaurant. And while Hannah’s mistakes mostly result in her own humiliation and impoverishment, Selina’s run the risk of upsetting the political balance, or, as her chief of staff Amy puts it when the wrong name gets signed to a condolence card for a Senator’s widow, “It’s going to look like the veep couldn’t be bothered to sign a condolence card for one of the most celebrated perverts on the Senate.”
But the reason the shows act as a wallop taking together, and what makes them such an unexpectedly perfect follow-up to Game of Thrones, is that Girls and Veep actually explore some of the same issues as that swords-and-savagery epic: how choices expand and contract in unexpected ways as you move from the constrained people in society to the most powerful.
Selina’s Washington and Hannah’s New York are rife with obvious hypocrisies that the characters (and the shows that contain them) see clearly but have no choice to work with rather than to confront. “I wouldn’t take shit from my parents,” Adam, the guy Hannah is sleeping with but not quite dating—he won’t return her texts—tells her. “They’re buffoons. But my grandma gives me $800 a month.” And as the Veep navigates the protocol surrounding the Senator’s death, Jonah, the gawky, obnoxious liaison from the White House who has a thing for Amy tells the younger woman “When a sexual harasser dies, we sign his wife’s card. That’s how Washington works.” You can speak the truth or recognize it, but that doesn’t mean that you have the option to behave differently in the face of it.
That may also be a function of the character’s capacities. Selina may have a layer of outer polish that Hannah lacks, but they’re both fundamentally awkward people. When Selina’s searching for an opening line at an event she has to attend, she settles on “I have stepped into the president’s shoes this evening and who knew he wore kitten heels. Just kidding. He’s more of a stilettos guy.” Her joke lands with an enormous thud, though at least it’s not as mortifying as the direction in which Hannah takes job-interview banter. When she comes out with that hideous date-rape thing that’s meant to be a joke, I was as angry at her as her interviewer was. Maybe angrier, because unlike him, I know that Hannah can be wonderfully perceptive, and I hate watching her sink her own battleship.
And while power may be an aphrodisiac, having it doesn’t appear to have made Selina’s sex life much better than Hannah’s. “He was full of bourbon, and he grabbed my left tit,” she notes of the dead Senator. And later, she explains, “It’s a date and no sex. For me that was 12 years of marriage.” Hannah may be getting laid, but it’s with a guy who tells her “let’s play the quiet game” while they’re having sex, spins out ludicrous fantasies, and doesn’t pay much attention to her needs. That was so good,” she tells him. “I almost came.”
The main difference between them, though? Hannah is terrified of responsibility, telling the gynecologist doing her exam that “If you get AIDS, no one’s going to call you on the phone and say, did you get a job?” But Selina would love some, asking Sue mournfully if the President’s called. Whether Hannah will face up to the fact that her rent is due or POTUS will call the Veep first remains an open question.