Jeepers Veep-ers! How meta is it that the latest episode of HBO’s Veep aired just days after that Princeton study that concluded that the U.S. is an oligarchy, not democracy, was released? In one of the show’s funniest – and most cynical – episodes yet, the complete distaste that Vice President of the United States Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her staff feel for us “normals” – i.e., non-politicians – is played for some uncomfortably truthful laughs.
“Alicia” opens with Alicia Bryce, a young mother in D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood who’s organizing a White House march to demand universal childcare. Alicia, played by Tracie Thoms, is papering some telephone poles with fliers when she is accosted by Jonah (Timothy Simons), who, now that he’s been kicked out of the White House and has devoted himself full-time to his Wonkette-meets-The Blair Witch Project D.C. gossip blog “Ryanology” (after his own last name, natch), thinks of himself as a storyteller, “like John Steinbeck…or Denzel Washington.”
Luckily for Alicia (though not so much for Jonah’s questionable storytelling ability), Amy, Selina’s chief of staff (former My Girl child actress Anna Chlumsky) swoops in, ready to whisk Alicia off to a speech where Selina intends to announce her presidential candidacy. It’s the perfect photo-op for Selina, who’s been busily trying to figure out what her issues and demographics are (“Education,” “Medicare,” and “NY Fitness” are some of the topics that make it into her speech), though Alicia, and the audience, don’t know yet that representatives from all those other causes will be “special guests,” too.
Selina Meyer's platform: A pet horse for every kid
Two months later, it’s speech time, and Selina’s been busy with some problems of her own back in the vice presidential office. Since the publication of her book (Some New Beginnings: Our Next American Journey), Saturday Night Live has come out with a sketch that seizes on her privileged background, and Selina’s not happy. “So what?” she asks her staff. “I had a horse as a kid, who didn’t?” (When personal aide Gary, played by Arrested Development’s Tony Hale, takes umbrage, she amends this to, “I mean, have a pet, is what I meant.”)
Sure, Selina. The political class’ inaccessibility and desire for power is a theme the episode will return to, most subtly in the Faustus and Horse Eats Hat posters that hang in the background while Selina concedes defeat to some of her party members and gets rid of Alicia, and the promise of childcare reform, from her speech. It turns out that Kent Davidson, her numbers-crunching political advisor played by Gary Cole, thinks it’s a bad idea; “Children are of no value,” is how he sensitively puts it. And (political) value is the only thing these people care about right now, with Kent going so far as to dismiss a group of seniors on the basis that their smiles and waves aren’t up to par.
The speech is mere hours away, and Senator Doyle is also unhappy with the childcare mention. “I’m not going to let the party dictate to me,” Selina tells him, to which he responds, without an ounce of belief in his voice, “Oh-kay.” After he leaves, Selina starts punching balloons, because, well, if she wants to become president, she’s going to have to gain the support of people like Doyle and let them dictate to her. She takes a moment to think it over and, in a particularly wonderful piece of acting from Louis-Dreyfus, tells her staff that from now on, “I’ve decided that I am going to let them dictate to me. Because that is my decision...But they do not own me!” Unfortunately, they do.