Is Political Fantasy the Sick Man of Television?
Despite a stellar reception from audiences and critics alike, the sixth season of HBO’s hit show Veep pulled in just 60% of the viewership it had enjoyed for the preceding five seasons. This is an issue for two reasons. Firstly, it ought to be a crime for people not to have seen Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, a brilliant caricature of the unscrupulous politician. But more importantly this reflects a greater tragedy: real-life politics is replacing political comedy as a source of entertainment. The antics of the incompetent ensemble in Veep has been substituted for the chaos surrounding Trump’s White House, with almost episodic scandals reported weekly. Late-night talk show hosts such as Stephen Colbert and John Oliver have also decided to drop their prepared comedic material at the last moment to perform monologues addressing the latest political developments.
Similarly, British politics has presented aspects of political fiction too. The surprising unravelling of Michael Gove’s support for Boris Johnson during the 2016 Conservative Party leadership election is a prime example of the type of political treachery seen in drama, and the farce surrounding Theresa May’s Conservative Party Conference speech was reminiscent of scenes from The Thick Of It. Higher voter turnout in the UK, particularly among younger voters, may be attributed to the increasingly dramatic political scene. Although greater political engagement is intrinsically a positive thing, politics should be interesting, not entertaining. Recent examples of entertaining politics largely reflects inefficiency and incompetence. However, because these events are happening in real life, and can affect people’s lives, they prove far more interesting than what most political entertainment has to offer.
Because of its decreasing individuality, political television may be forced to adapt. This year, Netflix’s House of Cards reacted by increasing the incredulity of its plot points in order not to be overshadowed by real life. There is a consensus amongst both critics and audiences that season five failed to deliver the same quality previous seasons had.
There was inadequate existing development to make the Underwood-Underwood ticket sufficiently feasible, and undistinguished and lacklustre opponents were found in Will Conway and Alex Romero. What the writers failed to account for was that ridiculous situations in real life politics prove to be more compelling than the artificial television storylines, because real life politics has real life consequences. It isn’t entirely clear whether life imitates art or vice versa, but it can now be said that life has superseded art.
This article was originally published at beaveronline.co.uk.