“Veep” doesn’t mess around. While the vicious political comedy has felt lean since day one, creator and writer Armando Iannucci has continued to shed fat season by season. None of the perfectly honed cast members have been cut for space. Rather, space is at a premium, and it’s air that’s in short supply. Few spaces exist between jokes, with insults and sarcastic quips being shot out at a remarkably rapid pace and from every angle imaginable. Characters enter and exit on well-timed cues masked by a moving, zooming, roaming camera accurately conveying the hectic nature of the office next door to the White House. As its abbreviated title suggests, “Veep” is a fast, furious comedy and it’s yet to be matched in its charmingly vulgar brand of television.
Season three, which premieres Sunday night at 10:30 pm, finds the VP embarking on a book tour to promote her novel that’s really all about prepping her upcoming presidential run. The never-seen President has yet to tell the public he’s not running, despite two months separating the narratives of the season finale and the premiere. Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is stuck in Iowa courting votes for the caucus while her staff is back in the capital attending Press Secretary Mike’s wedding. One might think separating the head from its limbs would end with diminished returns laugh-wise, much like the best episodes of “Friends” or “Seinfeld” were when all six characters interacted in the same room. Instead, the VP’s mounting frustration with her less-than-helpful new aide and her inability to connect with her team thanks to a “no cell phones” rule at Mike’s wedding creates a compelling clash of wills filled by countless jabs. The premiere of season three is truly something to behold, with no stone left un-shamed in a whirlwind of precise put-downs.
At the premiere screening at the Paramount Theater in Hollywood, Iannucci joked that his cast was “better than ‘House of Cards.'” While it’s pointless to compare the performances of a soapy drama with a straight comedy, the players in the VP office are an undeniably talented bunch. The cohesion alone is exceptional. Each member plays off the others with consistent verbal pacing — a not so easy task when barbs are flying at such a rapid rate. Everyone has embraced the darkest aspects of their characters while still managing to infuse humor into their demeanors.
Louis-Dreyfus, an Emmy winner for her role as the VP and leader of this thespian pack, dials up the exuberant anger in season three that’s been building since episode one. In a moment of climactic annoyance, Louis-Dreyfus takes out her anger on a batch of balloons, one popping and resting on her chest. She slowly removes the deflated piece of plastic, casually tossing it to the table, and then erupts in a defeated tirade horribly masked as an exclamation of her power.
Scenes like this, where characters reach a breaking point and react with unexpected vehemency, aren’t uncommon in the first five episodes of season three. Reid Scott’s Dan, who’s battling Anna Chlumsky’s Amy for the VP’s campaign manager position, is given a particularly ferocious spew of vitriol during a debate over abortion. The usually serene Mike, established so perfectly as the lovable loser, meets his match when trying to calm a citizen whose role in the VP’s speech has just been cut. But it’s Tim Simons’ Jonah, the most hated man in D.C. and the VP office’s most cherished chew toy, who’s given the best scene of utter indignation. While I won’t spoil the major plot point in the premiere episode, you know you’re in for a treat when Dan pulls out his iPad and starts gleefully filming Jonah’s misfortune.
Yet with all the anger, all the issues, and all the passion being deliberately thrown around on “Veep,” the show remains impressively apolitical. We have no idea what party Meyer represents. Just when you think she’s a Democrat because of her (and the President’s) pro-choice beliefs, there’s a joke about her being used as a puppet by the party elite filled with “dead-eyed white guys.” “Veep” isn’t about picking sides so much as it’s about painting every politician as a manipulative, heartless, sleaze ball. Iannucci, a native of Scotland, made a wise decision keeping his characters on neutral ground. With all this nasty chatter flying about, it would have been easy for the show to take a dark dive away from what’s funny. Instead, we all get to laugh along at the characterizations of our country’s leaders as they commit selfish act after selfish act, all for the betterment of themselves.
Criticwire Grade: A
Take a look at a sneak peak at Sunday night’s season three premiere below.