Veep is in a separate class from most TV comedy. It is a satire without a moral compass because it is a reflection of a morally adrift universe, politics. Most comedies are happy to entertain, not just comedies, light dramas are thrilled to do a soft shoe and there’s nothing wrong with that. Veep cuts so deeply into vein of the vices of the presidency that every line is important. But none are as important as those things that can’t be expressed in words: gestures, implosions, the very heart of what a real person is. That’s important when an actor is playing someone who can never be real.
Politicians can’t be real. Their handlers won’t permit it. A single gaffe can ruin an election, regardless of how it’s been gerrymandered. There are a lot of people who believe that politicians aren’t even people, which is why Veep is important. Veep shows that the most horrific decisions, performances and abuses of power could be made by anyone. Anyone whose heart has been frozen in the cryogenics of the political world, that is.
Tonight’s episode, “Joint Session,” could be basically a Seinfeld episode about a Tonight Show gig. The speech before the joint session could be a marble rye. We know the speech is going to be fucked up. It’s the joy of wading through the nothingness of Washington that makes it worthwhile. Every single person on Selina’s staff is a low rent George Costanza, even when they are doing their best. Especially when they are doing their best.
The new season opens with the support staff as ducks-out-of-uncharted-waters. But they are all enablers. Selina has an easy excuse for every screw-up because her staff is universally regarded as less than ept. The new guy in the office comes from past presidencies and is so used to things not coming together that he’s used to it.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is comfortably funny in front of a crowd. Watching her fumble her way through the speech as her crew scrambles to upload it to the teleprompter reinforces her Saturday Night Live improvisational muscle. She is a flop sweat jazz solo, hitting the rhythm of the bebop saxophone and every rim shot and hi-hat stutter.
Kent Davison (Gary Cole) is amazed and amused by her depth, but Kent is really coming into his own ineptitude. He owns it now, just by admitting that he’s never seen Reservoir Dogs, even as he’s quoting it. His professionalism never flags, even as he’s getting slapped away by Sue Wilson (Sufe Bradshaw), the only ept person in the president’s crew. Kevin Dunn’s Ben is the only person I would trust on my staff besides Sue. Kent majored in fortune cookies.
Dan Egan, played by Reid Scott, has grown. He’s been through the looking glass, even grew a beard last season, and he’s come back so jaded that the old jaded him is mere tarnish. He’s simmering. Anna Chlumsky, as Amy Brookheimer, who took over the campaign manager gig from Dan, is a simmer symphony as she’s threatened with losing the job to a champion pinhead. Chlumsky’s eyes make even the most serious readings a kidney punch line.
Gary is locked out of all the presidential meetings. Leviathan, the presidential bag, is allowed in, but not the bag handler. So he resorts to stalking Madam President in what looks like a sniper’s perch. A room that was designed for the first ladies to spy on the chief executive boardroom. This of course leads him into what is probably treasonous territory when Jonah (Timothy Simons), who now brings his noxious girly voice to the vice president’s staff in the Eisenhower Building, spies the president in a meeting she does not want her new veep to attend. Jonah is the West Wing wiretap trying to stop the cycle of vice presidential abuse, but it opens him up to his own abuse. With balls that hang like his, how could he not?
The episode’s word of the night was balls. Last season there was an episode that explored scatology like it was a college major. Every imaginable version of shit was shat. The current president has to deal with the clanging balls of the buzz-cut bozos from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Jonah’s strap-on-in-a-porn-dungeon junk bonds. As Gary points out, when he’s removing her eyeglass case, Selina could totally pull off having a penis. The fifty billion defense cuts become a sixty billion plan for giant metallic dildos.
The law of Veep is not that everything that could go wrong will go wrong, but that everything goes wrong in the worst possible way. Every decision is infuriating. The military agrees to cut a project that will cost billions, tens of billions, in a cock thumb, which is DC terminology for negotiations. But the congressional district where the project is being built blocks anything reasonable.
A review is supposed to tell you whether a show is worth watching or not. This is a very good episode on a show that is consistently super. It’s worth watching twice because there are so many jokes that hit dead on target. The throwaway lines are all keepers. If Seinfeld represented 90s America in a show about nothing, Veep encapsulates the age of political nothing, from the do-nothing congress to the nothing-can-get-quite-done presidency. The entire government is George Costanza not wanting to give up the office with the private bathroom.
“Joint Session” was directed by Chris Addison. Story by Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell and Georgia Pritchett. Teleplay by Simon Blackwell and Georgia Pritchett.