I don’t know the difference between a valance and a jabole, but I know a good Veep when I see it. Veep can’t be measured in a demographic of likeability. None of the characters are actually likeable. They may have the appearance of likeability, but that is just a front put there by tight writing and committed acting. Catherine Meyer (Sarah Sutherland), the daughter of President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), is battling a public perception that she is not likeable when she is only a true reflection of her mother. America doesn’t like her. That may sound too harsh in print, but it’s really much bigger than that.
There is nothing forced in Veep. It is steeped in the cinéma-vérité style of the original British series The Thick of It. The comedy comes from a natural place, the characters. There are none of the cloying mannerisms that go along with most TV sitcoms. Veep is the anti-cloy. The dialogue, wickedly beautiful as it is, doesn’t overplay linguistic calisthenics. It is natural, conversational and jaded as hell. Each throwaway line, and they are all throwaway lines, is a perfect punchline because we know this is what this character would say. There is nothing funny about the line “that’s good to know.” It’s not a punchline, but it is when it comes out of the side of Kent’s mouth because he has already dismissed it as he’s saying it, with dead seriousness. Gary Cole’s Kent Davison is completely different from his portrayal of the right-wing ballistics expert Kurt McVeigh on The Good Wife, but with the same tools in the arsenal. He is forever low-key, but to completely different effect.
Matt Walsh, from the Upright Citizens Brigade, brings a sad clown quality to his press secretary. Mike McLintock may be Yosemite Sam without the credibility and with Cheetos glued to his face, but he is without pretense. He’s too tired for it.
Last week, I wrote off Jim (Zak Orth), Selina’s director of communications, dismissively. To my peril. He will be missed. Tonight he was written off by Selina Meyer herself. He gets a great exit. Orth completely deflates when Meyer drops the bombshell on him. He can’t react, because she is, after all, the president, but his entire demeanor is sucked out through his navel. When McLintock asks him to make the announcement himself, to show there’s no bad feelings, the reading of the one word, “No,” is as much a “fuck you” as it is a “fuck me,” and not in that good sexual way.
Jonah (Timothy Simons) is moving up in the political world. He holds his own in the Families First talks with Dan, while an even tighter hold is tapped by the vice president’s chief of staff. Jonah is actually able to break things down in an understandable way, a commodity as rare in Washington as the size of his pendulous balls. He takes to empty promises like a Dick Cheney duck hunting buddy takes to buck shot. Oh, and King of Comedy is an underrated film. Jonah gets a sycophantic lackey of his own, Richard, (Sam Richardson), just in time to save Selina’s campaign manager from a complete breakdown.
Sue Wilson (Sufe Bradshaw) and Ben Caffrey (Kevin Dunn) are the bookend voices of reason and the final buck that is passed. Ben has to break the news about an Elton John-while-he-thinks-he’s-fat spending spree to the president while Sue gets to professionally brush off all drama with a click of a rolodex.
Bill Ericson (Diedrich Bader) is a terror. A Princeton grad in a Valentino tux, the Nazi doctor is the new director of communications. He is looking to cut off dead weight and he’s got Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky) in his sights. Amy is on the run and Chlumsky is having a blast sweating through it.
Reid Scott, who plays Dan Egan, used to have a certain venom in his words that has now infected his entire delivery. All of the muted attack the actor used in the first few seasons has been internalized to the point where he doesn’t have to push a thing for an insult or observation to be brutal. There is no more effort. The character grew, horribly but hysterically. The anger and the hatred may or may not still be there, but the venom is part of him.
Gary Walsh (Tony Hale), the bag man and president’s personal aide, is the weakest link in a dainty chain. The president does something substantial, she brings peace to the Middle East and all the press cares about is some butt-ugly Native American art and the cost of floral centerpieces that “pop.” Hale, who won a Primetime Emmy Award for the part, gives a tour de force on tonight’s episode. He gets to hit the highest of highs and the most devastating of lows. He comes thisclose to being fired and gets out of it by accident. How he is so close to Selina while being so completely unintuitive about what she needs, wants and desires is the kind of mystery The X-Files should explore. He knows everything about her and yet still cannot make one single correct decision.
I don’t know what “labor day” incident Selena Meyer is talking about with Gary. It must be something that will revealed at some point in the future. Unless it’s a reference to Julia Louis-Dreyfus spending last Labor Day with real-life veep Joe Biden, which would be good enough blackmail fodder to save a bagman’s job. The darts Selina shoots at Gary with her eyes in the speech at the dinner is an ocular aria from Louis-Dreyfus. As the head of the free world, Selina Meyer is a marvel considering her support staff, which is only as good as she really wants them to be.
Polls may be hard to read, but Veep is a consistently easy vote. Hey, would binge-watching Veep count as a filibuster?
“East Wing” was directed by Stephanie Laing. Story by Armando Iannucci, Kevin Cecil, Roger Drew and Andy Riley. Georgia Pritchett. Teleplay by Kevin Cecil, Roger Drew and Andy Riley.