“Satire,” George S. Kaufmann wrote, “is what closes on Saturday night,” which is, perhaps, why HBO scheduled its new political comedy, “Veep,” for Sunday nights. But, if HBO was worried about the Kaufmann curse, it needn’t have. “Veep” is not a political satire; in fact, it’s not really even about politics, and it is barely a comedy, if comedy means a dramatized story that makes the audience laugh.
“Veep” takes place in the office of the Vice-President of the United States, who, in this case, happens to be an attractive woman named Selina Meyer, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. If politics plays any part in the series, it’s office politics (a la “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation”), not real politics (a la “The West Wing”). Ms. Louis-Dreyfuss made a point of telling Jon Stewart, in a recent interview on “The Daily Show,” that the audience would never see the President on “Veep,” and never even know what political party the Vice-President belongs to.
This basically means that the series has to steer clear of any but the most innocuous political issues, and to judge by its first two episodes, that is certainly going to be the case. Selina’s two signature “issues” are “clean jobs” and “filibuster reform”—both of which are almost devoid of partisan context and real-world political relevance.
If the joke here is supposed to be that the Vice-presidency is, effectively, a totally ineffectual office, the holder of which does not, in fact, get to deal with real policy issues, that’s a pretty feeble joke, and more than a little out-of-date given the roles that Dick Cheney and Al Gore played in their respective administrations. “Satirizing” the vice-presidency as a toothless, content-less, honorary position is a little like trying to “satirize” contemporary marriage by remaking episodes of “I Love Lucy.” “Veep” is so determined not to land any political points that it has rendered itself politically pointless.
Even as a comedic exercise in office politics, “Veep” is decidedly unfunny. Every single character is motivated by a desire to either (a) save his or her job or (b) improve his or her job status. Even on “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” at least some of the characters are motivated by a desire to a do a good job, however poorly they may perform in reality, but the makers of “Veep” seem to think that they’ll seem smarter and hipper and more sophisticated if all of their characters are motivated purely by a desire for self-preservation or self-promotion.
In any case, to make themselves seem smarter and hipper and more sophisticated, the writers of “Veep,”who happen to be British, have land-mined their scripts about American politics with “f-bombs,” on the apparent belief that using the word “fuck” is always good for a laugh, no matter the context. When the Vice-President’s staff faces a crisis over the mis-signing of a condolence card, the Veep responds wittily: “Shut this the fuck down because I am busy apologizing to that fucktard.” When the Veep’s chief aid gets an errant piece of good news about one of the Veep’s policy initiatives, the aide goes skipping merrily into the Veep’s office to announce “Fuckadeedodah! The clean jobs task force is a go!” When a U.S. senator is unhappy, for some reason or other, he describes a political rival as a “gold-plated fucking shit gibbon.” When a presidential aide excises from a vice-presidential speech anything even remotely controversial, the Vice-President says that her speech has been “pencil-fucked.”
Does anyone past the seventh grade who doesn’t write for the movies or cable TV really believe this is clever? If “Veep” is going to amount to anything more than a fast-paced, glossily produced, well-acted exercise in junior high school “satire,” somebody is going to have to make sure that future scripts of the series are, well, pencil-fucked.