Department of Communication professor Trevor Parry-Giles on the presidential sitcom "Veep."
By Paul Harris, the Guardian
She is a former first lady turned top diplomat. She had a president for a husband who was notorious for infidelity. But, with her scrappy guile and sheer determination, she remains a heroine to many ordinary Americans who desperately want her to run for the Oval Office.
But this is not secretary of state Hillary Clinton. This is Elaine Barrish Hammond, a fictional politician played by Sigourney Weaver who is about to hit television screens in a new six-part drama called "Political Animals."
American politics has rarely looked this good. In a trailer for the show briefly put online, Weaver's Hammond cuts a sexy figure, with red hair to match her figure-hugging red clothing. In one scene Hammond compares herself to great women from history. "I took this job as secretary of state because I feel I can make a difference. Eleanor Roosevelt, Cleopatra, Elizabeth the First. That's the kind of company I want to keep," she says.
That is the sort of politics American viewers can get their teeth into. Forget real-life interminable debates over the budget deficit or the constant shouting of 24-hour cable news shows. To hell with the intricacies of healthcare reform and the repetitive drudgery of town hall meetings that make up an actual political campaign. What Americans seem to want is fictional politics, not the actual race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
But not all American political shows have to be about inspiration. Though the blockbuster movie Independence Day featured a president flying a fighter jet against an alien spaceship, it is possible to explore aspects of US politics other than just wishing leaders were made of more heroic stuff. Veep fills this role. The biting satire offers a behind-the-scenes look at the frustrations and inanities of political life, explaining why little actually ever happens in Washington. While reality will show Democrats or Republicans blaming each other for the latest betrayal and feigning high-minded principles, Veep reveals the conniving, the back-stabbing and the huge egos. Then, at the end, you see vice-president Meyer let loose a string of hilariously inappropriate profanities. "I love it. I sometimes think that show is just an excuse to see how many inventive ways people can swear," said Professor Trevor Parry-Giles of the University of Maryland and author of the book The Prime-Time Presidency.