Some great leaders speak from mountain tops. Others do it from soap boxes. Selina Meyer speaks from on top of a $1,200 crate. And she’s cursing a lot.
Now, after the sharp, wildly fun two-part Veep finale, Selina Meyer is cursing all the way from the West Wing. Adhering to its penchant for unexpectedly bold comedy—glorious arias of four-letter words and middle fingers flipped in the face of sitcom convention—the HBO series has now even forsaken its name. She’s the “Veep” no more. Selina Meyer is now, in her words, “the fucking president.”
Well, hail to the fucking chief.
It’s a genius move for the series to make Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s foul-mouthed and power-hungry vice president commander-in-chief for its Season Three grand finale. A political satire of the best kind, Veep is so brilliant because of the way it holds up a fun house mirror to the world of D.C. government. At first it fools you into thinking you’re looking at goofier version, then it hits you that the reflection is much closer to the real thing than we may like to think. That dark realization stuns you into even more laughter.
So the fact that Selina Meyer’s team of Stooges, so inept that communications chief Mike McClintock even knocks a crystal lamp and bungles Selina’s Oath of Office, against their best efforts and worst mistakes manages to get Meyer to the West Wing is a thought so frightening you can’t help but chuckle at it. And then when Meyer, played to perfection by Louis-Dreyfus to be so despicable, out-of-touch, patronizing, self-entitled, disrespectful, and selfish, actually gets officially sworn in you’re actually happy for her. You’re happy that a person like that is the most powerful person in the world.
And then it hits you: That despicable, out-of-touch, and otherwise horrible person may be the most relatable politician we’ve seen take office in years.
There's something comforting about the way Veep portrays Selina and her quest for power in the disingenuous world of politics. She’s so callous that you actually appreciate her more for being so unfiltered and authentic.
By and large, you don’t see any noble motivation behind her yearning for the nation’s top office other than the fact that she wants it and thinks she’ll be damned good at it. Before Veep premiered, people assumed that the series was going to be about a hapless, unqualified politician (because of the timing, the ghost of Sarah Palin’s political career was evoked), and that the story would revolve around her screw-ups.
But the show turned that expectation on its head. It wasn’t the Veep who was hapless. It was the office itself. Meyer was a smart woman who was powerless because, it turns out, the office of the vice presidency holds no real power, outside of waiting for a phone call from the president. Or at least that’s the punchline the show is getting across.
Three seasons in, though, the show’s made that joke. Many times. Having her run for president has been an interesting choice because of the creative dilemma it presented: Selina wins the vote, and it rings as false and cheesy on a show that has never been either of those things. But Selina loses, and then what? How far down can we see this woman fall? And is there even a show if she’s not president?
So the way that Selina becomes president—the First Lady tries to commit suicide and, stricken with grief and a determination to help her in her tough time, the President resigns—is, really, the only way to make her entry to the Oval Office believable. (In the first of a two-part finale, a disastrous incident with a journalist’s tape recorder and the tone-deaf use of the aforementioned $1,200 crate all but lost her the primary.) And her journey there has been unbelievably hilarious.
Over the course of this past season, Veep’s writers have created an off-camera character, and he routinely steals the show. He’s us. Us: the clueless, easily manipulated, boneheaded, voting Americans who don’t know what's good for us, don’t know when we’re been played, and embarrassingly susceptible to machinations of politicians. Through cutting, observant dialogue, the show has managed to convince us, the viewers, that we’re smarter than “us,” the American voters it’s mocking so mercilessly. When Selina insults them, we laugh. When we realize it’s “us” we’re laughing at, well, we only laugh harder.
There were some razor-sharp lines mocking “us,” too. In fact, the Veep writers may have painted the most insightful portrait of American voters that there’s ever been on television. Who’d have thought it would be so hilarious?
“She’s so good at making people think she’s good at people,” campaign chief Amy says as Selina grits through her teeth while talking with blue-collar American people and down-home voters and characters. “He is a character, though,” she’s told about a newspaper reporter. “I hate those,” she says.
When it breaks that the President is resigning and Selina is going to be sworn in, cable news leads with the news that “celebrities such as Katy Perry and Will.I.Am.” are tweeting their support of the first female President of the United States. Has there ever been a more accurate fictional news report? Would this not be a news item if a woman really did win the presidency? Is that not depressing? And, in this case, hilarious?
Of course, the slapstick humor and the comedy of errors didn’t evaporate just because the Veep is now the Prez. When Selina goes to address the nation, the shoes Gary gives her to wear squeak like she’s walking down a hallway of whoopee cushions. She misspeaks the name of a Cabinet member she wants removed and nearly starts war with Iran. And, even though she’s just begun as the leader of the Free World, she’s already an embarrassing third in the polls for re-election.
Don’t fool Veep with House of Cards, then, another show that ended its season this year with the vice president getting a promotion—the promotion—when POTUS steps down. That series ended with Frank Underwood slamming his fists down on his desk in a sign of power. Veep’s last scene is Selina and her team moving their boxes to the Oval Office, and Gary running back because he forgot something.
There’s no glamour in being the president for Selina. She screws up her swearing in, makes farting noises with her feet before her first speech, plummets in the polls, and can’t even march into the Oval Office with grace.
Not that, bless her, Meyer isn’t completely blind to all that. “I’m the president,” she says. “I can fuck anybody I want now.” I guess that’s Season Four.