Listen, we know our “Veep” recaps dropped off for the past few weeks. A combination of the Cannes Film Festival and screeners that didn’t arrive in time led to the gap in coverage, but when we finally sat down to catch up on what we missed, we were in for a very pleasant surprise: “Veep” has hit its stride in a major way. Unlike the overstuffed and strenously zany first three episodes of the season, a sharper focus on story and the stripping away of extraneous subplots has allowed the show’s humor to come right to the fore, and the results speak for themselves. Laugh-out-loud funny in a way it hasn’t been yet, and finally bringing greater dimension to the lead character Selina Meyer, “Veep” is now showing the teeth we’ve been wanting to see since the pilot and taking a bold story jump as well. Instead of doing full-blown recounts of what’s gone down in over the last three episodes, we’re going to summarize them briefly, each with a letter grade, before getting back in the swing of things tomorrow.
Episode 4: “Chung”
This might be the best episode of the season so far, or it’s at least the one that has provided the most belly laughs. Selina’s otherwise softball appearance on “Meet The Press” goes awry when in the closing moments, she reveals that according to her research, Minnesota governor and war hero Danny Chung — being buzzed about as a potential running mate for the President in the upcoming election — can’t actually run for the White House because he wasn’t born in America. But of course, her awkward phrasing leaves it open to a more racist interpretation and Selina and her team are left scrambling for damage control. A fortuitous crane accident temporarily distracts the media and allows Selina some prime photo ops at a local hospital, but Chunggate resurfaces hard. Meanwhile, Amy and Dan are forced to make deals with some super-right-wing senators in order to get Selina’s Filibuster Reform Bill the number of votes it needs after Senator Doyle withdraws his support, feeling he was stabbed in the back over the addition of oil men to the Clean Jobs Bill. Finally, while she’s trying to keep it a secret, her staff finds out via overheard and grotesque pillow talk, that Selina is in a relationship with Ted Cullen (Andy Buckley aka David Wallace on “The Office“). Yes, there are more than a few threads but there is a sleekness in the execution that makes it work wonderfully, the sly twist on the birther issue is tastefully played and we’re finally seeing a bit of who Selina is out of the office. Pretty much a homerun in every regard. [B+]
Quotes of note:
“Sometimes you have to go down to go up.”
“That door should be half its height, so that people can only approach me in my office on their goddamn motherfucking knees!”
“Who uses ‘withdraw’ as a fucking verb outside of Catholics and butlers—maybe the Israeli military once in a while?”
Episode 5: “Nicknames”
Timothy Simons has been great as Jonah, the awkward liason between POTUS and the veep’s office, and fans of the character were likely overjoyed to get an episode that spends much more time with him than usual. When Selina isn’t invited to a meeting at the White House about Fiscal Responsibility, she orders Amy, Dan and Mike to get their shit together and stay on top of what’s going in the office of POTUS. Thus far, Amy and Mike have been trying to keep abreast of what’s happening by keeping tabs on political blogs and searching Selina’s various, mostly unkind, nicknames — Meyer The Liar, Pissface, Dickless Can Dyke, Veep Throat, Tawdry Hepburn — which of course which she’s mortified to hear. Meanwhile, Dan tries playing the friendship card with Jonah to get him spill secrets about what’s going on at POTUS, though the effort ultimately backfires since, despite his swagger, he actually doesn’t know anything. But Selina faces a real crisis when the President axes her Clean Jobs Bill from his slate of legislature. This leaves Selina with a moral quandary: vote for the President’s initiatives even it means sacrificing all the work she’s done on the defining bill of her office, or try to sneak parts of it through as an amendment somewhere else. She stays loyal to the President and her reward? She gets the unwanted task of being the face of the President’s fight against obesity, an issue she feels is lightweight (no pun intended). This episode is really the first to test and stretch the boundaries of the show a bit — Dan and Jonah’s outings take them to a couple of different restaurants each reflecting their personalities — and it mostly works. And it’s nice to finally see Selina forced to make a hard decision, giving us a better idea of what kind of politician she actually is. [B]
Quotes of note:
“There’s this extreme metal band playing over at Labyrinth tonight. Just real fucked up noise, they don’t even have a name. Want to check it out?”
“This is fucking like being operated on by a chimp with a hard-on and a hacksaw.”
“I’d have more power in my hands if I joined one those moronic Segway tours of DC.”
Episode 6: “Baseball”
Last week’s episode sees “Veep” taking a big storytelling risk with only a couple of episodes left in the season, and one that finally sees the show tackling issues of gender and politics head on. When the staff decamps to Baltimore and Camden Yards for the new Heathy Eating Iniative, Selina reveals to Amy that she might be pregnant, and the reactions from everyone involved point to a darker side to D.C. than the show has shown before. Amy and Mike’s first worry is about how it will play in the media, and what it will mean for her career. Even Selina scrambles to make a best case scenario for the pregnancy, commanding Ted to buy her an engagement ring and working with Sue to look at her calendar to establish a backstory as to when and where he would have proposed. But we really see D.C.’s ugly side when Dan initially thinks it’s Amy whose pregnant, and presumes that if she goes on maternity leave, he would be the obvious choice for her job. Meanwhile, Gary might as well be the father himself considering how happy he is to hear the news. By the show’s end, the results of the pregnancy tests are back, and yes, Selina is having a baby. Tossing pregnancy into the storyline is a huge hand grenade not only because the show is still in the first season, but because it will be tricky to navigate this territory with taste. But it also opens the chance to truly develop the show in the direction of addressing the challenges of being a woman and a mother in the highest corridors of power in Washington. Again, pretty ballsy territory for a comedy — and who knows how this plot will resolve itself — but it’s a gamble that’s paying off so far. We’re very curious to see where the story goes next and if this scare will simply be explained away (we’re half expecting Gary to have fucked up reading the pregnancy tests) or embraced, and the show moving in a wholly different direction. Particularly if it’s the latter, we admire the ambition. [B]
Quotes of note:
“Are you pregnant? Career-wise that’s like joining Scientology or getting a fucking neck tattoo.”
“Why would we need to ban smiling? It’s not like it’s something we have time for in the first place.”
“Is this for real? ‘Cause if it is, the best thing for her legacy is if she’s assassinated before she starts showing.”
Two words: Anna Chlumsky. Aside from Julia Louis-Dreyfus who is, predictably, excellent in the title role, Chlumsky has emerged as the show’s MVP. Sharp and witty, not only does she convincingly command the role as Selina’s much-needed advisor and confidante, she’s funny as hell. There is no one better on the show who can take Armando Ianucci‘s carefully crafted one-liners and deliver them absolutely pitch-perfectly. Chlumsky’s energy alone often propels the story and it won’t be long before Hollywood is paying attention (Judd Apatow, please take note). It’s also nice to see Selina actually start to hold her staff accountable for their fuck-ups. Watching her take them down a couple notches — particularly in “Nicknames” — makes her seem more like a real Vice President, and less of a cartoon.
The guest casting has been spot on too. It’s really nice to see Andy Buckley in the mix even though we wish he was given more to do. He can be such a great and subtle comedic talent; we hope he gets to showcase his talents a little more. And it was a pleasant surprise to see Patrick Fischler show up in “Baseball” (“Mad Men” fans know him as the sleazy Jimmy Barrett) as a photographer, and it led to one of the great credit gags of the season, with his numerous in-the-moment snaps of everyone at their worst, filtering by in a great montage.
Finally, please no more Filibuster Reform/Clean Jobs plot threads. It’s boring, it’s played out. The shows tend to grind to a halt when dealing with these manueverings, and they’re not particularly compelling, so hopefully with the pregnancy coming forward, they will be tabled.