“Veep can be a bit of a grab bag. It’s both feminist and women-hating; racially progressive and racist; offensive and hilarious by turns. But somehow it all comes together.”
Episodes Reviewed: Seasons 1-6
Creator: Armando Iannucci 👨🏼🇬🇧
Writers: Armando Iannucci 👨🏼🇬🇧 (58 eps), Simon Blackwell 👨🏼🇬🇧 (13 eps), Tony Roche 👨🏼🇬🇧 (11 eps), Sean Gray 👨🏼🇬🇧 (9 eps), and various (21 ♂, 5 ♀)
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Veep is the coarsest sitcom you’ll find on television and damn if they don’t own it. Its velocity and vitriol is unmatched as it proudly touts lines like “That guy is a weapons-grade retard” or “Are we seriously gonna let the guy with the police sketch face of a rapist tell us what to do?” This virtuosity of writing is by far my favorite part of the show, Shakesperean in its bawdiness and wordplay. (“She's middle of the road. She's mediocre, really. Of all the -ocres, she's the mediest.”)
Unfortunately, this full-throttle approach can get tiresome for longtime viewers. The show itself stays solid, but the same pacing, same jokes, and same characters all start to blend together around Season 3 or 4. Luckily, Season 5 employs some subtle character development and reshuffling. By Season 6, we’re back in business.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
Women are a force to be reckoned with in Veep. They cuss, belittle, interrupt, and abuse with the best of the degenerates that populate this show. Unfortunately, I do have to take umbrage with the fact that the humor is largely anti-women, even if it is women slinging slurs alongside the men.
A perfect example of Veep’s halfway feminism is a scene in Season 6. In a gender role reversal—something Veep does extremely well—Selina tries to talk business while her Communications director Mike (Matt Walsh) juggles screaming kids, looking frazzled and covered in food stains. Unfortunately, this scene makes child-rearing the punchline, portraying it as something that has no place in the working world.
This scene is just one of countless asides that make up the bracing, alpha humor of Veep. To be fair, men and penises are derided too, but the majority of jokes still skew towards activities traditionally associated with the fairer sex. Showrunner David Mandel, who took over for creator Iannucci at the start of Season 4, says himself that “one of the fascinating things about Selina is how much she hates women.” While I’m glad the creators and writers of Veep are going into this fully aware, it still leaves the show a point away from being truly empowering.
Veep is largely white. But so is our current 115th Congress. While Democrats boast a Senate and House caucus of 37% POC—similar to the national share of 39%—Republicans tip the scales with a 95% white caucus. This ultimately leads to Veep looking pretty accurate to real life.
Earlier seasons do pretty well in this category, casting Asian-American Randall Park in the stereotype-defying role of former governor of Minnesota while the amazing Sue Wilson (who is black, played by Sufe Bradshaw) enjoys a snarky, well-rounded role in the first five seasons of the show. The most recent season is iffier, where the only main non-white character is the lovable but infinitely subordinate Richard (who is black, played by Sam Richardson). And while Selina’s 6-episode romance with Qatari ambassador Jaffar (played by Usman Ally, who describes himself as African-American-Asian) is perfectly written, the character of Latina President Montez is played by Jewish/Greek actress Andrea Savage which runs counter to the goal of giving actors of color more work opportunities.
As for how race is discussed on the show, it mostly stays in line with the take-no-prisoners style of writing. But Veep needs to be careful about keeping enough POC characters onscreen in order to disarm its more outrageous lines. For example, in “Justice” (S06E04), Dan complains to his makeup artist, “Can we go easy on the bronzer, please? I’m starting to look like a diversity hire.” Is this funny? Yep. But it’s only funny so long as the cast is actually diverse. Once it veers too white, as Season 6 threatens to do, the racist jokes will be a lot harder to swallow.
Overall, average by numbers but the POC characters who do exist are funny and well-rounded.
Catherine (Sarah Sutherland), Selina’s daughter, goes through multiple romances in the first four seasons of Veep but reveals that she is in love with a woman in “C**Tgate” (S05E06). Her girlfriend Marjorie (Clea DuVall) is an emotionless creature who reminds me of Captain Ray Holt from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, whose catatonically dry humor confuses everyone around them (and delights me to no end).
Veep does a great job of integrating LGBTQ storylines without ever making it seemed forced. They touch upon bisexuality, the process of coming out, same-sex marriage, and the complications of having children without ever missing a foul-mouthed beat.
If I was only scoring Seasons 5-6, this category would get full points. But the review covers all 58 episodes and by those standards the relationship between Catherine and Marjorie sees relatively minor screen time.
Deduction for Disability: -0.5
We discuss above that racist jokes only land so long as the cast is diverse. By similar logic, jokes about “retards” or calling someone “autismo” only lands if there is any disabled representation, of which there is not.
Bonus for Age: +0.5
Women over 40 are irritatingly desexualized in Hollywood. Julia Louis-Dreyfus herself has acknowledged the double standard, in hilarious fashion as she joins a sketch on Inside Amy Schumer that centers on Louis-Dreyfus’ “last fuckable day in Hollywood.” On Veep, women over 50 are depicted as sexually active and worthy of objectification. Normally kind of a weird thing to strive for, but appropriate for the show’s un-PC bent.
Mediaversity Grade: B 4.06/5
Veep can be a bit of a grab bag. It’s both feminist and women-hating; racially progressive and racist; offensive and hilarious by turns. But somehow it all comes together.
I can’t say how the show will hold up against the test of time, however. As I discuss in my reviews for GLOW and Silicon Valley, satire is feeling less effective these days in a cultural environment that, broadly speaking, has no concept of irony nor appetite for mental legwork. It won’t keep me from watching Veep. But unlike Selina Meyer’s desperate grabs for power, I hope the show knows when to bow out gracefully.