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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Veep Seasons One and Two!

December 5th, 2018
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Julia Louis Dreyfus’s show Veep always interested me.  I was, of course, an enormous fan of Ms. Dreyfus from Seinfeld.  The cast looked great (Arrested Development alum Tony Hale’s involvement got my attention), and the political setting really interested me.  But somehow, I never got around to watching the show!  Thankfully, I have finally remedied that, tearing through seasons one and two on DVD, and I love this show as much as I had expected to.

Created by Armando Iannucci, Veep stars Julia Louis Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, the Vice President of the United States.  This political satire follows the misadventures of Ms. Meyer and her somewhat hapless team as they try to navigate the shark-infested political waters of Washington.

Julia Louis Dreyfus is superlative as Vice President Meyer.  She is so effortlessly perfect in this role.  Above all else, she is toweringly funny.  I mean, ridiculously, amazingly, note-perfectly funny.  She’s able to play Meyer as a little dim, a little self-centered, a little bumbling, but also as a good-hearted underdog who we root for as she is ignored by the president, critiqued by the press, and surrounded by a staff who don’t exactly feel like the Washington A-team.  This is an amazing balancing act.  There is a slim club of actors who get to play an iconic character on TV.  It’s almost unheard of to get to play two.  Ms. Dreyfus makes it look easy.

Anna Chlumsky (all grown up since 1991’s My Girl) plays Amy, Selina Meyer’s Chief-of-Staff.  I love Amy, a tough, smart Washington warrior who is also human and not above an occasional (ok, more than occasional) screw-up.  Ms. Chlumsky’s unflappable demeanor is comedic gold.  Tony Hale plays Selina’s body-man, Gary.  Mr. Hale is hilarious as the fiercely loyal, puppy-dog-like Gary.  This is a classic, instantly iconic TV character.  (Remember what I just wrote about how amazing it is that Julia Louis Dreyfus was able to play two iconic TV characters on two different shows?  Same goes for Mr. Hale.)  Matt Walsh (founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade, who has also popped up all over the place, in films such as Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, The Hangover, Cyrus, I Love You, Man, Role Models, Step Brothers, and Be Kind, Rewind) plays Communications Director Mike McLintock, and Mr. Walsh is the show’s comedic sneak weapon.  I find the way he plays the weary and idiotic Mike to be hilarious perfection.

Reid Scott plays Dan, the young, ambitious smooth operator who joins Selina’s team in the pilot episode.  Dan starts off, by design, as very unlikable.  (We the viewers don’t like him because Amy and the rest of Selina’s team don’t like him.)  But Mr. Reid is able to keep the audience on Dan’s side (sort of) even as Dan continues to mostly be an opportunistic jerk.  Which brings me to Timothy Simons as Jonah, the tall, pompous White House liaison to the Vice President’s office.  Jonah is also a character who is really a jerk, but Mr. Simons brings such joyous enthusiasm to the role that I sort of love this character despite his obnoxious behavior.  Then there’s Sufe Bradshaw as the unflappable Sue, Selina’s personal secretary.  Whereas many of the members of Selina’s team tend to bumble and fumble, Sue always seems like the adult in the room, and Ms. Bradshaw can be so funny with her quick, deadpan delivery of Sue’s dialogue.

Season two added two wonderful supporting characters to the mix.  Kevin Dunn (Dave, the Transformers movies) plays Ben Cafferty, the constantly stressed, beleaguered White House Chief of Staff.  Oh my lord do I love this character and his overlarge mugs.  Mr. Dunn brings a world-weariness to Ben that I found to be endlessly funny.  Gary Cole (Office Space, Pineapple Express) plays Kent Davison, the tightly-wound Presidential Strategist (his job is somewhat undefined).  The prissy Kent was a wonderful contrast to the slovenly Ben.  These two could be co-leads of a show together!

These first two seasons of Veep had an impressive array of guest stars.  Dave Foley played the handsy husband of the Finnish Prime Minister; Allison Janney played a reporter interviewing Selina and her family at home while looking for a “gotcha” moment; Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (Clay Davis from The Wire!) played Secretary of Defense George Maddox; Randall Park played the ambitious young governor Danny Chung; Brian Huskey played an arrogant reporter looking for dirt on Selina; Zach Woods popped up several times as Amy’s sort-of boyfriend; and more.

I was impressed at how great this show was, right out of the box at the start of season one.  With just eight half-hour episodes in that first season, they blew by, and I jumped right into the ten-episode second season.  That second season was pleasingly consistent in quality with the first.  (I did enjoy how the second season shifted things up a bit by dipping into foreign relations stories, with storylines about hostages in Uzbekistan and the Veep’s disastrous European trip after offending foreign leaders with a parody song.)

Making fun of Washington phonies proves to be a satisfying target for the show — pompous and ineffective politicians and their power-hungry hangers-on are ripe for mockery.  And boy does Veep have a field day with this, gleefully eviscerating every type of Washington figure who appears on the show, from the high-ranking officials to the lowest lackeys.

The show has just the right amount of actual (fake) political business running through the comedy to allow the show to feel real, and to feel grounded.  But thankfully the show avoids ever becoming too much about those political story-lines (even serious ones like, say, the hostage crisis).  The focus is squarely on Selina and her bumbling band of idiots, and this is exactly how it should be.  (The show also does an excellent job of portraying today’s crazy 24-hour news cycle, with Selina and her team frequently moving from catastrophe to triumph and back again in the matter of mere minutes.  This is sad, even as it’s funny!)

I’m delighted to have finally started watching Veep, and I can’t wait to move on to season three!

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