In his initial meetings with HBO, Iannucci says he talked a lot about Lyndon Johnson, JFK's vice president in 1960. And the British satirist not just name-dropping — he cites chapter and verse from Robert Caro's multi-part, not-yet-finished, Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography, even making an insider's joke about it taking "3,000 pages" before Caro got Johnson into the Old Executive Office Building.
"Lyndon Johnson was like king of the Senate," he says. "But once he became vice president, people would just forget to invite him to meetings."
Iannucci says he wanted to avoid ridiculing his characters. "They're not goofy, they're not idiots. It's more the nature of the office that places them in that situation. In the end, the comedy is not about portraying these people as fools. They're just people. But why is it that the process has turned into something where whatever you do, it just comes out the wrong way? It looks bad. And then, you start with the fear of looking bad, so you're trying to cover up."
In the end, "VEEP" might not be about Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, as Rich says, but make no mistake about it, "VEEP" is all about Washington and the very real state of our nation's troubled politics today.
As part of his research into the American political process, Iannucci says, he met with workers from the "Pentagon, State Department, CIA and United Nations."
"And the more you know, the more you realize it's far worse and far more stupid than you could ever make up," he says. "And if you made up some of those situations people would accuse you of being too far-fetched. Rick Perry forgetting which branch of government he was going to close down. And then he has to go on David Letterman and make a fool of himself. … It's so belittling. Politics has become so belittling."
Echoes of the feelings that Sen. Olympia Snowe and others have expressed as they announced their retirements in recent months are impossible to miss.
"You know, everything is so ground to this kind of standoff," Iannucci says. "It's kind of a depressing dynamic, but I find it interesting. So, we find, as the series progresses, you get a sense of these characters being put through the mill really in terms of how it alters their view of politics."
And by the end of the first season's eight episodes, he says, "Selena is wondering if she stands for anything any more or what was the point of getting into politics in the first place, because of how often she's had to compromise herself and her views in order to get anything done."
Rich, who writes a column about politics and culture for New York magazine, believes "VEEP" speaks to the times in a way no columnist can.
"Rather than writing like a pundit and lecturing or hectoring about it, 'VEEP' turns it into farce, which is what it is," he says of the gridlock and partisan warfare in Washington.
"And so, for a half hour, people who are seething at the mere mention of the word 'Washington' can laugh their heads off — before they go back to seething."