When Armando Iannucci created Veep at the beginning of this tumultuous decade, he wanted to make a show about American politics set in a place where, in his words, “there’s power but where there’s no power.”
Eventually, he settled on the vice-president’s office and decided to make that vice-president a woman because, “I thought, well, if it’s a female vice-president then at least we won’t get people saying, ‘so, is this Dick Cheney?’”
Instead, he got questions about whether Selina Meyer (played by Julia Louis Dreyfus) – the vice-president who would go on to inherit a presidency, then lose it and, in the series finale, ruthlessly reclaim it for herself – was Sarah Palin or Hillary Clinton. For those of us who can even loosely recall the US election race back in November 2016, this may start to sound a little too familiar.
Today in 2020, Selina Meyer is more than a fictitious character, she’s a cautionary tale!
After being part of the coveted Seinfeld series in the nineties, Julia Louis Dreyfus found herself back on the stage for the ‘Emmy Awards’ several times for ‘Veep’. As of 2017, which was her sixth consecutive win for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, she now holds the record for the most Primetime Emmy wins as an actor for the same role. Clearly, her acting skills were never dormant, but what truly helped ‘Veep’ gain fanfare and accolades is the slew of actors supporting Julia in the titular role.
The writing initially doesn’t set out to be an outright absurdist comedy; it focuses on the pitfalls of the misogynistic hierarchy of the American political structure. It is Selina Meyer, the first female Vice President in American history, and Julia Louis Dreyfus’s acting chops for portraying idiocy with impeccable fluency, which fuel the dramatic plot of ‘Veep’.
To facilitate Selina’s upward fall are her incompetent staff members. Sound familiar? The incredibly impotent communications director, Mike McLintock jeopardises almost every important press briefing, sometimes leading to happy accidents. The White House Chief of Staff is one high-functioning alcoholic, depressive, veteran, Ben Cafferty. Although insightful and respected in D.C. and someone who eventually helps Selina briefly clinch the President’s position, Selina refers to him as the ‘burnt-out loser’.
Jonah Ryan starts off as the White House liaison to Veep’s office and is hated by everyone in D.C. and in foreign political circles. Once fired from the White House for writing a blog that discloses insider information, Jonah Ryan later ends up being the Vice Presidential candidate to Selina Meyer’s Presidential term. Uncanny? Maybe not!
Yet not every staff member is a complete misfit. Amy Brookheimer, the Vice President’s Chief of Staff constantly sacrifices her own reputation to save Selina’s political credibility. She even faked having an abortion on Selina’s behalf! Amy, the Veep’s trouble-shooter is extremely uptight and career-oriented with no intentions for settling down, yet she has a romantic past with Dan Egan. Dan is a cutthroat, up-and-comer in D.C. who serves as the Veep’s Deputy Director of Communications and later the campaign manager for her presidential race, only to lose it by having a nervous breakdown.
Another ace in Selina’s deck of cards is Kent Davison, the senior strategist to the President. Kent is the number cruncher whose statistical data is highly influential in helping Selina make strategic and career decisions. He’s also briefly in charge of Selina and her family’s public image which more often than less gets him in hilarious conflicts with the entire Meyer family. Even after having these few solid team players in her otherwise unapologetically contradicting staff, nothing can save Selina from entering into the dark political climate towards the series finale.
Let’s get it straight, Selina is the ‘nasty woman’ here and Julia Louis Dreyfus never tried to make her likable. She made her fascinating.
Selina inherits the presidency just as she inherits family wealth, to support her idiosyncrasies. In this course of action, her blatant ambitiousness gets the better of her as she bulldozes over her competition (played by Hugh Laurie) and even destroys her only loyal confidante staffer, Gary. But when she gets the oust from the White House, Selina has to be dragged out from her chambers onto the streets, metaphorically speaking. She swears like a drunken medieval pirate and lies and acts with no regard for ethics. The only principle she follows is ‘Me First”. In the series finale, we find Selina completely alone. Her core team is nothing more than her colleagues who couldn’t give any shit about her anymore. Sound familiar?
The series changed hands somewhere during season 5 from creator Armando Iannucci to show runner David Mandel (Seinfeld fame).
If on one hand, Veep is a scarring reflection of the current political scenario of the U.S., on the other, it is pure fantasy. America is far off from accepting two women candidates, including one of Latin ethnicity, running for the Presidential race. It is in this fantasy that a woman could do all the things Selina does and still maintain public support.
Selina’s character is portrayed as feminine, but not feminist. She was a daughter who resented her mother and a mother who preferred not to be around her own daughter. She hated men: “I’m used to dealing with angry, aggressive, dysfunctional men, i.e. men,” she once said from her seat in the Oval Office, but she hated other women just as much.
In the thorny minefield that is gender and politics, there were glimmers of something admirable in the way Selina Meyer did what she had to do, and to hell with what anyone else thought. You think about things like these and, especially if you’re a woman, you can’t help but admire Selina Meyer even though you can’t condone her choices. That’s partly because Julia Louis Dreyfus is playing her.
A lot of fiction from the Veep-universe has leaked into real-life politics of the U.S. in the last four years. In one instance, the cast of Veep has admitted the reason to not carry the show forward despite all the awards and career revivals to be simply, “It’s not funny anymore.”
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