Back to IndieWire

‘Veep’ is in the (White) House

'Veep' is in the (White) House

Bad behavior still knows no gender in the new season of HBO’s “Veep,” which starts up as Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is about to make her first speech as – unbelievably – POTUS.

Yes, she got there before Hillary IRL, and she’s milking it. “Making history! First woman president!” she shouts as she’s glad-handing her way into the chamber. “Well, I am, you’re not.”

A traditional TV rule is it’s almost never as much fun to watch someone (or a couple) succeed as it is to watch them fail, but seeing Louis-Dreyfus’ character in the Oval Office is just as cringe-inducingly satisfying, if not more so, than her stint in the VP office. Because she certainly hasn’t gotten any more competent in the transition — only more power-hungry, not to mention petty:

Sue: Ma’am, the Apple Growers Association would like to name an apple after you.

Selina: Is it a good apple?

Sue:  It’s a baking apple.

Selina: Fuck ’em.

I was pleased to see that three of the first four episodes in this season were directed by women: two by Becky Martin of “Getting On” and one by Stephanie Laing, who’s also an executive producer on the show. Per the show’s equal-opportunity assholishness, gender isn’t usually a focus, but there’s lots to be said for having a female perspective helming a show about a cartoonishly bad female president.

One of the show’s strongest suits has always been its lightning-fast, custom-tailored insults, no surprise coming from Iannucci:

I think the quantity and caliber of the zingers have only grown in the show’s fourth season, which sees the return of most of the supporting players (Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Matt Walsh, Sufe Bradshaw, Gary Cole, Kevin Dunn) and the addition of Patton Oswalt as a regular: Teddy, assistant to the new Vice President (Phil Reeves). In a show that manages to fling “your mother” insults around liberally while still seeming almost post-misogynistic, it introduces an unexpected sexual-harassment storyline — for Jonah (Timothy Simons), of all people, whose crotch is repeatedly grabbed by Oswalt’s character (their height difference alone makes for good physical comedy). Of all the unlikable players in “Veep,” Jonah is maybe the most sycophantic and parasitic, but when Dan (Reid Scott) discovers what’s going on, he’s still taken aback — surprising for a staffer so slimy that almost nothing could shock him.

More broadly, the show gets endless comic fodder out of watching Selina’s underlings — which includes absolutely everyone, now that she’s president — have to treat her with deference, even when she’s outrageously wrong, which is most of the time. In the first episode, her meeting with the Joint Chiefs is another study in comic physical contrasts, a roomful of stiff-spined men in military uniform sitting awkwardly on Oval Office couches as Selina smirks at them like a canary-eating cat. Her budget-cutting ploy will, of course, backfire; edits to it will leave her teleprompter blank as she begins her first speech as president. Tantrums are, as ever, the watchword of the Meyer administration.

Her meeting with the Israeli prime minister (“Middle East? Middle EASY,” she proclaims on her way in) is overshadowed by Gary’s attempt to find table centerpieces that “pop,” much to the consternation of the White House party planner (Michaela Watkins). And her daughter Catherine (Sarah Sutherland) is found to be vastly unpopular with the public, largely due to what the internet would call her “resting bitchface.” Gary Cole’s advisor character, Kent, is tasked with burnishing Catherine’s public image. His canny advice: “Shortcuts to public affirmation are military service or childbirth.”

Tony Hale’s long-suffering Gary even gets a moment of triumph after being taken for granted by Selina one too many times, on what the staff are hilariously celebrating as “Harrison Day” — the day she’s officially been in office longer than William Henry Harrison, the shortest-termed president in American history, who died on his 32nd day in office.

In a year when we’re contemplating the actual run of an actually competent woman for the office, “Veep” is maybe more enjoyable than ever in its pitch-black, cynical, yet oddly progressive assessment that gender has less bearing than you’d think on the craven machinations inside the hallowed halls of the US government.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged , , , ,