Finally, a ‘Veep’ Who Deliberately Makes Us Laugh
Free from partisanship, Veep is the best sort of political comedy.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep (HBO)


Jim Geraghty

HBO touts the program as revealing — “authentic without being specifically biographical about what it is like to hold the least effectual post in the most powerful office in the world” — and that is perhaps the only angle of the comedy that makes it specific to Washington. The vice presidency offers many of the trappings of presidential power — a motorcade, Secret Service protection, a taxpayer-provided mansion, speeches and media appearances — but the actual amount of power wielded by the office is dependent upon the president. Sometimes you get to be Dick Cheney; sometimes you end up being Nelson Rockefeller.

Veep is less political satire than an office comedy, with the universal, often-funny theme that everyone answers to someone else. The junior staff is terrified of failing the senior staff, the senior staff is terrified of failing the veep, and the veep is terrified of both the president and the media. Everyone fails, repeatedly and epically, to hilarious effect.

Some reviewers are calling Veep a comedic West Wing, but a much more accurate comparison is the classic BBC series Yes Minister (later rechristened Yes, Prime Minister), a comedic hit in Britain during the Thatcher years. Some argued that the series provided a subtly conservative message, by suggesting that there are no noble civil servants or politicians thinking of the public’s best interest. Everyone operates with a healthy dollop of self-interest, whether they crave public approval, promotions, budgetary authority, freedom from oversight, or more power. It is a cynical view, but four years after a president was elected on explicitly messianic themes, perhaps it’s healthy for the viewing public to consider a more skeptical view of the self-professed altruism of those attracted to political power.

Veep is created by British political satirist Armando Iannucci, and, like Yes Minister, the series mines the comedic potential of people whose ambition exceeds their ability. The lone exception to the cavalcade of incompetence is Reid Scott’s character, Dan Egan, a new political fixer who steps into the office as the cool, calculating personification of political proficiency — but also exhibits wildly uninhibited raw ambition. When the vice president’s chief of staff dismisses his motives by calling him a four-letter word that is a synonym for excrement, the veep replies enthusiastically, “Yes! I need a s***!” Of course, she is overheard.

Some reviewers have argued that Dreyfus makes an unconvincing political leader; many viewers will still see Elaine from Seinfeld. Some viewers will declare that her character is too gaffe-prone, awkward, hapless, and unsettling to represent an American leader who is merely a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Then again, our current vice president is Joe Biden.

— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.