In real life, would Underwood have had a driver? Recent headlines from London have proved that the better story would have existed if he didn't. Ten years ago, minister Chris Huhne persuaded (coerced?) his wife to perjure herself and take his points on a speeding ticket for going 69 mph in a 50 mph speed zone. The case is currently gripping Britain. Because of one traffic violation, Huhne's political career is over and he and his now ex-wife face prison time.
Over in Denmark, the traffic stakes are even smaller. In Borgen, fictional Danish Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg bikes to work, leaving behind a messy house, two kids (one a troubled teen), and a dissatisfied husband. At the office she deals with the same problems her fictional counterparts in London and Washington are facing: an unwanted war, a difficult media, rich and powerful corporate bosses, a tanking economy, and disloyalty in the ranks. There are no frills in this production, where coffee and pastries play a prominent role. But there's an authenticity here that Underwood's implausible rib-eating lifestyle completely lacks.
To the extent that Americans compete in the political humor business, it's only because of -- you guessed it -- more British knockoffs. But it's hard to export the jokes. One comedy writer, in this case a Scotsman, has successfully made power funny on both sides of the Atlantic. Armando Iannucci is the creator of both the British The Thick of It and HBO's Veep. Those of you who haven't seen The Thick of It might remember Ianucci's 2009 film based on the series In the Loop. (In any case, episodes are now available on Hulu.) Veep, a half-hour comedy show about a female vice president, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Seinfeld fame, is good but not great. The Thick of It, however, is brilliant. Its scope is broader -- the show spans all English political parties, ministers and civil servants -- yet its writing is tighter, subtler, more mature. Compare the two scenes below: Where Veep uses a sledgehammer, The Thick of It employs more precise tools.
"I was trying to use Jonah for intelligence."
"That's like trying to use a croissant as a fucking dildo. No, no, no, no, let me be more clear. It doesn't do the job. And it makes a fucking mess."
The Thick of It
"You're wanted at Downing Street ASAFP."
"Feasibly I should imagine."
Netflix reportedly spent $100 million making the dramatic House of Cards. But the funniest and most authentic American political comedy, Battleground, is on Hulu, which picked it up after Fox passed. Battleground is the "mockumentary" story of an election to the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin. The star lies in third place. There's no money in the production or the election. No spoilers as to the outcome here. But if you want American political authenticity, this is the one to watch.