courtesy of Elvert Barnes
Ever since Jed Bartlet presided over the White House of The West Wing, there hasn’t been a television show about Washington that really captured the hearts and minds of its locals. West Wing DVD sets are a staple of many DC video shelves and many of my friends go as far as to follow President Bartlet on Twitter. Ever since the show went off the air in 2006 there hasn’t been a show that could overcome DC’s discerning tastes towards how our city is portrayed in TV and movies.
No show has been good enough to distract us from the fact it’s portraying DC 100% accurately.
As much as we love indulging our geographical egos in watching shows and films that are set in DC, we also enjoy the ruthless dissection of every single inaccuracy of The District that occurs. Whether it is the attempt to double Chicago for DC in Transformers 3 or simply making up Metro stations in 24. As actual residents of the immediate area, we love to pull out the “that’s not really there/that doesn’t exist/I’ve totally been there” card. We’ve all been guilty of it, even me.
When a lecturer is not interesting, we start to realize he missed a spot shaving. When a show doesn’t fully entertain us, we start to notice the scene on the Metro is actually on a NYC subway car.
So after a rash of DC-based reality TV shows and procedural crime shows, HBO throws down with Veep. The Julia Louis-Dreyfus led sitcom focuses on Vice President Selina Meyer, a former Senator whose Presidential campaign fizzles out and has to settle for second billing on the ticket to Washington. While the show won’t be contending with the Holy Grail that is The West Wing, Veep ends a long local nightmare of terrible shows about Washington, DC.
Veep is brought to us from the mind of Armando Iannucci, who was behind the film In The Loop, another wonderful send-up on government. Don’t expect Bartlett-like lessons in civics with Veep, instead expect dysfunctional office dynamics and salty one-liners that has become Iannucci’s signature. The cinema verte approach and focus on the day-to-day antics instead of the broad political landscape gives the show a feel that’s reminiscent of The Office or Parks and Recreation. In fact the show is essentially a workplace comedy- except the office happens to be the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
On the Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Louis-Dreyfus liken the show’s view on the Vice-President’s office to a book she spotted on a tour of Biden’s office: “The Long Road to Disappointment: The History of the Vice Presidency”. After a previous election season where the phrase “only a heartbeat away” was a major storyline, the Vice-President’s office in Veep struggles with the fact it is an office that does very little despite it being the second-most powerful in the land. It is the irony that Meyer is the Vice-President yet has to handle all of the stuff the President doesn’t want to do (obesity and boring photo ops) is what makes Veep so funny. In a running gag throughout the season, Meyer constantly asks her secretary (Sufe Bradshaw) if the President has called, to which the answer is always the same: no.
Meyer’s office is staffed with a great ensemble of bumbling staffers that complete the look of an office that can’t get anything done (much like politics today). When Meyer isn’t yelling at her Chief of Staff Amy (Anna Chlumsky), she’s probably ordering her body man Gary (Tony Hale) to make her a coffee. Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh) heads up communications for the office while Senate defector Dan (Reid Scott) attempts to game the system like a true political operative. As incompetent the crew is, they all come together in their mutual hatred of Jonah (Timothy Simons), the White House liaison between the West Wing and the VP. Jonah is the most reminiscent to DC-types with his status-driven ego. He answers all of his calls with some form of, “West Wing- this is Jonah.”
I wouldn’t be surprised if he openly wore his White House security badge on the Metro too. What a d-bag.
Whether it is trying to get a wrongly signed birthday card back from the White House, apologize for calling a war hero a non-American alien, or quell a scandal about dismissing a Secret Service agent who smiled too much; there always seems to be another fire around the corner for the office to put out. In typical Innucci fashion, he paints a picture of a governmental system that doesn’t work not because of cronyism or corruption, but through sheer incompetence of it’s workers.
And we are laughing our way through all of it.
Sure some may not be too thrilled that most of it is shot in nearby Baltimore and that references to DC is limited to the off-mentioned reference to a local neighborhood or building, the show is more about the office politics than national politics. That’s probably why this comedy (which has already been renewed for another season) is the perfect DC comedy- because it doesn’t try to be too DC.