Arts Desk

Veep, Week 8: The Rubber-Ball Vice Presidency

That was quite the payoff, wasn't it, Ben? At the end of an episode in which her political toxicity oscillated like a faulty radiation meter, Selina deflates as Mike, her hapless P.R. chief, attempts to console her: Remember, it's only four years. Unless it's eight. Or 12, if you become president. Which means it could be 16. The credits end as Selina is spinning in her chair once again, which is probably too obvious a metaphor: She may be sick of being vice president, but she isn't going anywhere. (Not least of all because Veep was renewed for a second season.)

You write that "no one makes any progress here." In terms of policy, you're right: Selina's clean jobs commission is a sham, and I can't remember the last time we heard about her filibuster reform. Ditto personnel: While Dan may have stumbled into a fancy new title, he remains low on the totem pole. And the secret service agent Selina reassigned for smirking has returned to her detail. Politically, however, she and her staff are moving backward—mostly by defeating themselves, and seeing their errors amplified by an unforgiving news cycle. In the federal Washington of Armando Iannucci's imagination, the system is rigged so that the vice-president does maximum damage to herself while having minimum impact on everything else.

All along, Veep has been presented as a show about power—about the institutional dynamics that define it—but we've also learned about its corrupting qualities. Would the Selina of episode 1 instruct Gary to dump her boyfriend for her? Or ask Amy to fake a miscarriage? Or cry in public, for that matter. We've seen Selina both harden and soften.

I'm not sure that Veep has had much more to say about our federal culture of narcissism and self-preservation, which is why the comedy and the characters have mattered so much. For the most part, I've preferred the show at its most manic (the walk-and-talk has been redeemed) and its sweetest (Jonah's Magrudergrind moment), while the episodes that centered on slow, excruciating humiliations (the pregnancy plot, especially) left me cold. The show's best shtick, in which Selina muddles insults at normal people while politicking in public, hasn't become tired yet.

So Selina hates us. Despite themselves, the vice president and her crew are starting to grow on me. Like Ohio, "the rubber-ball state," I hope next season they manage to bounce back.

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