TCA: HBO's 'Veep' Tackles a Flawed, Dangerous Political System

Melanie Acevedo/
Veep's Julia Louis-Dreyfus

“Watching the political process at the moment, your instinct is to laugh because the alternative is to cry,” says creator Armando Iannucci of his inspiration.

Shows about politics may have struggled in the past, but Armando Iannucci argues America is ready for one now.

In fact, the creator of HBO's Veep argues that the time has never been more ripe for a series about the country's increasingly flawed political system. Iannucci’s effort, which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the vice president, will get its shot on April 22.

“Watching the political process at the moment, your instinct is to laugh because the alternative is to cry,” he says during a stop on the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour Friday.

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“I think a lot of people are genuinely frustrated because they don’t understand why so many clearly very able people concentrated in one locale can’t solve something,” continues the self-described political junkie. “So I think it seems to be the right moment to come up with something that asks or shows you how this happens."

To prepare for the role, Dreyfus met with several politicians, including vice presidents. “It was interesting what they said, but also what they didn’t say,” she says, refusing to name names in the hopes of keeping that line of communication open. The result is a series that is not designed to be about the minutia of policy or to be a commentary on a political party, which is why neither the president nor Dreyfus’ party will be revealed on the show. What’s more, the decision to cast a female in the VP role was done, in part, to avoid comparisons to Dick Cheney.

The Washington Iannucci's comedy series portrays will not be the one on display in Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, a decision that had more to do with timing than it did taste. Iannucci, who calls himself a fan of the long-running NBC series, suggests today’s audience would reject the West Wing’s "clean and normal" take on the nation's capital. “They’ve seen too much now,” he insists, adding that his iteration is based “an awful lot” on what actually goes on in Washington today.

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In conceiving the show, Iannucci had been struck by the two different ways in which Washington is traditionally shown on screen. One is West Wing’s more noble portrayal; the other is a very cynical and corrupt one. “I believe the truth is somewhere in between,” says Iannucci, noting “it’s fundamentally a lot of people trying to get on with their job, some of them are good at it and some of them are bad at it."

He continues, "The worst ones are the ones who are bad at it but think they’re good at it. They’re the most dangerous ones, and that’s really what I wanted to show."