The wonderful yet frightening thing about HBO’s political satire Veep is that it always feels relevant. And yet, even the most idiotic gaffs and biting satirical moments featured on the show can’t hold a candle to the unbelievable 2016 Presidential election. We should be so lucky if life imitated art in this case — it certainly couldn’t get any stranger.
Veep’s fifth season — the first without creator and former showrunner Armando Iannucci — continues to embrace the absurdities of political culture in the same way its timeslot neighbor Silicon Valley does. In fact, the pair most certainly make up the most scathing satirical hour bloc on TV now (and possibly ever), putting a spotlight on the vanity and narcissism that runs both machines. As Ben (Kevin Dunn) explains, the three pillars of politics are “strength, stability, and bullshit.”
There’s also a fair bit of constitutional weirdness that the show has dug out of the shadows and put in the front window. Season 4 concluded with interim President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) coming in a tie with rival Bill O’Brien (Brad Leland) in the Electoral College. True fact: if there is no other way to resolve the tie (with, say, a recount, which occupies much of the first few episodes), the House will choose the next president. Though there are of course many real-life similarities to the Supreme Court choosing the president in Bush v Gore after ballot problems plagued Florida’s count, it feels more apt these days to what may end up being a contested Republic convention. In this case, like that one, there is the potential for someone to be elected who isn’t even currently in the running. On Veep, that might be Selina’s running mate turned adversary, Tom James (Hugh Laurie), or someone else entirely. Then, Congress chooses the VP. Anything could happen.
That outcome is one that will likely not hit until the end of the season, but it also almost doesn’t matter. Veep’s best moments often come in its smallest: the group’s banter, tiny issues that become colossal mistakes, and a focus on the pettiest side of politics. The premiere focuses on a giant pimple Selina can’t seem to get rid of that appears to cause a downturn in the stockmarket, and later, she ends up blaming an inflammatory Tweet she sends to her love interest (played with incredible suave by John Slattery) on Chinese hackers, forcing her to issue sanctions against China. There are occasional moments of triumph, though, like when Mike (Matt Walsh) accidentally sets off a lock-down alarm, ending a presidential summit on race that unfortunately happened to feature all white panelists. Phew!
Needless to say, the show remains very, very funny, and that’s thanks to an incredible cast whose timing remains impeccable. Those comedic beats remain as vulgar as ever, like when Amy (Anna Chlumsky) says, “I mean, did Eleanor Roosevelt not eat pussy?” And after thinking about it, she clarifies: “It’s unclear whether or not she ate pussy, or just finger-banged her way down Pennsylvania Avenue.” Later, when Selina finds out her mother has had a stroke, she looks irritated and says with a sigh, “Again?” Then there’s Jonah (Timothy Simons), in a Skype call, telling Ben with all sincerity and genuine confusion that the political heavyweight he brought in to help with the election just told him that “Jews cause hurricanes.”
Even with such a large cast (which has smartly given Sam Richardson more of a role this year as the sunny Richard Splett), supporting characters are never wasted, even though it can occasionally feel like the comedic cup runneth over. Clea Duvall has a small and memorable recurring appearance as Selina’s new bodyguard, Hugh Laurie’s Tom continues to exist on Selina’s fringe as a smart and charming thorn in her side, and the foul Roger Furlong (Dan Bakkedahl) remains a wart on every gathering he’s a part of. Further, little threads like the continued mention of real Chinese hacker breeches into White House security and Catherine’s (Sarah Sutherland) ongoing and ill-timed documentary about the recount also seem to portend another slow build-up to some fantastic fallout, much like how Season 4 slowly teased out its exceptional Congressional hearing finale.
I haven’t even mentioned Gary (Tony Hale), Dan (Reid Scott), Kent (Gary Cole), or Sue (Sufe Bradshaw), but that’s how wonderfully overcrowded this season’s cast list is. Though it doesn’t allow for much time with almost anyone aside from Selina, it keeps the wit and speed moving at a breakneck pace as characters enter, exit, and whirl like dervishes across DC and, for much of the first part of the season, Nevada. All of this adds up to a sweeping and fast-paced examination of Veep’s take on politics, peppered with outrageous insults, and grounded by its familiar, very human myopia. Whether or not Selina ends up as president, vice president, or something else entirely, this I can say for sure: All hail Veep, and long may it reign.
Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent — Awards material
Veep Season 5 debuts on HBO Sunday, April 24th.