I ought to be rooting for Amy and Dan, the vice presidential staffers trading romantic sparks on HBO’s Veep. After all, these kids—played by Anna Chlumsky and Reid Scott, respectively—have the potential to be the next Sam and Diane. They fight all the time, but you know they’re in love. On any other show, I’d wish them the best.
But how do you cheer for romance in a comedy of failure?
And make no mistake: Veep is absolutely a comedy of a failure. Trying to free hostages? You’ll be late to the meeting. Posting on Tumblr? You’ll infuriate Europe. Buying grape soda? You’ll launch a nuclear holocaust.
Granted, all of that is very funny, the way it’s funny to see Wile E. Coyote’s confidence literally blow up in his face. The schadenfreude’s even more potent because these freaks are running our government, and if you’ve ever suspected that politicians are fools, there’s a dark satisfaction in feeling that you’re right.
Things get thornier, though, when the characters seem less like comically predictable robots and more like human beings. It’s one thing to laugh at Dan when he sucks up to a senior strategist at a Pilates class and gets trapped in an ab machine. It’s another when he does something nice for Amy after her dad goes to the hospital.
If Amy and Dan start dating, those subtle accents could blossom into defining characteristics of the show, and change what makes Veep Veep. It’s almost hard to remember now, but way back in its first season, the American version of The Office was also a comedy of failure; by the time the finale aired a few weeks ago, it had evolved into a comedy of redemption and acceptance, spearheaded by the romance between Jim and Pam.
Not being a heartless monster, I enjoyed the show's transformation—this season made me cry multiple times as Jim and Pam and even Angela and Dwight strengthened their love. Veep, however, is flintier than the American Office ever was. Even in the early episodes of the latter, you could always count on Pam or Michael to deliver pathos; on Veep, the funniest moments are the most merciless. After the Finnish prime minister’s husband groped Selina, for instance, she didn’t have a tender moment of ache—she went full RoboCop with her plans to annihilate him (one of her assistants even wanted to wipe the entire country off the map). I’d hate to see those sharp edges softened by a love story. On this show, it would be a particular loss.
Of course, the writers could mitigate the sentimentality by making Amy and Dan a disastrous couple, but that would be problematic in another way. Their failed romance would suggest the show’s cynical worldview extends beyond the executive branch, that it assumes love is as futile as politics. And that would be oppressively bleak.
Despite their self-interested lunacy, I actually like Veep’s characters. I like their willingness to get up and keep trying. If the show forces them to suffer abjection in every conceivable part of their lives, then it could transform a comedy of failure into a comedy of wanton cruelty. When Amy and Dan have chemistry without consummation, it at least creates a little hope. I’d rather live in the wonder than find out that laughing at these wannabe lovers is like laughing at Wile E. Coyote because the novelty dynamite left him permanently disfigured.
There is a way that Amy and Dan could get together without ruining the show or my view of the world, and the model to follow also comes from The Office—but the U.K. version, rather than its American descendant. On that show, Tim and Dawn (the British Jim and Pam) kissed in the very last episode of the series, thus hinting at possibilities without the complications of actual results. That’s not a very American approach to television, but since Veep is helmed by the salty Scotsman Aramando Ianucci, maybe he can resist the Yankee pressure for precious moments.
Or maybe I’m being totally unfair. Maybe Amy and Dan will get together, and the show will find a satisfying way to deal with it. But Veep would be a more surprising series if it kept the lovebirds apart and let them destroy America’s infrastructure instead.
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