Veep: “Joint Session” Season 4 Premiere Review

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Selena Meyer and crew are back to take on the Oval Office, and “the S hits the F” in the best way possible.

Frank Underwood isn’t the only person who can become Commander in Chief without ever being voted for. House of Cards and Veep may have similar plot points, but they’re fundamentally different in tone. Part of us wants to see Frank succeed, even when he’s despicable, because if he falls and doesn’t get back up, then the show is over.

But while he’s playing a game of highly calculated political chess, Selena is throwing darts at a dartboard…blindfolded. Over the course of three seasons, we’ve come to root for her and her foulmouthed team as they work together to try to achieve success that they seem to simultaneously love and hate. Still, I think it’s fair to say that the show’s best scenes find her staff in moments of stressful—and hilarious—chaos. Truthfully, the more she loses, the more we win.

Season 4 of Armando Iannucci’s acerbic DC satire picks up shortly after Selena’s presidential announcement. She’s officially in the White House now, and though the glow of her recent victory still hangs in the air, not everyone is adjusting to their new roles so quickly. Gary (Tony Hale), her always-present bagman, isn’t handling his newly restricted access too well. There’s a truly funny, and slightly heartbreaking, scene that sees him wistfully staring out of a window in the First Lady’s office, just outside of Selena’s inner circle. I have a feeling this is going to be a recurring theme this season, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Other over-arching plot points include Ericsson (Diedrich Bader) vying for Amy’s (Ana Chlumsky) job, and Jonah (Timothy Simons) dealing with Patton Oswald’s handsy new Chief of Staff Teddy. This last one is a little perplexing, as the scene in which Teddy gropes Jonah is played with an unexpectedly serious tone. I’m interested to where this goes, but I’m nervous it might be too out-of-step with everything else going on.

“Joint Session” begins in media res as we see Selena take the stage for her first State of the Union address, only to be stifled by a non-functioning teleprompter. We then go back to the previous day to see everything that leads up to this moment. The pacing works well, as the impending speech creates a looming sense of momentum throughout the entire episode. We know something is going to go horribly awry, it’s just a matter of when and how.

The cast, as always, is in fine form. Julia Louis-Dreyfus continues her masterful work as Selena, imbuing her with a new level of excitement now that she’s leader of the free world. Her ability to hit strong emotional beats with nothing more than subtle facial cues—such as the hysterical moment when she becomes visibly aware that she’s reading the wrong speech—is highly impressive.

Elsewhere, Selena’s staff continues to exhibit excellent comedic chemistry as they zing one insult after another each other. I especially enjoyed this brief exchange between Mike (Matt Walsh) and Sue (Sufe Bradshaw) after he asks if the President has any free time on her schedule:

Sue: Can mice levitate, Mike? Can they levitate and fire lasers out of their mouse eyes?
Mike: No.
Sue: Well then we’ve just asked each other equally ridiculous questions.

The best scenes, of course, occur during the actual address as Selena improvises onstage and her team scrambles to fix the situation. The cuts back-and-forth between the two work well to amp up the tension. In the end, things don’t work out as planned, and Selena ends up promising money to a submarine program or, as she puts it, “obsolete metal giant dildos.”

So, the gang has their work cut out for them this season, and the road to securing Selena a second term looks to be a bumpy one. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Grade: A-

 

Some Other Notes:

– Welcome back Veep! It’s been way too long.

– New series regular Sam Richardson is excellent as Amy’s assistant. His earnestness in the face of everyone’s jaded demeanor is just hilarious.

– Second favorite Sue line: “Why would sh*t hit the f*ck? Sh*t doesn’t hit f*ck.”

– Louis-Dreyfus’ delivery of “There are literally no words” while on the podium is fantastic.

– Veep has a lot of sophisticated humor, but I love how it knows exactly when to keep things simple. Selena staring at everyone in rage while her glasses are askew—and then Gary breaking the glasses a few seconds later—is a perfect example of this.

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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