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Political Shows on the TeeVee, Ranked


The Thick of It > Veep > House of Cards (UK) > House of Cards (US) >>>>> The West Wing >[infinity] The Newsroom.

You’re welcome!

…a few explanatory notes:

  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive — on the classy end I haven’t seen Borgen and have only seen scattered episodes of Yes, Minister a long time ago, and on the poppier side I’ve never seen Scandal.
  • Commenters are right that really only the first series of the British House of Cards holds up well.
  • Accept it for what it is, and the American version is pretty entertaining.  A lot depends, I guess, on how much you like Spacey in full scenery-chewing mode (I’m a fan.)  The excessive power of the House Whip doesn’t bother me so much — 1)the bias towards green laternism in drama is understandable, 2)at least the power doesn’t primarily come from rhetoric, and 3)locating the power in Congress is at least a useful corrective.  As drama, though, I agree that at least with respect to Season 1 (just starting #2) that at its worst wasn’t plausible enough for its initial pretensions but didn’t always succeed as premium junk either.
  • Despite being essentially a straight comedy, Veep actually presents a more accurate picture of Washington than either HofC or the Sorkin shows.  Focusing on the vice president is a brilliant solution to the green lantern bias I mentioned above; political drama normally requires that characters be able to make stuff happen, but of course here the powerlessness of the lead character is a central joke.  Like a lot of comedies the first season was uneven, but the second was extremely good.
  • Am I underrating The West Wing?  Probably.  As I’ve said, I’m not even a full-time Sorkin detractor; given an interesting story and a director to push back against his worse tendencies, as in The Social Network and Moneyball, I can find his dialogue very entertaining.   But on his own and with banal political points he very much wants to teach you, I just find the thing too insufferable to enjoy its good points.  Admittedly, as I said when discussing the dreadful The Newsroom, I’m probably excessively influenced by the 9/11 episode, which arguably had the highest pretension-to-achievement ratio of any middlebrow popular entertainment with Something To Say between Sting’s “Russians” and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The rhetorical speeches of Sorkin’s political characters reach a deadly combination of boring and irritating way too often. 
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