Last week, Julia Louis-Dreyfus offered up an apology to the American people. While hosting Saturday Night Live, she remarked that when “Veep” started “the idea of a presidential candidate being a cursing narcissistic buffoon was a joke.” It’s true that the world that spawned “Veep” is a very different one than the upcoming election, but might be the most shocking thing about the show’s newfound relevance is its unwillingness to interact with the election. While shows like “The West Wing” and “MASH” have used their platform to address the zeitgeist, “Veep’s” premiere seemed to shy away from many of the issues present in modern politics. Instead, it chose to double down on Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).
“Morning After” begins on Selina Meyer as she gives an address to the country. It seems like a reasonable way to kick off the new season, especially considering where the last season ended. The idea of a tie in the Electoral College is rather amusing, and there is a lot that can be mined from the story and characters the series has brought together so far. However, as I mentioned above, Selina is the one who gets all the attention.
The most prominent of the three stories revolving around Selina, is one that follows her dealing with a stress zit. There are a handful of funny jokes that come from the zit in question (my favorite is a Twitter account for the zit titled “POTUS: Pimple of the United States”), but a larger problem looms over the arc. One of the reasons why “Veep” has had such a successful run is the ways in which the series has worked to shine light on the inequalities that exist between men and women politicians, especially when it comes to image. However, instead of using subtly and deft storytelling, the show goes out of its way to have male politicians openly insult her. As the episode progresses, it becomes apparent that the zit in question is a weak delivery system to discuss a serious topic in modern politics.
However, the laziness in developing the stories for the episode doesn’t end there. Rather than building around the infighting that will occur between Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates, the writers instead reveal that Nevada is too close to call, and thus triggers a recount. Ignoring the fact that real world political pundits would have realized the possibility of this happening immediately, this plot already feels like it will rely on jokes that could have been written 15 years ago during Bush v. Gore.
Finally, the C plot of the episode involves a symposium on race that the Meyers administration assembles. Of course, due to the team’s continued ineptitude, only white academics are brought to the symposium. It dawns on Selina in the moments before the symposium begins, but the fact the writers fall back on the administration running to grab any minorities that were in the White House at that moment was almost the most groan worthy moment of the episode. However, that instead went to a scene 30 seconds later. When Sue (Sufe Bradshaw), the president’s African-American personal assistant, comes through the door to join the symposium, the secret service draws their weapons on her. While I have championed “Veep” for years, I think that the scene comes off as tone deaf. After all, what’s funny about a situation where a minority has a gun pulled on them?
The one storyline that does seek to further ideas from Season 4 is one that involves Hugh Laurie’s Tom James. However, this plot is only used to make James inessential to the season, or become the savior of the American economy. While I hope it becomes the second, the way in which the show finds a way to make Laurie’s character effectively silent for the rest of the season seems a bit too convenient. It’s possible that Laurie didn’t have time in his schedule, but still feels like a shame that he is so unceremoniously pushed off to the side, potentially for the remainder of the season.
While the episode revolves around Selina, we get small blurbs from other characters that will ultimately set up their season. For example, Mike (Matt Walsh) announces that he’s adopting a child from China with his wife, and is then relegated to a Fitbit gag for the remainder of the episode. Catherine (Sarah Sutherland) is making a documentary about her mother, and is constantly seen filming throughout the episode. However, by relegating her camera to the background of critical scenes, it becomes apparent that her video will likely end up in the wrong hands, and ultimately lead to more investigations during the Meyer campaign.
Finally, rather than return Dan (Reid Scott) to his lobbying job, he is fired and takes on a position with Amy (Anna Chlumsky) to handle the Nevada recount. It’s an odd way to get the band back together after the tumultuous events of the last season, and sending the newly promoted Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) with the newly demoted Jonah (Timothy Simmons) to handle the recount gives the show a future Meyer’s East and Meyer’s West problem. Without Simmons, Richardson, or Chlumsky, it seems hard to imagine that the characters in D.C. will be as funny as the antics going on in Nevada.
Ultimately, fans will love the sheer volume of effective one liners, nonverbal comedy, and insults that will come from the cast of the show. It remains one of the funniest shows on television, but for myself, there has to be more to the story being told. At times, the show is simply throwing potential threads at the wall, and even the characters seem unsure which ones should be continues, and which ones scraped. Given the twists and turns the first four seasons have taken to develop story, the threads that have been presented here feel like the show is no longer aspiring to be savviest take on politics. Instead, it is playing a conservative TV game to try to maintain its Emmy crown. This is only one episode, but it is hard for me to say that this premiere is even a top 3 premiere for the still young show. Not a great start, but here’s hoping it turns around soon.
‘Veep’ airs on HBO on Sunday nights at 10:30 PM. It is also streaming on HBO GO and HBO NOW.