Veep has its work cut out to keep up with the real-life political absurdity

Washington insiders have long regarded the manic humour and existential crises of Veep as being not so far removed from back-room reality as you might think.

In season five of Veep, US president Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) finds herself in a presidential dead heat. HBO / OSN
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It’s the silliest of political seasons in the real world right now as the presidential primaries rile up the masses across the United States.

What is even sillier – downright insane, one might argue – is that it looks as if the real-life candidates for the White House are outdoing the comic absurdity of Selina Meyer and her cronies on the satire Veep.

Washington insiders have long regarded the manic humour and existential crises of Veep – which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Meyer, the American vice president who clawed her way into the Oval Office during the show's first four seasons – as being not so far removed from back-room reality as you might think.

"Obviously, Veep was meant to be a comedy satire," says Louis-­Dreyfus, 55, the Seinfeld alum who has won Emmys four years running for her starring role in the show. "Though I will say that some of the things that these Republican nominees are saying right now – if we incorporated those lines into our show, I think HBO would send us notes back saying, 'too outrageous'."

Veep is obviously doing something right as it sends-up the Beltway – not only is it a critical and ratings hit, but also politicians of all stripes believe it is about their opponents.

“Everybody I meet, no matter what side of the aisle they’re on, think that we are making fun of the other one,” says Louis-­Dreyfus.

Reality bites

The US political stage has produced some real-life moments that could have come straight from a Veep script – for example, when Republican contender Donald Trump mistakenly referred to the 9/11 terrorist attacks as 7/11, which is the name of a chain of shops.

Regarding his awkward juggling after another clumsy statement, this time regarding women’s rights, Louis-­Dreyfus says: “The back-­pedalling [he] was trying to master – I say in quotes – Selina was trying to do that same thing. He’s more in one camp than the other – although he used to be in the other camp – where Selina was trying to say both things at once, so as not to lose a certain part of the electorate. I find it just horrifying and funny and also embarrassing.”

Daffy Down Under

The world stage, too, is not immune to Veep-style incidents. A genuine "Selina" moment went viral on social media last month when Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull promised "Continuity and Change" several times during a press conference.

On Veep, a near-identical and equally paradoxical slogan – "Continuity with Change" – was plastered on Selena's campaign bus and banners and dropped into interviews during her run for president. "I am dumbstruck," Louis-­Dreyfus tweeted upon hearing of the Aussie campaign.

Simon Blackwell, the show's executive producer, added: "In [season four] of Veep we came up with the most meaningless election slogan we could think of. We needed it to … say absolutely nothing but seem to have depth and meaning."

The new season

The fifth-season opener, which begins tomorrow on OSN First HBO, finds Selina ensnared in the agony of a virtually unprecedented Electoral College tie, with her presidential future hinging on a handful of votes.

With staffers Amy (Anna Chlumsky) and Dan (Reid Scott) on the ground in Nevada frantically working on a recount, Selina is in limbo, as her handlers continue their mission to make her seem more presidential (even though she already is the incumbent president).

Amid all this lunacy, Selina must fend off the ambitions of her charismatic running mate Tom James (Hugh Laurie) who, in a twist of obscure constitutional procedure, could end up leapfrogging her to become president.

Curses and insults

It’s enough to make even a commander-­in-chief curse. After all, it follows that in Washington, where the most banal decisions can create ripples that bounce back as political tidal waves, playing the blame game well calls for some salty language and abundant insults.

The more brutal the insult, the better, says Scott.

“In our early rehearsals, they encouraged us to just ‘go for it’, and we were all just getting to know each other – and then we would spend days apologising to one another,” he says.

For her part, Louis-Dreyfus says she’s hardly such a poetic cusser in real life as Selina is on television, but the role is definitely having an effect.

“I can’t say that I, myself, am a big swearer,” she says. “I’m not an eloquent swearer. I don’t have that flowery, yummy language right at my fingertips. Let’s say I’m much quicker to go to words that I dare not say in this interview. I say them with abandon now.”

• Season five of Veep begins at 10.30pm tomorrow on OSN First HBO