Five Political Shows To Prepare You For Season Three Of Veep
The new season of the hit political series premieres on Monday. Here are some others to tide you over this weekend.
Armando Iannucci’s political comedy Veep is returning for its third season this weekend, which is exactly the antidote we need for, well, all the bad things in the world. I can deal with climate change making the planet uninhabitable for humans, so long as it happens after Veep is done.
If you haven’t seen the show, it stars Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Vice President of the United States, frustrated at being in such a high office that carries no tangible responsibilities. It’s incredibly funny political satire that is appointment viewing.
As obsessed devotees of The West Wing and House of Cards will testify, the world of politics is prime for both comedy and drama. If a whole new season of Veep isn’t enough to satisfy your cravings, here are a handful of great political shows you might have missed.
Tanner ’88 (1988)
It’s criminal that this show — which would be considered groundbreaking television if made today — has been lost to obscurity. Writer Garry Trudeau (creator of the brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning Doonesbury comic strip, now in its epic 44th year) and director Robert Altman (the legendary filmmaker responsible for MASH, Nashville, The Player, Gosford Park, and too many others) teamed up to make a show for HBO which would follow the fictitious former congressman Jack Tanner as he ran for President in 1988.
Real politicians and media figures played themselves alongside actor Michael Murphy’s Tanner, and the way in which the show eviscerated the political sausage-making was even more groundbreaking than its documentary style and casual profanity.
A very young Cynthia Nixon, who would later find stardom on HBO’s Sex In The City, portrayed his idealistic activist daughter, Alex. In 2004, a four-part follow-up called Tanner On Tanner saw an adult Alex making a documentary about her father as he travels to the National Democratic Convention for John Kerry’s nomination. It’s a nice follow-up, but it’s the original Tanner ’88 that you need to see.
Yes, Minister (1980-84); Yes, Prime Minister (1986-88)
For those too young to have grown up on the ABC’s endless repeats of the show, Yes, Minister (and later — spoiler alert! — Yes, Prime Minister) was a three-camera sitcom set inside the fictitious and necessarily ill-defined ‘Department for Administrative Affairs’. The show basically riffed off the conflict between the politician Jim Hacker MP, and the civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby.
It sounds dry as hell, but it’s one of the sharpest, most brilliantly-scripted television programs ever made. The genius of the show was that it looked on the outside to be pro-establishment — it was reportedly actual Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s favourite show, and the UK’s most prominent wowser Mary Whitehouse adored it — yet it was anything but.
Yes, Minister was a brutal dissemination of the status quo, making us just as corrupt and complicit as the characters. We would share Hacker’s idealism at the start of each episode, but end up cheering whenever he’d sell out his ideals to maintain the status quo. That the show could make not just its characters, but its audience compromise its ideals in less than half an hour is what made this incredibly funny show such an enduring classic.
K Street (2003)
In 2003, Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney made K Street, set inside the world of Washington DC political lobbyists. Tanner ’88 is in its DNA, as its documentary style mixes actors with real-life political figures.
The show centred on a fictitious consulting firm run by husband and wife duo, Mary Matalin (Republican) and James Carville (Democrat). If that setup sounds ridiculous, then you should know that Matalin and Carville are real people, and their marital political disparity is the stuff of legend in DC.
The show failed to make a big cultural impact despite the pedigree of its creators, but it’s an absolute gem that depicts a side of politics that rarely gets the spotlight. The show also starred The West Wing’s Mary McCormack and Mad Men’s John Slattery.
The Games (1998-2000)
I know, I caught you by surprise there. You were expecting the token Australian entry to go to Working Dog’s excellent Canberra-set, The Hollowmen. But John Clarke and Ross Stevenson’s show about the organising of the 2000 Olympic Games is our country’s best examination of the absurdity that is bureaucracy in action.
Clarke stars alongside Bryan Dawe, Gina Riley and Nicholas Bell as the team tasked with ensuring the Olympic preparations come off without a hitch, trying to please the IOC, the Australian government, and the numerous officials each with their own ridiculous agenda. Few programs have dealt with the insanity of the process as well as this one. It lasted two seasons, and every four years I pray for its comeback.
The Thick Of It (2005-2012)
For fans of Veep, this should be your first stop, as Veep is basically the American version of the UK’s The Thick Of It. Armando Iannucci’s show about feckless politicians and rabid civil servants is basically the modern day version of Yes, Minister, except with characters who respond to knocks on the door with “Come the fuck in, or fuck the fuck off!”.
Newly announced Doctor Who Peter Capaldi plays Malcolm Tucker like a Scottish attack dog, brutally destroying everything in his path. Profanity is an artform in The Thick Of It, which spawned an equally-funny feature film, In The Loop.
Veep Season Three premieres on Foxtel’s Showcase on Monday April 7 at 5:35pm.
Lee Zachariah is a writer and journalist. He co-hosted the ABC2 film comedy series The Bazura Project, and is a co-presenter of film podcast Hell Is For Hyphenates. He tweets at @leezachariah.