Comedic trailblazer “Veep,” is back, along with its task force of political dunces anchored by President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Seinfeld”). Last season’s cliffhanger, an electoral vote tie jeopardizing Selina’s claim to the presidency, transitions smoothly into “Morning After.” Selina’s team attempts to navigate the tie –– slightly less inconceivable given Selina’s history with political chance –– while she pushes forward as usual.
The transition is made easier with Amy’s (Anna Chlumsky, “The End of the Tour”) return, even though she’s “just there to help.” Her rapid fire insults, which pale only in comparison to Selina’s crude indifference, serve as something of a reminder of how incompetent her colleagues are. While her return balances the dynamic of the predominantly incompetent, male team, even Amy isn’t safe from Selina’s barrage of abuse towards her employees.
Though many characters like Mike (Matt Walsh, “Ted”) and Gary (Tony Hale, “Arrested Development”) continue to blunder through the simplest of tasks, unaware of their own ineptitude, some like Ben (Kevin Dunn, “Samantha Who?”) and Richard (Sam Richardson, “Spy”) rise to the forefront, flexing their limited strength in the face of new challenges. While Ben offers consistent guidance, Richard is promoted to “recount specialist” when it’s discovered that his conveniently specific PhD makes him an expert on the matter. His never failing naïve optimism stands out among the team’s biting cynicism, making him a rare testament to the faith people hold in a political system as flawed as the one represented in “Veep.”
With “Veep,” political strategy sometimes takes a backseat to the minor personal hurdles of its characters. Exploiting the unfavorably human qualities of its characters pushes the show’s humor to its full satirical potential. From the team’s indifference to Mike’s news of adopting a new baby to Dan (Reid Scott, “Sister”) throwing a half eaten sandwich in the trash in plain sight of a hungry homeless man, the series refuses to hold back in its crude irony. This quality defines Selina’s character, making her both plainly human –– flawed and rough around the edges –– as well as a comedic force to be reckoned with. The raw ambition and emotional callousness that often substitute her moments of weakness and humiliation create a presidential persona that perfectly encapsulates the figures we love to mock in our own political system. This relevancy elevates the show’s humor even further.
Like any president and their VP, there’s bound to be a tense power struggle. Selina’s character has been antagonized by her fair share of setbacks, but the tension between her and her running mate Tom James (Hugh Laurie, “House M.D.”) is made even more palpable in the wake of the tie. The two maintain their veneers of political decorum as they vie for national attention, while the tension between the two stirs underneath. When Selina assigns Tom the role of economic czar against his will, dumping the crash of Wall Street neatly into his lap, she both hilariously snubs him and demonstrates the ruthlessness that has kept her going through four seasons.
This ruthlessness serves the show’s familiar dramatic and comedic devices. Catherine (Sarah Sutherland, “Innocence”), Selina’s daughter who’s usually pushed unceremoniously to the story’s sidelines, is the subject of some of her mother’s harshest criticism. Any motherly affection hinted at in previous seasons is slashed with Selina’s response to Catherine’s attempt to film her for a thesis project. After Catherine leaves, Selina scoffs that the film won’t be made, since “the only thing Catherine’s ever finished is an ice cream cake.” Though this painful comment is enough to make anyone cringe, it’s equally hilarious in its delivery. Given Selina’s own shortcomings as a president, her relationship with Catherine shines an especially unflattering light on her crassness.
Selina’s relationship with her body man Gary parallels her despotic control of her reserved daughter. However, unlike Catherine, Gary is hopelessly devoted to Selina. While he tries to cure her protruding blemish, he only makes it worse –– mirroring the narrative pattern the show takes. Any step by any character is usually a step in the wrong direction. It seems like nobody can ever do anything right, even Selina, and especially not the people she relies on (with the exception of Sue, her personal assistant).
Though “Veep” showrunner Armando Iannucci has departed the series, the show maintains its acerbic writing and gravitation towards triviality. However, the influence of his replacement, David Mandel, on the premiere is discernible. Though the show still retains the stark absurdity modeled after real world political antagonism, it does hold back a little. Whether this signals a shift in the show’s focus or a refining of its comedy, it stands to mix things up.