Veep: Kissing Your Sister Review

HBO Presents A Short Documentary by Catherine Meyer, the First Daughter.

Veep’s “Kissing Your Sister” is the episode I was waiting for, Catherine’s doc. All season I have been fixated on her camera’s little red light while she’s had limited access to her mother’s administration. President Meyer didn’t greenlight most of the stuff we saw the camera catch while, but what the First Daughter (Sarah Sutherland) is allowed to use is a damning piece of evidence in the court of public opinion. It’s also a damn fine little doc.

The film-within-a-sitcom ostensibly tells the story of an historic event, a tied election that ends in an historic congressional vote. But it also keeps the pace of Veep and contains as much true grit as HBO’s Vice. What is immediately striking is how the performances in the mock documentary are similar to how the actors play them series form. Except, of course, when they are directly addressing the camera, that’s when they reveal the most by putting on an act. Except, of course, for Charlie Baird, who bares it all for the best sight gag of the episode.

Timothy Simons, as Jonah Ryan, actually pulls off a major coup by bringing a masterfully cringe-worthy realism to the scene where he’s getting in the car with Richard. First he admits the woman he slept with, whose parents’ house he is escaping from, is much, much younger than he thought. And when he admits it, there is still a little bit of bragging in his voice. He stole clothes from the father’s closet, snuck past a noisy parrot and made it out without scandal only to ruin it with a couple of half-sentences directly into a camera.

Then he makes it worse. Richard hits a stop sign, mere yards from schoolchildren crossing, because he has to drive and film the candidate at  the same time, and Jonah basically says into that camera fuck the kids, the tragedy is missing the vote.

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But what a vote. It seems like it could go on forever, especially when the congressman from the great state of Michigan says a prayer before he casts his lot with the sitting president. On and on and on he goes, like he’s on C-SPAN or something. Jesus, give it a rest.

Mike (Matt Walsh) descends to the lowest of the sad sack ranks tonight. His man-cave has a banner that says mancave. He’s putting all his fertilized eggs in one basket, and he’s had that permanently mounted to the wall.

The documentary also gives us a rare glimpse into the hidden lives of the president’s staff. Kent belongs to a motorcycle club and not just any club, his is a Spanish-as-a-first-language biker gang that’s under investigation for crimes against culture. But we’ll save that for Sanchez. Last week, Kent allowed a small crack in his numbers-crunching persona by bringing a knife to Camp David. The man who will not power down is full of surprises.

We also get to meet Ben’s wife. He’s talked about her and about his kids, but they have seemed as much a spectral presence to the audience as they appear to be to the president’s chief of staff. Ben has a nurse fetish. Either that or he’s got a thing about staying alive. He meets each wife after each heart attack. That’s a Valentine’s gift that keeps giving.

Amy is suffering her own minor heartaches. Anna Chlumsky has an amazing focus, her line reads are flawless, but she is really at her best when she is doing something non-verbal. Her whole body acts and sometimes independent of what is coming out of her mouth, which performs its own physical comedy. Take the tiny, millisecond of a scene where she asks Dan (Reid Scott), if he’s free for a, possible, date. Dan is clueless, or it would seem that way, except for the fact that he immediately, without blinking, asks Amy to tell her sister to stop texting him. Amy storms off, but the storm is more of an implosion than torrential rain because she is the most controlled freak on TV. She even co-directs her scene in the documentary.

The least controlled freak is Congressman Roger Furlong (Dan Bakkedahl). I personally start laughing as soon as he pops up now, Pavlovian dog that I am. I’ve missed some of his lines because I was already snorting at them in anticipation of what they were going to be. He doesn’t have much screen time, so he cuts straight to the bone. It is no wonder that the only person in Washington who gets him is the classy President Meyer.

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All the supporting players put in stellar performances. Veep is truly an ensemble series that showcases each character, but when you come down to it, it’s really all about President Meyer. Everything revolves around her. Meyer’s self-absorption is so complete that her closest confidant, Amy, will not only eat more shit than anyone else, but she will also always remain larger than the president, thicker, more shrill, just so Meyer can look good in comparison.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus plumbs extreme depths of shallow interests. The president is right to worry about her legacy, not that many people get to even think about a presidential legacy. Well, Jonah does in the closing credits against Richard’s plan to see the Galapagos islands, which is a frighteningly plausible future. But the president achieved something no woman ever achieved, the most abject humiliation in the history of the United States.

Veep exposes deep psychological wounds like casually scraped knees. The scars from mothers to daughters in that family can’t be covered by long hairdos. When Catherine is crying over her breakup with Marjorie (Clea DuVall), Selina is more concerned with not having to see the snot running down her daughter’s nose than the actual crying.  

That last scene where the president is bravely facing the applause of true presidential fans is heartbreaking and evidence of why Julia Louis Dreyfus is the most Emmy-nominated actress since Lucille Ball. Everything she is thinking is telegraphed through barely gritted teeth. Selina Meyers isn’t just holding up in the face of defeat. She sees what her future could have been, just as it is snatched away. When she offers to pose for photographs, she is both changing the subject and allowing herself the last chance to bask in the glory of her office. Yeah, a lot of people don’t like her, but they respect her, Peanut could have gotten a lot done if she was given a chance, but she is a historical footnote. It all comes out and she barely says a word.

Bill Erickson (Diedrich Bader) calls it. Tom James (Hugh Laurie) is a backstabbing bastard, and we love him for it. But it’s when he’s punching holes in walls that we know he is presidential material. I wonder who his veep is going to be?

“Kissing Your Sister” was written by Rachel Axler and directed by Becky Martin.  

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4 out of 5