Picking on Washington politicos is like shooting fish in a barrel - it's so easily done that one would think, by now, the thrill would be gone. But for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who brings her impeccable comedic timing to one of the most notorious understudy roles in the free world - the office of the US vice president - the fun is just beginning.
The sly, lacerating wit of Veep - HBO's newest sitcom offering - wrings the surrealistic juice out of the day-to-day life of the vice president Selina Meyer (Louis-Dreyfus), a former accomplished senator who finds the new job is nothing like she imagined and everything she was warned about.
"What makes it, for me, so potentially funny is you're so near and yet so far," says Louis-Dreyfus, the Saturday Night Live alumnus who went on to Seinfeld and comedy immortality. "You're so close to power, and yet you're removed from it. And your identity is entirely at the whim of the president. If the president likes you, he'll give you power. If he doesn't like you, he'll take it away from you. So there's that. The fact [is] that you're not in control of your own destiny."
As she gamely runs a gauntlet of absurd situations on any given day in the hope of making her mark and leaving a lasting legacy, vice president Meyer caroms like a dizzy human pinball off of her office staff, fellow politicians, the White House, powerful lobbyists and high-status Washington players - all the while struggling to control the uncontrollable.
Meyer's inner circle includes her kinetic chief of staff Amy (Anna Chlumsky), the crusty press spokesperson Mike McClintock (Matt Walsh), the "right hand and body man" Gary (Tony Hale) and the world-weary secretary Sue (Sufe Bradshaw) - all of whom often do battle with the wildly ambitious interloper Dan Egan (Reid Scott) and the snooty White House liaison Jonah (Tim Simons).
Veep, while scripted, is shot in an improvisational style. Its set is an exact duplicate of the vice-presidential office as it now exists in the Eisenhower Building in Washington, DC.
"Being vice president is a job that more or less requires you to have a badge, a lapel button on you saying: 'I came second all the time,' which is something you have to kind of live with," says the show creator, director and political satirist Armando Iannucci (The Thick of It, In the Loop).
"I always felt that there are two types of ways in which Washington has been portrayed before, which is the very noble - everyone is very good at their job, and it's for the highest ends - or else it's a very cynical, corrupt, rather sinister world.
"I actually believe the truth is somewhere in between," adds Iannucci. "It's fundamentally a lot of people trying to get on with a job. Some of them are good at it and some of them are bad at it. Some of them are very ambitious. And the worst ones are the ones who are bad at it but who think they're good at it. They're the most dangerous ones."
In doing her research to prep for the role, Louis-Dreyfus consulted two former vice presidents, whom she'd rather not name, on the nitty-gritty of the job.
"I think really, honestly, the thing that I was most interested to hear about was what did it feel like to live at the vice presidential residence? What was the reality of that? It's not like living at the White House. It's surprisingly small. What happens if you have to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night? Where do the Secret Service go?"
Veep airs at 11pm every Monday on OSN Comedy.
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