Season two of HBO’s Veep hit the season three campaign trail running hard with the premiere episode “Midterms.” Usually I feel that a second season is a let down after the initial excitement of the first, but Veep far exceeded my expectations with the first episode of this run by packing in more story-relevant jokes per minute than any of last season's episodes.
The bulk of the “A” storyline follows Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) on the eve of midterm elections. Her fellow Democrats are taking a beating at the polls and her colleagues are losing their jobs all around her, ushering in a wave of new people (most notably, new committee overhaul head honcho Kent, played by veteran antagonist Gary Cole) that could lead to some conflicts for the VPOTUS in future episodes. While the House of Representatives crumbles into anarchy, enter her lovely staff; the reliable Amy (Ana Chlumsky), fiercely dedicated Gary (Tony Hale), always jockeying for a better job Dan (Reid Scott), and timidly incompetent Mike (Matt Walsh), and more chaos ensues.
Episode writer Will Smith and Veep creator Armando Iannucci’s script is tightly written and any writers would do themselves a great service to give it a watch, as it’s a shining example of a multi-layered witty comedy. Many season premieres tend to focus solely on setting up arcs for the pending season and neglect to write a compelling story for episode one. “Midterms” manages to accomplish both, and I’d go out on a limb and say it’s the best episode I’ve seen yet. It’s remarkably rapid paced, and offers laugh on top of laugh as Mike is more concerned about selling a leaky boat on eBay than the election, Dan is trying to save his job by playing both sides, and the gangly socially oblivious Jonah (Timothy Simons) runs around reporting Twitter election results seconds before Selina can break the news to departing staffers. There’s even a callback to season one where Selina hopefully asks whether the president called, only to discover he actually did. Unfortunately for the VP, she’s too busy to return his call. The premiere has the added bonus of upping the ante for the showby bringing in the “family” element to Meyer’s team not seen in the first season. Gary has a new overprotective girlfriend and Amy has to leave unexpectedly because her envious sister tells her that her father is dying (he isn’t).
Louis-Dreyfus is all over the place, offering her particular brand of screeching comedic anger juxtaposed by subtle moments of dramatic tension that her character almost always ruins with an ill-timed comment. Her “grin and bear it” smile is shining brightly as she bounces from room to room trying to make the best of the pending disaster of losing the House of Representatives to the Republicans. She manages to find a silver lining when she discovers that her role on the campaign trail was the only one (including the always absent POTUS) that actually gave a bump to the Democratic candidates in polling. In typical Selina way, she not so coyly conveys this information to the incoming Kent while simultaneously managing to accidentally destroy the Oval Office’s carpet with a melted tube of lipstick. The double edged sword of her pride is revealed when Kent ups her role in White House Foreign Policy, and Selina discovers she got more than she bargained for.
Thankfully Veep found its home on HBO and the writing staff can work within the network’s format of edgy original programming. Not to say that the show is “foul” by any stretch of the imagination, but its behind the scenes look at over-the-top cursing fictional heads of state is downright hilarious and would not be nearly as clever were Veep to be on network TV or even basic cable. A well timed “F**K!” can have a side-splitting impact given the nature of the show, whereas a well timed “Fudge!” doesn’t have the same impact. Thankfully, the show’s not all “after dark” humor, as it revels in its fair share of network-worthy jokes. At one point in the episode Dan is ushered into a think tank room by Jonah and discovers three extreme techies crunching data. Appalled by the lack of social skills of the techies he proclaims, “Jesus, I can feel my virginity growing back in here!”
Unlike the usual sophomore slump of many other returning shows, Veep continues to delight as an offbeat political comedy unlike any other offered on American television. Louis-Dreyfus and the rest of the cast are in constant fast paced conflict, and the addition of antagonist Kent will help to set up some longer rivalries for the series to come. Selina Meyer may still be waiting for POTUS to call, but we no longer have to wait for Selina Meyer; season two of Veep filibustered its way back into my list of weekly watches.