On Sunday, HBO will debut Veep, a political satire, following the Vice-Presidential administration of Selina Meyer, played by Seinfeld alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Based on the trailer, Meyer’s day-to-day life is constantly overshadowed by an ungrateful and meddlesome White House. The show gives voice to the classic quote of VP John Nance Garner (which is likely a media cleaned version of what he actually said), that the Vice-Presidency is “not worth a bucket of warm spit.”
I absolutely love the look on her face when she is told about the President’s chest pains and is directed to the West Wing. Amazing.
In light of the premier of another great show for political junkies, I decided to take a look at 5 TV shows and Movies custom-made for political junkies.
Let’s start as far as possible from the West Wing and head across the pond. There’s no better place to start than with the British comedy that inspired Veep. In The Thick of It, Minister Hugh Abbot of the fictitious Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship attempts, usually poorly, to do his job while being harassed and cajoled by Malcolm Tucker, the aggressive communication director from No. 10 Downing Street. The show was created by Armondo Iannucci, who also co-helmed the Steve Coogan classics Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge and I’m Alan Partridge and is shot with the hand-held, quasi-documentary style made famous by shows like The Office. The show also gave rise to a spin-off feature film called In the Loop.
Sticking with the Brits for a bit longer, the House of Cards trilogy provides a darker and less funny political satire, following the ambitious and devilish Francis Urquhart, a Tory Member of Parliament who rises (obvious spoiler alert) throughout the series to serve as Prime Minister. Ian Richardson, playing Urquhart, is a Shakespearian anti-hero, keeping the audience informed of his dastardly schemes by shattering the 4th wall and directly addressing the audience. Many of his schemes revolved around anonymous leaks marked by the catch-phrase: “You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.” Director David Fincher is working on a U.S. version with Kevin Spacey starring as the Urquhart equivalent.
These are available for streaming through Amazon and provide an entertaining look back at the 2008 White House campaign. There’s not much to say here — Saturday Night Live has been in the political satire business for over 30 years — but the 2008 campaign coverage will forever stand out because Tina Fey transitioned from a minor TV personality into a phenomenon based on her Sarah Palin impression. Here’s a sample:
Technically this is a movie, but I couldn’t help myself. Whenever the Criterion Collection releases a film, you know it’s good (except for their unthinkable decision to adapt Armageddon). Released in 1993, War Room is a tremendous documentary following Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential campaign. With the benefit of hindsight, the most interesting aspect of the documentary is how it revolutionized the role of campaign staff (and, by extension White House staff, where many of the campaign staff ended up). To that point, political operatives were behind the scenes characters. After this election, they were a constant presence on cable news and public political figures in their own right. James Carville and George Stephanopoulos become stars off this movie and the political landscape has never been the same.
And the obvious follow-up to War Room is The West Wing. Aaron Sorkin’s magnum opus was premised on the newfound public interest in the lives and careers of White House staffers. Armed with consulting help from former White House staffers like Dee Dee Meyers, former Press Secretary for Bill Clinton, and Marlin Fitzwater, former Press Secretary for George H.W. Bush, Sorkin created a believable dramatic look at the inner workings of the White House. Martin Sheen’s President Jed Bartlett was originally conceived as an occasional cameo, though his character eventual shouldered his way into regularly appearing alongside the rest of the staff. The show would always have been an interesting drama, but its significance transformed after the 2000 election, when The West Wing became the de facto Democratic shadow government — providing the country a vision of the country that could have been with an alternative political narrative and pointed commentary about failing GOP policies. The show’s influence has only grown over time. Juli Weiner recently wrote in Vanity Fair that the show birthed a generation of young political operatives inspired by the idealism and romanticism of Sorkin’s political fantasy.
If you have any other suggestions for great TV shows and movies, leave a comment below.