My first thought upon hearing that Armando Iannucci was making a Thick of It-esque show for America was YES! Awesome! Because I love The Thick of It and, even though I’m from there and thus know what it’s like, I love America.

My second thought, of course, was how are they going to fit in all the swearing? There aren’t going to be any “we’ve negotiated for 100 ‘fuck’s per episode” type rules on that side of the pond. Even if it is HBO. The BBC has people on the Today programme say “cock-up” like it’s official government terminology. I don’t think America can compete with that.

Of course this is not the only thing different about America. Here’s how the Veep travels:

Police cars and police motorcycles, sirens blaring, lights flashing, a row of big black bulletproof versions of the strangely bulbous American SUVs that everybody drives. We’re clearly not in the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship any more!

And yet when looking for a similar haven of bureaucratic uselessness, when tiny things are magnified by the lack of any important things nearby, you don’t have to make up DoSAC or Yes Minister‘s Department of Administrative Affairs. Look, here’s a man is dressing up in a woman’s coat in which he can conceal the incorrectly-signed condolence card for the widow of “one of the Senate’s biggest perverts” that he has to steal back before it is revealed that the Veep couldn’t be bothered to sign the card.

The job of Vice President of the United States of America is famously “not worth a bucket of warm piss” according to one man who held the job, John Nance Garner. Garner’s full of good quotes on the subject: who said becoming VP was “the worst damn fool mistake I ever made,” that the job was “almost wholly unimportant” and “a no man’s land somewhere between the legislative and executive branch.”

The essential uselessness of the vice-presidency started in the Constitution, which only mentions two things for the Veep to do: take over if the President dies, resigns or is incapacitated, and be the leader of the Senate, presiding over day-to-day business and casting a tie-breaking vote when needed. In practice the Vice President doesn’t have a lot to do with the Senate any more, instead performing important but mundane ceremonial duties, deflecting criticism away from the President, and usually having some worthy but boring issues that they are allowed to crusade upon.

This first episode of Veep opens with just such a radical campaign: replacing plastic cutlery with cornstarch.

What’s so radical about that? As a senator who’s “in” with the plastics lobby tells the Veep, “Honey, what is Plastics made of? You piss off Plastics, you piss off Oil, and you do not want to fuck with those guys because they fuck in a very unpleasant fashion.” You can’t make American political drama without the L-word: lobbying. A pro-cornstarch tweet gets someone fired from the Veep’s office. The banality of government abounds.

Sadly but unsurprisingly there’s no one like Malcolm Tucker this time (because there’s no one like Alistair Campbell in American politics). As far as I can tell so far, Tucker’s closest analogue in this show is Jonah.

Jonah works at the White House — and you can tell he needs a slap because he takes explicit delight in saying this — so is often the bearer of bad news to the Veep’s office. (One of the ways he’s most like Tucker is that sightings of him by the show’s main protagonists are greeted with the same dread and brace-for-impact agitation that hails an impending Malcolm Tucker.) He’s unpopular because of the huge power imbalance between the President and Vice President and the necessity of everyone to pretend that this imbalance doesn’t exist.
Jonah replies to “Don’t tell me what to do, Doogie fucking Howser.” with “I don’t know what that means!”

Yes, people, we’ve reached the terrifying era where we can no longer insult young people by calling them Doogie Howser because they’re too young to get the reference.

Unlike Malcolm Tucker, who I actually rather like most of the time, Jonah is a repellent human being as well as a messenger that deserves to be shot.

Jonah has probably read The Game, but not enough of it to realize that the author ended up realizing such techniques are “for losers.” Jonah connives his way into getting a date with the Veep’s chief-of-staff, who hates him, just because (as he tells another (male, obviously) character): “Don’t worry about it. We’re not going to have sex. Because she hates me. But. Amy’s an eight. And if all the other eights that I do wanna have sex with see that I am capable, then I’m gonna be having some sex with an eight very soon.”

Not one of Tucker’s shouts of “cunt” hates women as much as these sentences do.

For the belief that rating women on a scale of 1-10 is an acceptable lifestyle choice, we have the PUA, or “pick-up artist,” or “irredeemable bell-end” community to thank. And I’d like to thank them especially for talking about those women as nothing more than their numbers – I’d go all The Prisoner on him but “I am not a number!” is bound to be a reference Jonah wouldn’t get either – and expecting them all to think the same way these guys think? “Oh she’s an eight, and she went on a date with him and the only point of dates is to fuck, so since I know I’m an eight too, I should totally fuck that guy!”

Yeah. Totally. Fuck that guy.

8 Responses to “Meet The Veep: Guest Post By Holly Matthies”

  1. ian B Says:

    I’m not entirely sure HBO is entirely shy of spoken fuckery. Deadwood certainly had more swearing than anything else I’ve seen. And better,too. Though of course series three never did get made. Thanks for this. I will seek it out.

  2. Hollistic Tendancies Says:

    I don’t mean to imply that Veep lacks the full complement of HBO swearing. But I remember Armando Iannucci saying that he did negotiate for about a hundred uses of the word “fuck” per episode. If he wanted to have “cunt” used more than a few times, he had to cut down on the “fuck”s (which is fantastic in itself, as it leads me to wonder just what the exchange rate for swear words is).

    And even more than the actual swearing, Tucker’s language (and thus that of the people around him as they try to cope with him) is full of insults that, even when they don’t include bleepable words, are often likely to be considered as bad or worse than swearing — like “Being a Cabinet minister is like being in the wheelchair section at a football game: you’re close to the action but hardly likely to score a goal.”

    I’m going on vacation with my parents and even though my Thick of It DVDs might be useful to my writing, as well as some of my favorite repeat viewing, I brought a lot of other DVDs instead and left them at home because I don’t want my parents to despair of me or worry about me. My dad liked Deadwood a lot and would probably agree that HBO doesn’t shy away from “fuck”ery, but The Thick of It‘s on another plane of fucky existence.

    But the swearing doesn’t have to be at that level for Iannucci’s comedy to work. The language is a means to the laudable end of creating believable characters: the reason Veep doesn’t have as much swearing is that American politics couldn’t incubate anyone like Alistair Campbell, and it’s as unfair to make American politicians as sweary as him as it would have been unfair to portray him as any more mild-mannered than Peter Capaldi does in The Thick of It.

  3. Illogical Volume Says:

    It’s a bit late late to say this, but thanks for writing this post Holly!

    I’d love to hear more from you on this (or any other) subject, if you’ve got more to say. I’ve heard quite a few people bemoaning the lack of a Malcolm Tucker character, so I’m glad that you’ve written so eloquently on Jonah’s role as the agitator of this show. He’s a perfect creep, and your revulsion at his bell end logic seems weirdly sweet to me – perhaps I’m just too used to hearing this kind of deranged blather?

    Seems to me that Veep is going to watch really well in the traditional HBO style, i.e. taken all at once, as a complete story. Guess we’ll find out when it’s all there to watch… on Sunday, is it?

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  5. Dave Page Says:

    One thing I’d actually noticed as a newcomer to The West Wing, and cross-referenced against Veep, is how the Vice-President seems to exist entirely peripherally to the day-to-day running of the Executive. It seems that the Chief of Staff has far more authority than the democratically-elected Vice-President.

  6. Dave Page Says:

    And on an entirely unrelated coincidence, I just noticed that BBC Worldwide did try a 2007 Thick of It TV movie with an American cast and a character called Malcolm Tucker, though not played by Peter Capaldi. Did anybody see it?

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