Over the long weekend, two shows aired episodes that offered suggestions as to why Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign isn’t winning the pop-culture conversation to the degree that Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’s are.
In Sunday’s extraordinary, give-’em-all-an-Emmy episode of HBO’s Veep, the title told you what you needed to know: “C**tgate.” Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s President Selina Meyer became aware that someone on her staff had called her the C word, so she tried to find and excoriate the culprit — when, of course, it turns out that everyone on her staff, including Amy (Anna Chlumsky), has called her that gravely appalling word, and the individual guilt and fear each character felt about potential exposure was very funny.
But at the heart of the episode was a short speech Selina delivered to Amy — presumably written by the episode’s credited writers, Georgia Pritchett and Will Smith — in which the politically battered commander in chief spoke freely about the use of that slur: “I am the first female president of the United States. This is an affront. I’ll tell you something, Amy: A lot of people don’t want me to be president. And you know why? Because, fundamentally, people hate women. Right? I mean, they’ll just stop at nothing to get me out of here. Everybody’s trying to get me! But I’m not going to let them.”
This is how Veep operates: Stealth criticism of real-world politics in the fictional context of the Meyer presidency. As directed by Brad Hall (Louis-Dreyfus’s husband), the episode was at once brutally realistic about and sympathetic to Selina’s pain. That speech also encapsulated one (rarely stated) reason an awful lot of people aren’t going to vote for Hillary. (I should also say that this episode featured a slew of other great lines and subplots, including daughter Catherine’s coming-out — go watch this half-hour ASAP.)
Meanwhile, the season finale of The Carmichael Show was titled “President Trump” and set up a pitched battle between Joe (David Alan Grier) and Maxine (Amber Stevens West), Jerrod’s father and girlfriend (and now-fiancée? — the show was cleverly vague in a funny proposal/non-proposal scene). Maxine is a Bernie fan; Joe supports Trump and attended one of the candidate’s rallies. (Jerrod, an innocent bystander, was stabbed during the rally.) Arguments ensued of the sort we now expect from this excellent sitcom — funny stuff spiked with sharp observations about politics, race, and class.
But, despite the episode title, the half-hour reserved its most cutting comments for Hillary. Jerrod’s mom Cynthia (Loretta Devine) said she backed Clinton, to which Jerrod said, “Sometimes I forget Hillary is even running… [she’s] that popular and that forgettable at the same time.” Even Cynthia got in a dig at Clinton’s lack of sartorial flair, admitting that she thought Hillary dressed like an extra from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
And so while you might admire the boldness of hearing, on an NBC prime-time sitcom, Donald Trump referred to as “the next Hitler,” the undercutting of Hillary as scarcely worthy of prolonged discussion or debate was even more striking.
Clinton got a cool-pop-culture boost a few months ago when the Broad City gals had her on for a cameo and went slack-jawed gaga over her. But since then, other than SNL’s usual, irritatingly toothless gibes, Clinton barely registers as a pop-culture presence. And as we know from this highly unusual campaign season thus far, you have to be a big part of the TV conversation to make your presence felt. At this particular moment, Hillary Clinton is coming across like a lame duck.
Veep airs Sunday nights at 10:30 p.m. on HBO. The Carmichael Show will return on NBC next year.