Julia Louis-Dreyfus' 'Veep': Insightful Political Commentary or Just Good Fun?

The former Seinfeld star plays the vice president of the United States in HBO's buzzed-about new satire, premiering this Sunday at 10 p.m. ET

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is always up for a challenge. In Seinfeld, she proved her undeniable comedic chops. In The New Adventures of Old Christine, she showed viewers that she could carry a sitcom on her own shoulders. And now comes HBO's Veep, (premiering this Sunday at 10 p.m. ET), Louis-Dreyfus' latest foray into TV comedy. Here, she aims even higher: This show sets out to offer political insights while entertaining us.

She plays Vice President Selina Meyer, a woman who is tortured by the ironic dichotomy of her office. On the one hand, she's a political player who relishes her one-heartbeat-away-from-the-presidency standing. On the other, she's painfully aware of how ineffectual her role actually is. Add to that the constant tug and pull of our political system, and the compromises and choices lawmakers have to make to get anything done, and Selina is one relentlessly irritated boss. She takes out her frustrations on her staff, whose own personality tics provide a constant stream of comedy. (Watch the trailer below.)
 



Will the show come into its own as a comedy that's also politically relevant? It's too soon to tell, of course. But so far, TV writers and pundits are divided. In a profile of Louis-Dreyfus for The New York Times MagazineCarina Chocano asserts that Veep "captures our post-Reagan, post-Clinton, post-Bush, 24-hour tabloid news and Internet-haterade dystopia, and reflects our collective queasy ambivalence toward a political system that we fear simply reflects our own shallowness back at us. If The West Wing was a fantasy of hyper-competence, Veep is its opposite: a black-humor vision of politics at its bleakest, in which both sides have been co-opted by money and special interests and are reduced to posturing, subterfuge, grandstanding and photo ops. Naturally, it's hilarious."

But in a recent review, USA Today's Robert Bianco questions the show's overall import. "Veep is, at heart, no more than another workplace sitcom built around the clashing personalities of the workers: the incompetent veteran (Matt Walsh); the pushy newcomer (Reid Scott); the overeager assistant (Tony Hale); the harried aide (Anna Chlumsky)," writes Bianco. "The actual jobs don't much matter; you could make Selina a small-town mayor or head of a TV network, and the other characters would still fall into place."

Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between. The show's good, but let's admit that the vicissitudes of today's political system are well-trod territory in TV and movies. We already know, from movies like The Ides of March and HBO's Game Change, that the political system is riddled with problems. Veep might nail the message perfectly, but it's one many of us have already heard.

"Veep revisits territory many other politically-oriented movies and TV shows have thoroughly covered," writes Maureen Ryan of the Huffington Post. "Its central assumption -- that the political process is broken and every person in Washington, D.C., from the lowliest staffers right up to the top players, is simply out for him or herself -- appears to negate the show's own purpose for existing. If these people are so worthless, why are we paying attention to them?"

Well, that one's easy. We'd pay attention to Louis-Dreyfus reading the telephone book. But can she show us something new on this well-worn path of pesky party politics? We'll have to tune in to find out!

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