Veep: “Camp David” Season 5 Episode 8 Review

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Selina tries her hand at international relations to mostly amusing results.

Veep is a whipsmart show, with insults and one-liners that are hurled so fast you sometimes have to re-watch scenes in order to appreciate the meticulously crafted dialogue. That being said, the writers know when to bring in sophistication, and when simplicity will work just as well. Often times, the funniest moments on Veep are ones that can be found on a number of network sitcoms, but they work entirely better here because of their juxtaposition against such a fast-paced setting—and because of the stellar cast.

“Camp David” is an episode in which Selina tries to covertly secure a deal with the Chinese government to release their sanctions on the US, while simultaneously enjoying a family weekend with Catherine, Marjorie, Andrew and Monica. The setup has a lot of potential, with Selina basically doing a version of the “two dates at the dance” trope, but with much higher stakes. The tension of the situation works well to add to the humor, allowing the writers to pull off several popular comedic plot devices with the utmost of expertise.

The scene that most perfectly exemplifies this is Selina’s introduction to the Chinese President. First there’s the wonderfully controlled chaos of several people on Selina’s team whispering directives in her ear while she tries to greet her foreign guests. Then, there’s the entire gift exchange sequence, in which Team Meyer is horrified to discover they’ve been “out-gifted,” and Selina ultimately ends up giving away the very personal—and expensive—pen Catherine gave her as a Christmas gift. The entire thing is orchestrated wonderfully. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ strained reactions to the continuous gifts from the Chinese are excellent, as is Tony Hale’s look of shock at her decision to re-gift something from her daughter.

Speaking of which, another comedy trope that’s used in “Camp David” is a classic misunderstanding. The Chinese officials see Marjorie and Catherine together and assume Marjorie is Selina—which is funny in and of itself given how much Selina hates the comparison—and are thusly shocked and disturbed at the two of them kissing. Later, Selina is unable to fully explain the situation, since she assumes the Chinese are referring to another awkward moment in which Catherine confused them for the kitchen staff. It’s a joke that, in all honesty, could have been taken a bit further, but it works to effectively throw a wrench in an otherwise smooth-sailing negotiation process.

What’s most interesting about Catherine’s presence this episode is how she seems to have reached somewhat of a climax of the tug-of-war between her two parents. There’s Selina, who’s far more concerned with her career to show Catherine and outward affection, but genuinely cares about her in times of need. Then there’s her father Andrew, who is all hugs and kisses and soft talking, but it’s so obvious that his attention stems from her recent inheritance. It’s hard to pick who’s worse, but it’s satisfying to see Catherine both admit to knowing how shady her father is, and not fully giving into her mother’s demands either.

Sally Phillips returns as Finnish Prime Minister Minna Häkkinen this week, and her presence is truly the highlight of the episode. Minna acts as a mediator between the US and the Chinese, while also playing a sort of hybrid of a peer and an antagonist towards Selina. Her polite, but brusque personality proves to be a total scene-stealer, particularly in her one-on-one scenes with the President. The scene in which Minna confronts Selina about what she believes was an intimate moment with her daughter is hilarious, as is the scene in which she inadvertently tells Catherine that her mother gave her pen away.

Though a great guest star is always nice, the downside of an episode like “Camp David,” in which almost everything happens in a single location, is that a majority of the core cast gets underutilized. Sue is there for no legitimate reason—seriously, did Sufe Bradshaw even have a line?—and Ben is basically there to make a bunch of racist comments about the Chinese. It’s not that I can’t believe Ben would be racist, it’s just that this sort of humor would usually be subverted by Veep into something smarter, and it’s unfortunate to see it played so straightforward. I guess not all sitcom tropes can work well on this show.

Then there’s the issue of Jonah Ryan’s congressional campaign. The episode cuts to him repeatedly to show him doing worse and worse in his various public appearances. Then, miraculously, the NRA runs an add about his opponent being anti-gun and he wins. Look, I get it. Veep‘s point is to make (an unfortunately timely) satire of the power that special interest groups can have in swaying votes. Still, this whole thing felt very deus ex machina. What was the point of Dan coming to help Jonah on his campaign if this was going to happen all along? Was he just there to continuously hurl insults and shake his head in disappointment? That’s been done a million times before on this show. Why was Amy flown down to help at all? This show has had a lot of last-minute Hail Mary’s before, but they usually occur when things are down to the wire and there’s no other direction to go in. This felt like it was tacked on at the end to move the plot forward. Oh well, at least we got to see Jonah literally shoot himself in the foot…and watch Ben’s reaction to it.

Veep has been on roll the past few weeks, and after two fantastic episodes in a row, it’s understandable that “Camp David,” wasn’t up to par. Although this week’s entry certainly had its shortcomings, it was far from a total letdown. The ensemble cast is one of the best on television, turning moments like a gift exchange and a mistaken kiss into pure comedic gold. I can’t wait to see what the final two episodes of the season have in store, and I’m hoping that the writers will be able to find a better balance between the high and lowbrow humor. Grade: B+

 

Some Other Notes:

  • Mike, who’s had the worst luck out of anyone on the show this season, was a victim of the “when it rains, it pours,” phenomenon this week. Not only is his surrogate having twins, but since Selina was able to get the Chinese sanctions lifted, his Chinese baby adoption also went through. I’m so excited to see how this plays out, if only for more of Matt Walsh’s excellently bewildered reactions.
  • David Pasquesi is so great at playing up Andrew’s skeezy-car-salesman personality, and I especially liked the subtle moment of him borrowing money from his daughter during a game of Monopoly.
  • Minna immediately recognizing that Selina had surgery on her eyelids was such an amazing way to bring back her character.
  • “Your daughter’s dazzling eyes could start a fire themselves, ma’am.” “Okay, well that’s terrifying.” <3 you, Marjorie.

 

By Mike Papirmeister

 

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