Generally speaking, Veep and Silicon Valley have very little in common. Both are inside-baseball comedies about, respectively, the White House and the tech industry, and both have coveted Sunday night slots on HBO, but other than that their themes rarely overlap. Last night Veep changed all that.
As the Season 6 premiere opens, everyone from Selina Meyer’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) team has disbanded after she lost the presidency at the end of the fifth season. Former campaign manager and advisor Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky) is working on her new fiancé’s Nevada gubernatorial campaign; former PR flack Mike McLintock is losing his mind as a stay-at-home dad; and one-time White House Chief of Staff Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn) is now an advisor at Uber. Or at least he is until his first presentation.
Ben’s meeting with Uber is works on two levels. The first is standard fish-out-of-water fare: a harried old-school Beltway vet like Ben trying to discuss federal tax loopholes with a room of slide-dek-desensitized millennials is just a solid joke. But people who have more than passing familiarity with Uber (ruefully) laugh for entirely different reasons. For them, the scene works because the company’s relationship with government regulation is more than a little fraught; for them, the diverse, sensitive, and fictional Uber employees are a sly wink at the company’s tech-bro reputation.
Whichever level works for you, the scene’s final bit—Ben using the phrase “Chinaman’s chance,” and then defending himself with “my wife’s Oriental. All of them have been!”—is the very essence of a Veep joke: skewering DC’s old-boys network and its retrograde attitudes not with wit, but with crassness. But it’s also straight out of the playbook of HBO’s other great industry satire, Silicon Valley: playing on your familiarity with a preeningly “enlightened” tech culture that prides itself on its progressiveness, even when its actions are anything but.
Last night wasn’t the first time Veep took a shot at the Valley—back in Season 3, Selina Meyer visited a Google-esque tech company called Clovis, which she called “kindergarten for cyber-brats”—but that joke was more about the fact that the Veep didn’t get Silicon Valley. Last night’s Uber bit was proof that Veep now exists in a comedy landscape where everyone does.
In the months since the two comedies finished their most recent seasons, the U.S. made Donald Trump president and then demonstrated just how awkward the relationship between an idealistic tech community and a big-business administration could be—and how buddy-buddy it could be, too (::cough::Peter Thiel::cough::). Now most Americans, wonks or otherwise, are more familiar with Silicon Valley than they ever were before. So familiar that showing besuited “Beltway Ben” trying to get along in the hoodie-rich offices of Uber is a joke that not only translates, it feels very real.
The odds that Veep will try to pull off many more tech industry laughs are pretty low. As last night’s episode ended Selina Meyer still had a firm, delusional grasp on the idea that her best days in politics still lay ahead; she’s not out to do some kind of reverse Carly Fiorina and gun for a career in tech. But, as last night proved, if Veep ever becomes CTO, the laughs will ring just as true.