Bingewatching: ‘Veep’

Media

While I loved the political spin comedy series ‘The Thick Of It’ I always suspected that the show was built around a single repeating plot; confirm, reverse, panic, deny, lacing the events with Malcolm Tucker’s potty-mouth asides. The US reboot ‘Veep’ began the same way with Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) failing to understand the basic principles which she was supposedly espousing.

As with most political shows it was about the fast ditching of homeric principles for personal gain, the nice touch being that in Armando Ianucci’s scripts the protagonists remain self-deludingly bound to opinion polls and misguided ambitions.

The rinse-and-repeat plotting was enough to loosen the show’s grip for me. It remained off my radar until Lockdown, which brought on the bingewatch. I always wonder whether showrunners and writers have a fully formed idea of where a seven season arc will go. We’ve gone from the cynical ratings-chasing attitude of the ‘Lost’ writers to better formed series of differing lengths like ‘The Looming Tower’. Whether or not ‘Veep’ was planned from the outset the real fun begins after Season 4, when we begin to get an inkling of where the arc is heading.

And the key word here is ‘entropy’. Selina embodies the worst aspects of veepness (say, Thomas Marshall crossed with Spiro Agnew) and devolves into a gorgon. As the centre ceases to hold and a kind of collective hysteria sets in the characters spin out into ever more morally compromised positions – worse jobs, scuzzier tactics, more offensive behaviour. The language is frequently pornographic (and wildly funny, with some jaw-dropping lines muttered beneath the breath) as the show autopsies the nation state in the death throes of late capitalism. Deservedly much awarded, ‘Veep’ assumes a level of cynicism hitherto unimaginable.

Yet as the series unfolded real-time events overtook the scripts in absurdity, so the TV stakes had to be raised still further. Ultimately Trump continues to outrank ‘Veep’ in topsy-turveydom even after the show’s conclusion. This morning, as COVID deaths powered past the 100,000 mark in America, Trump was more concerned with plans to censor Twitter ‘in the name of free speech’, the actions of an Idi Amin or Bolsinaro.

Nationalism leads to parochialism, so the MAGA plan backfired into a new strategy for the rest of the world; Avoid USA. Which makes the red, white and blue campaign trail Selina doggedly repeats look as ridiculous as any obscure ceremony performed on flugelhorn and timpani in an Austrian duchy. As always, it’s the innocent, decent voters who get screwed as darkness envelops all.

20 comments on “Bingewatching: ‘Veep’”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    Isn’t it nice that your lovely Prime Minister has access to both Buckingham and Lambeth Palace grounds for his daily runs? Perhaps Mr. Trump could take up running (except that it doesn’t look dignified enough). There’s a new book out – Roddam – that provides an alternative life for MS Clinton and possibly a very different ending. I think we all like to ask “what if?” or comment “if only” when history takes turns we don’t like.

  2. Debra Matheney says:

    Not even Iannucci could write the absurdity of Trump’s presidency as it surpasses all incredulity.No one would believe it as fiction, but we are living it. It would be hilarious except it is real. The total lack of empathy and lack of curiosity boggle the mind. I knew T. was an ego maniac and a liar, but I honesty did not know he was so deeply stupid.

    My “what if?” is that Gore and not Bush won- no weapons of mass destruction and progress with climate change.

    PS I LOVED Malcolm Tucker’s potty mouth and Peter Capaldi’s performance.

  3. brooke says:

    Agency by William Gibson also describes an alternative. Despite or perhaps because of Gibson’s sci-fi punk writing style, male friends read it, quote it, etc. Bush and Trump won–there are no innocent voters.

  4. Boris Johnson wrote a novel called Seventy-Two Virgins in which (apparently – I’ve no intention of reading it) a thrusting Tory MP foils a plot to assassinate a US President in the UK.

    The Guardian’s recent review :

    The novel’s attitude to women is so sexist that, if Johnson fails to gain the
    premiership, he could be a good bet to screen-write the recently announced new string of Carry On movies. I counted 20 occasions on which women enter the narrative. Each time, the narrator or a character looks them up and down, phwoaring over, to take a representative selection, “tits out”, “lustrous eyes”, “long legs”, “a mega-titted six-footer”, “loads of pretty white teeth”, “good teeth and blonde hair”, and an “unambiguously exuberant bosom”. One woman’s comment is attributed to “premenstrual irrationality”. In this context, appearances from a “girly swot” and a woman who looks “like a lingerie model, only cleverer and, if anything, with bigger breasts” count relatively as feminism.

    Sounds terrible ! Disraeli wrote novels before becoming PM but I imagine they were rather more sophisticated….

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Yes, they were, Paul, but rather sentimental and terribly respectable. I wouldn’t have thought Boris would reveal himself quite as obviously as that.

  6. brooke says:

    Both BJ and DT enjoy revealing themselves but they don’t always know what they are revealing.

    The reference to Disraeli is apt. He wrote Sybil or The Two Nations in which he says: ” two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy….feed by different food …and not governed by the same laws (take that D. Cummings!)… THE RICH AND THE POOR .” The capitals are Disraeli’s. Unlike Dickens, he wanted to do something about the divide.

  7. The only thing a government should be parochial about is where it spends.

    If only we could have Sir Humphrey back in charge.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    I haven’t read Sybil but Disraeli certainly nails his colours to the mast in that bit. That presumably is why he went into politics, the most likely place to make a change. I think I’ll find that book of his I did read and see what I can find there.

  9. snowy says:

    Hmmm… Dizzy has his fans, [including Vicky herself after getting off to a rather a bad start].

    But they do seem to omit the full picture, particularly: catching something communicable in the trouser department, adultery, gold-digging in marrying a very rich widow, some rather blatant social climbing and quite a bit of stock price manipulation.

    He wrote several novels, some to raise his public profile and some to pay off his debts, but to stay with Sybil:

    “On the banks of his native Mowe [Mr. Trafford] had built a factory which was now one of the marvels of the district; one might almost say, of the country: a single room, spreading over nearly two acres, and holding more than two thousand work-people. The roof of groined arches, lighted by ventilating domes at the height of eighteen feet, was supported by hollow cast-iron columns, through which the drainage of the roof was effected. The height of the ordinary rooms in which the work-people in manufactories are engaged is not more than from nine to eleven feet; and these are built in stories, the heat and effluvia of the lower rooms communicated to those above, and the difficulty of ventilation insurmountable.

    At Mr Trafford’s, by an ingenious process, not unlike that which is practised in the House of Commons, the ventilation was also carried on from below, so that the whole building was kept at a steady temperature, and little susceptible to atmospheric influence. The physical advantages of thus carrying on the whole work in one chamber are great: in the improved health of the people, the security against dangerous accidents for women and youth, and the reduced fatigue resulting from not having to ascend and descend and carry materials to the higher rooms. But the moral advantages resulting from superior inspection and general observation are not less important: the child works under the eye of the parent, the parent under that of the superior workman; the inspector or employer at a glance can behold all.”

    (Book 3, Chapter 8)

    If we ignore all the facts that are wrong from an engineering/architectural standpoint, and just concentrate on the human:

    The ascendancy of Capital over Labour – that’s apparently OK.
    Skilled craftsmen become at-will labourers – that’s fine, it seems.
    Moral Improvement – always plays well with the men in frocks.
    Child labour – fill yer boots.



    [It was all inevitable with rapid industrialisation, and the pattern has repeated in each industrialising nation, Indian textile works, Chinese electronics factories etc.]

  10. snowy says:

    He is also the man that created the ‘British Empire’.

    [If you follow this chain of logic:

    The little fat lady in the the black dress was annoyed that her foreign relatives, would out-rank her. And this would push her down the table further away from all the good grub.

    So she dropped a lot of unsubtle hints, and he as a loyal servant of HM had to bump her up from Queen to Empress. So at the stroke of a pen. a rag back of colonies, islands, possessions and dominions becomes an Empire.

    Most people didn’t notice, a lot of headed paper had to be binned, more people got hats with feathers on, lots of brass nameplates were changed and furniture moved around, but life carried on just as it had].

  11. Helen Martin says:

    Do we have to expect BD to have a “better” i.e. 21st century attitude toward social structures than others of his era? Seems to me there have been warnings about judging people by the standards of today. And at least he tried. (Haven’t found that book yet.)

  12. We should keep in mind that many or all the evils of the industrial age were not created by it, but inherited from the agrarian economy that preceded it. The industrial revolution and the associated improvement in education made the evils more visible. Let’s not over idealise a world of horse and cow manure and rural squalor.

    BD or BJ? BD has the enormous advantage of having long lost his capacity to hurt anyone.

  13. brooke says:

    Thank you, Peter. S’s dichotomies strike me as false—pre-industrial rural child labor (or urban child labor for that matter)–not something to idealise.

  14. snowy says:

    Helen, none of his actions were particularly unusual for the period, there were many worse and many better. What he was, was a skilled politician and had a very shrewd idea what to say to whom and when. We should be careful not to make him a ‘plaster saint’.

    Peter, any evils that spanned Town and Country, were societal and not situational. People were attracted to the town by higher wages, but only when they got there did they discover that the gains were mostly swallowed up by an increased cost of living. Fuel had to be paid for not picked up, fruit and veg. came not fresh from the garden, but limp from a grocer and bacon not from the family pig fed on scraps, but from a butcher with a heavy thumb.

    You wouldn’t have found much manure lying about in the Countryside, it was like gold, [pre organic fertilisers like guano], it would be a resource carefully husbanded for spreading on the fields. If you wanted to wade ankle deep in muck, the City was the place to be, tens of thousands of horses, and no where to put it, but it did keep a lot pf Dickensian crossing sweepers in work.

    [Anybody could be forgiven if from reading books, they thought Londoners could only move about like curling stones with somebody frantically brushing in front of them. The fashion for floor length skirts and horses ‘leaving messages’ on every horizontal surface was not a good combination.]

    Brooke, [can we do a quick instrument check? If you look at your control panel – in the left hand side of the binnacle is the Irony Meter, it should be in the red, give it a bash with your shoe and see if you can un-stick it….. almost…. one more…. that’s it! ;-)]

    In the rural setting, children worked, but as part of a family unit. So children would be given small jobs to do, fetch water, sweep floors, split straw, wind bobbins, shell peas, feed the pig, re-straw the rabbits, shut up the hens.

    This provided distraction/occupation and taught them the skills they need to live in the world. Once they had done their allotted work they would be shoveled outdoors and told not to come back until they needed feeding again. Once children became part of the industrial labour force they are just another resource to be exploited for maximum output.

    [The first paragraph of Dizzy’s less that striking prose, rang a very vague bell. I think he lifted it from somewhere. Either that or it is a pastiche of the sort of PR puff that was common in the period].

  15. Snowy – for me that’s a Constable painting that doesn’t show people sleeping and suffering childbirth on a dirt floor, no underwear and a massive amount of work in pre-mechanised farming.

    If we use life expectancy as a measure of how healthy life is, it started edging up from about 1850 or 1860. From 1890, it rose linearly for the next 50 or 60 years. On that basis, I’d suggest that industrialisation (notably iron bedsteads, cotton underwear and sewers) has done us a great deal of good. Now, as we have de-industrialised, we can’t equip healthcare workers and depend on imports for almost everything.

  16. Ed DesCamp says:

    Snowy – I’m seeking permission to use your Irony Meter comment. Now I’ll clean up the coffee I snorted all over the kitchen floor.

  17. snowy says:

    *giggle*

    Life in the country wasn’t easy, but it had advantages, clean air, clean water and mostly enough food, [well it’s quite hard to starve when there is food lying/running about in the woods and hedgerows].

    You gave me a list, I like lists they appeal to my sense of order, OK – here we go:

    “…sleeping and suffering childbirth on a dirt floor.”

    Nobody in the country with functioning limbs slept on the floor, the meanest bed would be a willow hurdle on a set of bough legs. Not a patch on Granny’s brass bedstead I’ll admit, but it’s not the floor. Over the hurdle went a paliase stuffed with ‘bedstraw’, [a number of species of scented plants, not wheat straw] and herbs, [like Herb Robert which contains a natural insect repellent]. So bed and mattress cost £0-0s-0d, blanket over the top, pot underneath, job done.

    “…no underwear…”

    Hmm… not quite sure of the exact health benefits of knickers, conventional wisdom says keep your bits clean and give them a good airing whenever possible/convienient. Maybe a pair for going to Church, but else not much in demand. Water and fuel being plentiful in the country, no reason not to have a wash and brush up whenever you like.

    “a massive amount of work in pre-mechanised farming”

    Well, yes and no, this is pre-intensive farming so one crop per field per year. Autumn – plough, spread muck, Winter – repair fences, barns and buildings, Spring – sow, Summer – reap. So there is always something to do, but everything is weather dependent. If it rains, most things stop. [Horses might have 4-leg drive but even they can’t pull a plough if all four hooves are going in different directions on the mud]. And landowners complained endlessly about the number of Church mandated holidays that went on, Saint’s days where everybody took Monday off for a knees-up.

    So roughly 1 easy season, 2 steady seasons and one hard one; Summer when it was all-hands on deck, very long days cutting and stacking hay for Winter. And then the main harvest of cereals that involved everybody that was still on the green side of the grass. Extra income for the family though if they helped.

    Life expectancy is a funny number, not many sources break it out rural/urban, [I’ve looked: under various search terms, I even dragged my copy of Engels – badly indexed that is], so here is a conjecture, [please forgive].

    [Statistics don’t really start till 1837, but lets give it a go.]

    A graph, Life Expectancy at birth/Year. Two lines a) rural b) urban.

    The lines start at the same level circa 1800, they track roughly parallel, weaving under and over each other, [Corn prices, Enclosures Act, Poor Law reform in the country, periodic epidemics in overcrowded cities being the causes for these variations], until the period of rapid Industrialisation when the city line takes a dive and, then takes decades to climb back up to parity with improvements in water, waste disposal and housing. [I think we have slightly different periods in mind?]

    I think Industrialisation has done Us – those living now – a lot of good, but it was a hard road for those that traveled it and it only became bearable with advances in Science and Engineering.

    No disagreement with your last line from me. 🙂

  18. snowy says:

    Ed, Hello, and feel free.

    [Though I now feel ‘Irony Detector’ might be the finer phrase, it suggests more strongly that the fault is not that of the reader, but the failing of the writer].

  19. Helen Martin says:

    May I add a couple of comments from the female side of the audience? (I will anyway, you know that.) Other than petticoats women didn’t wear much in the underwear line until well into the 19th century and then, a propos of your remark about airing, many women felt that these underpants or whatever you wanted to call them, were unhealthy. There was no freedom for the private areas and you were likely to develop infections. For a long time the term “pair of pants” made perfect sense because that’s what they were – two legs strung on a waistband. It made things easier when using a chamber pot – as you did at a ball, for example. I have heard people say in this time that tight underwear is not any more healthy for women than it is for men.
    Giving birth was a big cutter down of women. One should remember that even though a larger percentage of people died at younger ages than now there were still plenty of people who lived to ages that we would say are quite good – lots of 70 and 80 year olds for example and even the occasional centenarian. It’s just that there isn’t the large number of middle agers there are now. Survive the first year and you were good to go to 6 or 7 and then survive the childhood diseases and you were good to the teens. Girls start to drop away as they are married but survive child bearing and you could continue until you body gave out, barring an epidemic or two.

  20. This could go on forever. And it sounds a bit ‘Lucky Jim’, in which case I’ll deny ever having met your girlfriend or your uncle’s nephew’s girlfriend or etc. Must catch the train.

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