Season Two of ‘Veep’ Was a Funny Story About Underdog Jerks
“Would it be so hard for people not to be assholes?” – Selina Meyer
Veep reminds me a lot of The Larry Sanders Show, and I’m sure I’m not alone in drawing such a parallel: both are enjoyable, really funny comedies that happen to consist of unilateralists that are absolutely awful to one another. Garry Shandling — Larry Sanders himself — said years later that everybody watching had gotten it all wrong, that the men and women that worked for the talk show within the show truly loved one another, and their way of communicating those feelings happened to be by way of appearing self-centered, duplicitous, and/or exchanging creative R-rated insults. While it doesn’t completely track in a re-watching of the show (Artie probably hated Hank), there was some truth to what Shandling’s interpretation to what the relationship between his creations were — after all, the camaraderie that develops over time when sharing an office with a group of people every workday is something that even raging dickheads aren’t immune to. The shared experience bonds you with the strangers with the awful or weird senses of humor so much that sometimes you develop strong feelings for them. Sometimes, it’s absolute hatred, but at other times it’s true affection and friendship. They become your social circle, people you invite to your wedding, people you might even marry. The Larry Sanders Show was set in the world of show business where it is strange and usually hazardous to your career to not be a windbag that is looking out only for him or herself, and at one time or another, long before we met them, those characters were probably nice, straightforward men and women before they were calcified by Hollywood.
Veep is set in the world of politics, which is just as hazardous to your soul. In season two of the political satire comedy – based on the great 2005 BBC series The Thick of It, which shares a creator and executive producer in Armando Iannucci – the writing staff continued to let Veep‘s main characters be mean to one another, but now eighteen episodes in, we’ve gotten used to the foul language and at times atrocious behavior exhibited by the anti-heroes: it’s pretty much their version of English. Now that we know everybody better, the behavior might be predictable, but the potential for bigger laughs is there. For example, Dan decided (accurately) that he was on a sinking ship as a member of Selina’s staff halfway through the season and ended up becoming an unscrupulous man unabashedly courting a similar position with more promising candidates for a possible run at the Presidency, particularly Governor Chang. When in the finale he admitted to already accepting four different job offers during the hour or two when Selina was under the impression that she was going to not seek a re-election as VP, it wasn’t over the top but just ridiculously right for the guy. There was a further exploration into some private lives: We saw a little bit more of Amy’s, humanizing her even more when we met her family, and she started to date Zach Woods and admitted to wanting an early retirement, before pulling the rug from under Woods when she saw the slightest bit of apprehension from him and an opportunity for a promotion came her way. Tony Hale as Selina’s personal assistant Gary is the one kind soul – who of course has some traces of Buster Bluth in him – who added more great moments to his comedic acting reel, and his relationship with his girlfriend Dana, played by Jessica St. Clair, was thankfully explored more. Veep in fact has an embarrassing amount of comedic talent: three-time Emmy winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the woman playing Vice President Selina Meyer, and this season her unhealthy and corrosive relationship with her ex-husband came into play. Meyer’s one big decision to save some hostages resulted in a soldier losing his leg1, and in multiple episodes was plagued with actual guilt from it. Matt Walsh was once again outstanding at playing the loser washed-up director of communications Mike, who admitted to being a hundred grand in debt at the start of the year, and that black cloud just continued to follow him all year long. But the punching bag continued to be Timothy Simons as White House liaison Jonah, who will somehow forever be on the outside looking in yet exhibit massive amounts of confidence and douchebaggery at the drop of a smidgen of a sliver of a remote possibility that he has something important to say. Jonah is so low in the pecking order that Zach Woods’ Ed, who otherwise was a friendly wimp, would insult the crap out of him. One of the funniest lines of the series in fact came from Woods’ deadpan delivery in explaining a cheer from behind closed doors to Jonah by saying, “They’re celebrating because…you weren’t in there.”
It’s also a lot easier to like these people because they are incompetent at their jobs – I can like people that would shove each other off of a ladder just to get to the next rung if they are so incompetent at it that they would sometimes fall from attempting to commit the act themselves, an almost too perfectly exhibited example of karma. Besides, it has become clear that all of the supporting players in the show’s universe are equally as terrible, and better at it. Combined, it makes Selina, Amy, Gary, Dan, Mike, and good old Sue rootable underdogs that are going to completely screw up Meyer’s campaign to be the next POTUS in the show’s third season. When the group huddled close together in “Hostages” to try to find the word “Selina” in a printed out word cloud, and especially when they cheered and honest-to -goodness hugged one another when Selina announced her big news, it signified that those people are going to be together for a long time, even if they think they despise it and can do better.
But maybe you don’t give a shit about likable characters in your comedy, and that’s where Gary Cole and Kevin Dunn came in. This year brought two new people into the mix to act as mouthpieces for the President: Cole’s Ken Davidson, a numbers-crunching know-it-all political veteran who is POTUS’ senior strategist, and Dunn’s Ben Cafferty, POTUS’ Chief of Staff who is an accomplished hater of everything. Cole is justly recognized for his acting work, but Dunn’s character was the unstoppable hilarious quote machine. To save time, here are his top three witticisms:
3. “This isn’t a choice like a diet, this is a necessity like my drinking.”
2. “You’re the world’s biggest single cell organism.”
1. “It’s not the job that’s depressing, it’s life that is depressing.”
Former Daily Show correspondent and current Legit co-star Dan Bakkedahl returned in a recurring guest star role as Congressman Roger Furlong, and his best insult work came at the expense of his assistant Will, portrayed by the talented Nelson Franklin, who like his character on New Girl this past season took massive put-downs way too well – if I was told that I was “as annoying as a condom filled with fire ants!” I would not respond by pointing out that it was a simile. At least not right away. The one scene that featured the holy triumvirate of assholes- Cole, Dunn and Bakkedahl – together in one room (“Helsinki”) did not disappoint, and was the comedic equivalent of DeNiro and Pacino in that one scene from Heat.
Veep was already a terrific and sharply written comedy in season one. In season two, it upped the stakes and expanded on its characters and the sandbox they so awfully play in, with more humorous results. Season three should be a treat.
1If the missing limb references didn’t remind you of Arrested Development, Tony Hale saying “no touching” in an entirely different episode probably did.