Veep debuts on HBO this Sunday and, unless the entire enterprise implodes during the title sequence, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as Selina Meyer, will present viewers with the most well-rounded fictional female vice president in memory. Which is worth something, because the lady vice presidents, while not as common as smart-aleck deputy chiefs of staff or press secretaries who are all bravado, is an oft-used stock character when movies, books, and TV turn their gaze to Washington.
Unfortunately, they haven't come off very well. In fact, every female vice president falls fits neatly into one of five basic character types:
Rod Lurie's 2000 thriller The Contender is arguably the Citizen Kane of female vice president movies. The cast is top-notch--Jeff Bridges makes a fine shark sandwich-munching president, Joan Allen is good as a moderate senator from Ohio named Laine Hanson, and Gary Oldman chews the Capitol rotunda as Rep. Shelly Runyon, Hanson's folksy House-side nemesis--but the movie makes no sense and it's all the Hanson character's fault. Her confirmation is jeopardized when it emerges she may have been a participant in a public sex show while at Yale. She wasn't -- that's the movie's second big third-act reversal, in addition to the revelation
Oldman a lightweight southern governor played by William Peterson masterminded the car accident that killed the first vice president (it's kind of a silly movie). So why didn't she just say that to begin with? Well, Lurie wanted to make a very year 2000 point about the Starr Report (wasteful) and the tone in Washington at the turn of the century (not nice), but it's tough to embrace a protagonist who endangers the health of a presidency to make a point about Decorum. The movie's view of politicians is not charitable -- Oldman, the Chairman of the Appropriations committee, Peterson, the smiling southern governor murdered the vice president! (in our defense it involves lots of cars and misdirection about who is doing things and what they hope to gain by them.) Still, Laine's good fight -- good as it is -- is also kind of crazy and selfish. What kind of wife, daughter and politico would let people go around saying she participated in an orgy while Skull & Bones types watched when in fact she she did not? That's just silly. People are going to say awful and scurrilous things about those in power in Washington anyway: not usually this graphic, but that's how it goes. But elected officials -- visitors to a real city with real natives who look our for their own, tend to view D.C. as an unholy swamp from May through late-September and a spectacularly inefficient company town year-round. There's some degree of truth in that, but one simple rule remains: if you can opt-out of a brewing, do it quickly. There are enough real ones to go around, and your reputation will be that of a fighter, or possibly just a dependable salt-of-the-earth type. (Depends how much temptation you turned your back on and told everyone about later.) Laine's problem was that she'd rather teach everyone a valuable but complicated point about ethics than deny a slander against her name. Important, but you can't imagine Jeff bridges letting her on ticket, even if he would serve another terms, after burning through his coalition to defend his new vice president right not to talk about provocative and unbecoming public sex she never even had. In her own way, she's crazier and less willing to compromise than Rumson, though she doesn't have Gary Oldman's vaguely American accent, sprinkling of old-age-makeup, and three piece suits that fit fine when he's alone and bunch up in the presence of other. She's just Joan Allen: competent and decisive, in warm browns and faintly preppy Carolina blue blouses. If we like her -- and we do, because she's not Gary Oldman-ning all over Foggy Bottom and eating shark sandwiches like the commander-in-chief. She seems like one of the normal ones, not just passing through. D.C. tribes in established established places like Georgetown and Kalorama will identify her earlier as one of their own, which will be echoed in the slightly-less-established but still quite established neighborhoods of AU Park, Cleveland Park, and Old Town Alexandria where Laine will inevitably find herself socializing on her terms if she so chooses. With the truth on her side, with the cultural of a town that wants to support someone like Laine Hanson -- not because of politics, this is just a place where nobody likes to see anyone getting railroaded -- the smart lady's non-answers feel like a mean-spirited ruse when she reveals to Brooks that nothing happened. She could have said that, it would have been the truth, and it would have spared her family and D.C. friends from having to wonder about an incident decades ago that she refuses to discuss, and what could have prompted her to keep her silence in front of Congress. (Movie ethics.)