June 24, 2013



No show enjoys running around in circles more than VEEP.  Armando Ianucci’s political sitcom glories in Vice-President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her staff of venal incompetents mistakenly navigating through 180, 360 and often 720 or more degrees of spin every week, usually managing to slam into whatever iceberg they’ve most been trying to avoid all along.

The only limitation of Veep in its first season was that is essentially told the same story in every episode, some incident that Selina and her cohorts would turn into the worst possible disaster and for which they’d furiously blame each other, with the whole thing starting up again the next week.  There were no real consequences, and the characters were fixed–Selina herself narcissistic to the point of mania, her Chief of Staff Amy (Anna Chlumsky) forever unable to keep a lid on the week’s crisis, Director of Communications Mike (Matt Walsh) hopelessly out of touch and his deputy Dan (Reid Scott) ruthlessly (but ineptly) after Mike’s job or any other potential step up the political staff ladder, with personal assistant Gary (Tony Hale) as devoted to Selina as a dog rescued from the pound is to his master, and her secretary Sue (Sufe Bradshaw) efficient much in the way that a sci-fi Terminator is.  In an adjacent but perhaps even more extreme (west) wing of idiocy is Jonah (Timothy Simons), the lumbering White House liaison to the Vice-President’s office, as officious as he is uninformed.

Season 2, while not taking the Veep and her staff any more seriously, expanded the reach of the narrative.  We met some new White House aides, pollster Kent (Gary Cole) and Chief of Staff Ben (Kevin Dunn), neither of whom has much use for the Vice President.  Nevertheless, for cynical reasons (as ever), Selina was brought in by the unseen President (or POTUS, as he’s always called here) to be more involved with foreign affairs, which ended up putting her in the middle of multiple crises, some her own fault (a parody version of “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” performed at a benefit dinner that managed to offend most of Europe) and some where she was a victim (not knowing that one of the hostages rescued in a raid was in fact a CIA spy).  There were set-piece episodes, most hilariously a half-hour almost completely devoted to a disastrous interview conducted by an “old friend” reporter (guest star Allison Janney) out to slam Selina, but there was also a narrative that advanced with each episode as the scandals piled up not just on Selina, but on POTUS too.

This should be even more the case in Season 3, if tonight’s season finale is any guide.  The episode, written by Ianucci and Co-Executive Producer Tony Roche, and directed by Tim Kirkby, had Selina trying to decide if she was leaving the administration with the vague hope of running for President in 6 years (a prospect that caused every member of her staff to seek–and in some cases accept–new jobs) or if POTUS himself was going to have to leave at the end of his first term in 2 years, clearing the way for Selina to begin her run for President immediately.  As of the end of the episode, it appeared that the latter was the case, which will make for a Season 3 all about Selina’s fundraising (which will re-involve her with her poisonous ex Andrew, played by David Pasquesi) and campaign for the White House.

All of this gave Veep‘s season a cohesion and momentum that Season 1 didn’t have.  There were even moments when Selina, or Amy,. or even Gary, had glints of self-realization, not that they lasted long or resulted in any change.  Still, the show’s highlights remain the viciously funny putdowns that everyone in the show rains down on everyone else, attacking their intelligence, usefulness, man-or womanhood and any other trait that comes in handy, making great use of HBO’s license for uncensored vituperation (the finale may have set a record for the number of times and variety of ways that Jonah was told by Selina to “fuck off”).  Louis-Dreyfus seems even more comfortable and assured with the diabolical rhythms of Ianucci’s flood of derision,and the rest of the cast is letter perfect.

HBO starts up the new season of The Newsroom just a few weeks after Veep has departed, and intentionally or not, there’s a joke there too, as though the sometimes strained idealism of Aaron Sorkin’s political vision can’t share space and time with Ianucci’s equally eloquent disdain, matter and anti-matter.  Both shows have their limits, and yet both add something valuable to TV’s political dialectic.  And Veep‘s is much funnier.




About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."