Season 2, Episode 1: “Midterms”
At this point you’re either watching “Veep” to keep up with the endless one liners, in order to cherish the handful that make it through and result in a good belly laugh…or you’re not. One complaint that we had following season one was that Armando Iannucci often put the gags in front of any kind of characterization, and he’s not changing his game plan with season two. But if the season two opener is anything to go by, it results in another uneven mashup of sitcom setups in a show that always wants cut a slice through the absurd world that is DC politics.
But credit where credit is due — I can’t remember the last comedy season premiere that started with this much energy. It’s the midterm elections, and Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her team are up late, and watching their party get pummeled. It’s a grim scene. Selina — who spent months getting behind candidates in various states in the run-up to the vote — is worried a poor showing will make it even less likely for her to be involved in big White House decisions from a President who already ignores her. But, a ray of sunshine does come in, ever so briefly.
Despite the carnage happening at the ballot box, it turns out Selina’s support for the various party candidates, resulted in a 0.9% lead over politicians backed by the President himself. It’s victory, however small, and she’s going to run with it. And that means clashing with Kent Davidson (“he has ice in his semen”), played by the always excellent Gary Cole, a ruthless strategist brought in to advise the President on every move he makes, by scrutinizing every line of polling data that comes in. Friend or foe, if you’re bad for the President, Kent is going to keep you away. But the (really) tiny bit of leverage that Selina attains achieves the impossible…
…the President actually calls. After a full season one of, “Sue, did the President call?” the answer is finally “Yes,” but of course, we don’t see or hear him and instead his requests are passed down through White House Chief of Staff Ben Caffrey (Kevin Dunn, another excellent character actor). Sickened that the results of the election might cost him his job (“I’d like to be cryogenically suspended…never wake up, just stay suspended…”), Selina’s minor’s boost also sees him stick around as he has to bring her up to speed on Foreign Policy. Yes, it seems the VP is finally going to get in on some actual hard decision making in the White House.
Meanwhile, around Selina, a variety of minor comedic dramas are playing out: her body man Gary (Tony Hale) suddenly has a girlfriend named Dana that he apparently can’t stop talking about; a tired subplot carried over from season one that finally resolves with Dan (Reid Scott) ending his feud with Congressman Furlong; and Mike (Matt Walsh) is in financial trouble after buying a boat, while Amy’s (Anna Chlumsky) father has been admitted to the hospital.
The problem however is that these are comic situations first and foremost. So we don’t see how the endlessly busy, somewhat milquetoast Gary manages to land a girlfriend as attractive and self-possessed as Dana — the joke is that she’s attracted to him at all, the mileage of which is expired in one scene. Meanwhile, Mike’s money woes feel more like something introduced as a joke device than an organic part of his character. And attempts to sort of humanize the salty tongued Amy with a family situation seem forced as well. It’s almost like you can hear the writer’s say, “Well, where could we place them now?”
All that being said, there are few shows moving as fast as “Veep,” and while that means there are going to moments of some awfully lazing writing (Nuremberg, Jonestown and the Holocaust are all used as punchlines within the first fifteen minutes), the moments that shine are truly bright. It’s becoming clear that “Veep” is similar to “Parks and Recreation” in its relationship to actual politics. But curiously, it’s the latter show that has more rounded characters, and oddly enough can have more depth as well. Whether “Veep” aspires to something a bit more meaningful or is just content to keep launching zingers remains to be seen. [B-]