By Jill Serjeant
(Reuters) – Selina Meyer is a U.S. vice president whose office has anti-suicide windows, whose boss never calls, and whose jaded press secretary pretends to have a dog (dubbed a ‘bull-shitzu’) so that he won’t have to stay late at work.
Sounds familiar? Armando Iannucci, the creator of HBO’s new satirical TV series “Veep“, hopes it all rings true because he knows Washington will be watching his cynical view of a political system where idealism has been trumped by compromise and endless damage control.
“Veep”, which premieres on Sunday and in a U.S. presidential election year, sees Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing Meyer – a once rising star in an undefined political party who suddenly finds herself U.S. vice president, only to discover the job was everything she was warned about.
She and her frantic Blackberry-addicted team spend their time dodging political minefields, making and fixing public relations gaffes, and waiting for the president to call. He never does.
“I don’t want to show Washington as completely dysfunctional but I want to show on a day-to-day basis how it works and what kind of ridiculous pressure politicians are under from the electorate and the media to be perfect and to function 24 hours a day,” Iannucci told Reuters.
“Comedy is not there to trivialize it, but to provide a way into it,” he said.
Iannucci is the British comedy writer behind Oscar-nominated “In the Loop” which lampooned U.K. politics around the 2003 Iraq invasion. He had considered the U.S. Congress, a governor’s mansion and an ambassador’s residence before deciding on the office of vice president as his next target.
“The VP can be a powerful position, but only if the president likes you. If the president doesn’t like you, then all that power drains away. The VP is also very close to the center of power, but not THE center of power … So I think there is inherent comedy that on a week-by-week basis, you have no idea where it is going to go,” he said.
BLEAK BUT AMUSING
Entertainment Weekly described “Veep” in a review as “a bleak vision of American political folly (that) would be pretty depressing if it weren’t so amusing.”
Shot in documentary style, partly improvised, and laced with profanities, “Veep” is big on detail – the vast motorcades used to travel a few hundred yards, strategy sessions on the best frozen yogurt flavor choice, clashing egos, and the “walk and talk” beloved by politicians in a hurry.
Iannucci said his team was welcomed by the office of current U.S. vice president Joe Biden, whose staff spoke with producers, and allowed them to photograph and measure their offices.
The show’s creator said he was less interested in learning Washington scandal than hearing about “the dull stuff. What time do you get in? How many people are with you when you travel? Who carries this? Who looks after that?”
“A lot of the incidents (in the TV series) are based on things that have happened … To get the reality of it right, you have to get the detail right. The last thing I want is a whole crowd of Washingtonians to watch it and think ‘we don’t do that, that doesn’t happen’,” he said.
Iannucci, 48, may be British – or more precisely Scottish with Italian heritage – but he has always been fascinated by politics on both sides of the Atlantic. Moreover, he notes that American politics “dominates the international agenda”.
“I always felt politics was not a noble cause, but an interesting thing to be committed to. But as I got older, I got increasingly frustrated by the way it doesn’t work and the way things grind to an absolute log-jam of nothingness,” he said.
American TV critics seems to agree. New York Magazine’s Matt Zoller Seitz said “Veep” may be “the right satire for a political era marked by stupid feuds, inertia, and superficiality.”
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