Once you see Julia Louis-Dreyfus' new HBO "Veep" black comedy, it's a little unsettling to think that, as reported in the New York Times, she talked to the likes of Al Gore and Al Franken and real-life chiefs of staff and speechwriters to help get ready for her role as Vice President Selina Meyer. One hopes that authenticity is not the the order of the day here. "Veep" has been dubbed "the anti-'West Wing'" for good reason.
Meyer and her staff embody our worst fears about what politicians are like in this era of smart phone video ops, scandals du juor and etch-a-sketch ideologies. Louis-Dreyfus, who looks stunning at 51, plays Meyer as a tyrannical boss who is quick to lay blame for her mistakes on underlings and shout at them about their incompetence -- while relying on them to whisper to her everything she needs to know, just as she needs to know it. (If they can't prompt her verbally, perhaps a name could be surreptitiously scrawled onto her coffee cup.) Viciously cutting remarks and profanity flow at an alarming rate at Meyer's office, starting with the Veep herself -- but the flow can be stopped and dignitary-worthy manners assumed in an instant. No, this is not President Bartlett's West Wing.
Armando Iannucci, who created Britain's hit political satire "The Thick of It," is also the man behind this April 22-debuting American counterpart. He told a gathering of television critics earlier this year, "I love 'The West Wing,' but I think that portrayal of Washington as a good and noble heartland wouldn't wash right now."
If "The West Wing" inspired pols, "Veep" gives them a swift kick and a jeering laugh. It's not for everyone, certainly, but the brave and funny Louis-Dreyfus and company strike a lot of painfully familiar notes.