And as ludicrous as “Veep” might pretend to be, how far off is it really? Nothing in the episodes I’ve seen rivals the outlandish laugh riots of a Secret Service detail hiring Cartagena hookers, or the recent implosion over at the General Services Administration after news broke of that scandalous $800,000-plus convention in Las Vegas. The mass-resignations, the political embarrassment, the congressional investigation — this is right in line with Vice President Meyer’s tragicomic milieu. Even the stern video admonishment by the GSA’s new acting chief, Dan Tangherlini, had something “Veep”-ishly appealing to it. I watched it on YouTube over and over — imagining the assured, handsomely blue-eyed Tangherlini slapping his forehead between takes in abject dismay.
In “Veep,” it’s as if all of Aaron Sorkin’s hyperverbal “West Wing” strivers have had every last trace of their idealism scrubbed away, leaving only their raw ambition and incessant yammering. The result is sublimely — if sadly — appropriate to the present-day vibe, the deeply cynical Washington in which we live and work.
As often as not, the worst of Selina’s public humiliations stem from her own sense of hubris and her Larry David-like tendency to stick her foot in her mouth, especially if a nearby microphone is hot. So it happens that she uses the word “retard” during a hastily edited fundraising speech at a party, a flub that lands her front and center on the next morning’s Style section (holla!) and sets off a hilarious day of attempted atonement with the mental-disability lobby. This is a vice president who schedules a “normalizing” photo-op visit to a minority-owned fro-yo shop on U Street but comes down with a flu bug on the way, and, after one bite of goopy yogurt, has an unfortunate “Bridesmaids”-style accident while trying to hustle back to her motorcade limo.
Thanks to Louis-Dreyfus, and the show’s remarkable knack for dialogue and timing, “Veep” is instantly engaging and outrageously fun. Like all memorable TV comedies of late — “The Office,”“Arrested Development,”“Curb Your Enthusiasm” — it transacts in awkwardness in a way that summons the oddest sort of cringing sympathy for its lead character. That emotion is as old as watching Lucille Ball try to worm her way out the disasters of her own making.
“Did the president call?” Selina routinely asks her surly secretary Sue (Sufe Bradshaw).
“No,” Sue always says.
The president never calls.
Three episodes in, it’s not certain that any of us will get to see this president. An officiously unctuous junior White House aide, Jonah Ryan (Timothy C. Simons), is assigned to be the liaison between Selina’s office and the West Wing. His main job is to restrict her access to POTUS, to preemptively stripmine her prepared speeches of anything substantive or politically risque (the term of art here is “pencil-[bleep]ing”). Jonah even dissuades the vice president from getting a dog, because the first lady is about to get a dog.