[This is a review of the season 5 premiere of Veep. There will be SPOILERS.]
No matter where you land on or between political party lines, you have to admit America’s current election cycle has yielded a bevy of fascinating plots and subplots, as well as an ample supply of comedy fodder. And to no one’s surprise, many comedians, media pundits, writers and late night talk-show hosts have taken full advantage of the incredible wealth of new comedic material. Some have even done it well, crafting clever jokes, parodies, impressions and satirical humor. But, inevitably, their personal political views — if not informing the humor outright — almost always seep though, often resulting in a particular candidate becoming the butt of the joke.
Of course, that doesn’t mean this type of material is bad, but one could argue that the comedy marketplace is currently saturated with it, which is why the return of HBO’s political comedy Veep is perhaps more welcome now than ever. And in its season 5 premiere, ‘Morning After,’ the Emmy-winning series once again reminded viewers just how smart and sharp it can be — all while serving as a satirical mirror to the actual political landscape and not as a vehicle for commentary.
For Veep, remaining objective when it comes to real life politics is nothing new. The series has always danced to its own beat in that regard, remaining more concerned with the silliness, incompetence and ineptitude that occurs behind the scenes rather than on the political stage. But considering how easy it would have been for the series to take pot shots at any one of the presidential candidates (one throwaway inference to Donald Trump aside), it was even more refreshing and commendable to see it remain focused on its own zany political circus, especially with a new showrunner in David Mandel (Curb Your Enthusiasm) at the helm.
And while it’s fortunate Mandel hasn’t diverted the show’s central focus, it’s legitimately impressive that the series hasn’t lost an ounce of comedic vigor after the change in creative leadership. As the premiere picks up a night after the show’s fictional presidential election ended in an unprecedented tie between candidates Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Bill O’Brien (Brad Leland), we’re thrown right back into the chaos of the Meyer camp and the familiar frantic energy of the White House staff, where arising problems are treated with more witty one-liners than actual logistical solutions, as usual.
And in typical Veep fashion, its petty, self-centered characters can’t help but focus their energy on themselves, even with the news of a severe stock market downturn and a vote recount in Nevada that could decide the election hanging in the foreground. Intent on getting his “dad steps” in alone in the stairwell, Mike (Matt Walsh) accidentally sets off an alarm disrupting Selina’s embarrassingly all-white race symposium, while Amy (Anna Chlumsky) and Jonah (Timothy Simons) both fret over being looked past for jobs. Then there’s Selina herself, who, in an attempt to get back at Tom (Hugh Laurie) for stealing her thunder on stage the night before, appoints him to Economy Czar for no reason other than to pass the impending blame for the stock market crisis on to him.
But perhaps the biggest problem facing Selina in this episode is her massive zit, which only gets larger after Gary (Tony Hale) mistakenly treats it with a heat compress. While it’s funny seeing Selina’s own vanity (which is on full display at the appointment of her “look-alike” head of security) take a hit, the resulting reaction from around the country is even more humorous, as a Twitter account started for Selina’s pimple accrues more followers than her presidential account in almost no time at all.
As is always the case with Veep, the humor here plays on two levels. The first is on a character level within the fictional universe of the show; and on another, there’s the exaggerated reflection of how things really look behind the scenes of a political campaign. Sure, the scenarios that take place on Veep almost always border on ridiculous, but if you’ve paid any attention to the campaigns for president going on right now, the sitcom versions aren’t that ridiculous in comparison.
With its fifth season now underway, perhaps the best thing Veep still has going for it is the unique position it is in. As an office comedy set in a fictional version of the White House, it can make fun of American politics without actually naming names or taking sides. For comedy fans, the result is big laughs, but perhaps more importantly, some much needed catharsis from the real and often maddening political climate in America. Needless to say, we’re happy Veep‘s back and we’re definitely hoping another strong season leads to another term at HBO next year.
Veep season 5 continues next Sunday with ‘Nevada’ @10:30pm on HBO.