Veep Season 5 Premiere Review: The Morning After

Zitzilla storms Wall Street in the Veep Season 5 premiere.

This Veep review contains spoilers.

Veep Season 5 Episode 1

How zit going for Selina Meyer? Well, she’s still president and it looks like a very slim margin of Americans want her to keep the job. She appears to have won the popular vote. Veep’s season 5 premiere, “The Morning After,” is the pill Meyer has to swallow to greet the hangover of a tied national election that could bump her back to shotgun position in the cockpit of America. And in politics, riding shotgun as vice president is by no means the same as being co-pilot.

Vice Presidential running mate Tom James (Hugh Laurie), because of some Electoral College constitutional procedure that didn’t take into account even numbers, could end up becoming president and he is not doing anything to stop that from happening. Why should he? With every word he drops to the press, James gets closer to scuttling any chance of a direct win for Meyer. He reminds the counters not to neglect the votes that might be coming in from the military, who are no fan of the current presidency. He somewhat respectfully declines his appointment to economy czar after Zitzilla clobbers Wall Street.

When life gives you Yemen, you have to make Yemenade and when four Christian missionaries are being held hostage by religious fanatics, that’s even better. The presidency of the LBJ Queen and Sargent Suckit Shriver dissolves into a mudslide, my favorite natural disaster after sinkholes, and the staff needs to change the nation’s focus. The oval office workers are desperate enough to convene a symposium on race. The Meyer administration can use any distraction while her personal handlers struggle to make her look presidential from all angles. Sure, she looks presidential while she’s walking away, but isn’t that a job that can be done by a Secret Service agent? Dreyfus plows the depths of vanity to its shallowest points. She sacrifices her face for 48 hours of photogenic flexibility.

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It’s all very stressful for the president and that pressure pops out of the side of her head. Everyone on her personal staff suffers from some kind of ineptitude, but Gary’s (Tony Hale) capacity for counterintuitive thinking knowns no bounds. It’s not just that he’s been baking a monstrous stress pimple on her face, he doesn’t get the simplest of clues. Even when they are a direct order for a snack. Gary is the master of the misread and yet he ends the night blowing on Selina’s face.

But everyone on the show misses hints. Mike (Matt Walsh) can’t imagine that the president wouldn’t be thrilled to hear about him and his wife adopting a Chinese orphan baby, but Amy (Anna Chlumsky) knows it so well he should be able to read it through the back of his head. Amy and Selina are on the same wavelength. At all times.

Ben is Selina’s only real take-charge worker. Sue (Sufe Bradshaw) is completely in charge, so it is only hers to give away. Kent (Gary Cole) can read numbers and knows the appropriate pronunciations for a number of words. But Ben can lie on command with absolute conviction and throw someone under a bus at a moment’s notice. Bill Ericson not only gets his promise vetoed, he is the very public sacrificial lamb of political convenience.

The irrepressible Jonah (Timothy Simons) has been demoted to serving under Richard (Sam Richardson), after Selina learns the lowly campaign worker has a double doctorate, one in voter count rules. Wait, what? Jonah says and it this tiny half a line outlines his entire character. He misses everything by justhatmuch.

While most of the missed hints come from incompetence, some of them come from subterfuge. Dan Egan (Reid Scott) is at his best when he’s on the ropes. Still smarting after two weeks as campaign manager drove him to a nervous breakdown, he quibs his lobbying gig just after getting fired. The vile but smarmy Dan consoles himself by vapidly enjoying a delicious hero, made more tasty by the fact that he’s eating it across from a homeless guy. The best part is that he dumps more than half of the uneaten sandwich into the trash right in front of the guy. He brings casual disregard to a new level.

The documentary feel of the series keeps the series feeling casual and fresh. Kevin Dunn brings another kind of spontaneity to his role. We know he has his lines memorized, he wouldn’t have kept his job if he didn’t, but as his character is tossing off perfect one-liners, he searches for the words for a split second. We see his eyes dart off to the right for a hairline cut of a second, to bring a little realism to the funny. The dialog is packed with punch lines and setups that play with the form in a very intricate way. But it always feels fresh and somewhat improvisational. A majority of the laugh lines aren’t even funny on their own. They are mundane sentences that are brought to life by the delivery. But Veep never falls into routine schtick.

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Well, maybe the step counter, that was a little distracting and kind of unnecessary. I thought Mike was going to have a heart attack on the stairs, actually, and was relieved when he press secretaried his way out of it and set off the intruder alert. The guy just had his family dreams shot to shit by the president as imbecilic at best and attention-consuming at worst. Mike’s not really known for his attention span. He keeps it elastic so he can always count in plausible deniability.

Catherine’s (Sarah Sutherland) camerawork should take care of the chance of deniability in the future. This student documentary is going to bite the Pimple of The United States right on the ass. I think we should start paying attention to whatever she’s recording now because I think the film will probably premiere at the end of the season. The first daughter’s restricted access keeps her trapped in exactly the worst possible vantage point from the point of view of the president’s office. She sees the worst side of the administration’s behavior.

What makes it worse for the Meyers presidency, but better for the viewer, is that she is probably both clued in and clueless about what she’s filming. One the one hand she’s been shunted off to the side her entire life as her vain mother erupted on the cheek of America. But column B says she’s so used to this behavior, she doesn’t know how much trouble her documentary is going to cause. I might be wrong, but exit polls don’t lie. The daughter’s voice can shatter bullet-proof glass and it’s going to blow a hole in the Meyer presidency.

There is a simple but predictive exchange in Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The President, played by Peter Sellers, says he does not want to be remembered as the greatest mass murderer in history. George C. Scott, as the hawkish head of the military, points out that if the president were less concerned about his image he could do more for the country. Veep explores that joke in its finest minutia.

“Morning After” is funny, all Veep episodes are funny, but it doesn’t feel as funny as it usually does. I very often lose whole exchanges because I laugh over the lines and have to watch scenes or whole episodes over again. This time, I still laughed while watching, but not hard enough to make me rewind. There is nothing wrong with the premise, delivery or writing. The episode is paced as solidly as any in the series. They are very consistent in their laugh per minute ratio. Maybe it has something to do with the exit of Armando Iannucci. While nothing may have come shooting out of my nose, Veep is still a contagious blotch on the face of America.

“Morning After” was written by David Mandel and directed by Chris Addison.  

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4 out of 5