In my review of the fabulous comedy In the Loop (2009), directed and co-written by Armando Iannucci who went on to create Veep for American television, I mentioned how the sadness and anger seep through the concept. That film, along with virtually everything else Iannucci has done, depicts politics as a heartless game where all the participants are either evil or stupid. The characters often combine those traits.
Iannucci will hardly win humanitarian awards for his outlook on life, but in the age of Donald Trump he’s proven to be amazingly prescient.
Bumbling her way through the vice presidency
When the show began, Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) was the U.S. Vice President, bumbling her way through life and dreaming of the presidency. Largely inept, Selina relied on her staff to get the job done, including the effective but neurotic chief of staff Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky) and the ineffective director of communications Mike McClintock (Matt Walsh). In the early days of the show, a point was made out of the fact that the vice-presidency has always been seen as, in the words of John Adams, an insignificant office. The stakes were raised when Selina began her presidential campaign in the third season and ended up in the White House. Further challenges came her way in the sixth season when she had been forced out of the presidency and desperately tried to manage her legacy… only to run again in the final season, engaging in a campaign that put her against, among others, Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons), the aggressively stupid White House liaison who amazingly had become a congressman.
Starting out as unbelievable
Perhaps not so amazing, after all. What started out as an unbelievable satire of American politics created by a man who had done the same for British politics in the classic series The Thick of It (2005-2012) began to look like a documentary after 2016. How was it possible that people as morally repugnant and illiterate as Selina Meyer could reach as far as the White House, one might ask oneself… but then came Donald Trump, a character who looked like he was invented by Iannucci. After Trump’s election, there were TV critics who thought Veep had become real life and it wasn’t funny anymore. I had similar feelings about Iannucci’s film The Death of Stalin (2017), which fused a real-life story about Stalin’s reign of terror with Veep-like shenanigans… but Veep remained bitterly, darkly funny and even more relevant with the orange tweeter-in-chief in the White House. The profanity-laced dialogue was rapid-fire and completely merciless. No subject was taboo and no character was allowed to maintain any kind of dignity.
In the fifth season, David Mandel debuted as new showrunner, but there was no need to worry. The Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm veteran was right at home shepherding the series for the remainder of its run.
A huge part of its success was the cast, with the queen of television herself in the lead – having already won two Emmys before Veep, Louis-Dreyfus bagged an additional six awards for her performance as the cruelly ambitious and embarrassingly human politician; among the supporting cast, Tony Hale was always a treat as Selina’s loyal body man and Simons hilarious as the outrageously offensive Jonah.
Veep 2012-2019:U.S. Made for TV. 65 episodes. Color. Created by Armando Iannucci. Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Selina Meyer), Anna Chlumsky (Amy Brookheimer), Tony Hale (Gary Walsh), Matt Walsh, Timothy Simons, Reid Scott, Gary Cole (13-19), Kevin Dunn (13-19), Sam Richardson (14-19), Sarah Sutherland, Clea DuVall (16-19), Sufe Bradshaw (12-16).
Emmys: Outstanding Comedy Series 14-15, 15-16, 16-17; Directing 14-15; Writing 14-15; Actress (Louis-Dreyfus) 11-12, 12-13, 13-14, 14-15, 15-16, 16-17; Supporting Actor (Hale) 12-13, 14-15.
Quote: “I came in third, Amy, OK? Even the Nazis came in second.” (Louis-Dreyfus to Chlumsky)
Last word: “I did an awful lot of research for [‘In the Loop’], and I was out in D.C. fairly regularly meeting people. In the end, it became not so much what it was they were telling me about life in Washington, it was more I was just watching them and how they behaved, what their body language was. And then we did more research on ‘Veep’. Everyone was very welcoming and we spent half a day at the Vice President’s office and spoke to his Chief of Staff and was shown around the State Department and the Pentagon. And again, as you make these research trips, it’s not so much what you’re being told as how you’re being told it that actually helps you work out who the characters are.” (Iannucci, Filmmaker Magazine)