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Monday, June 9th, 2014

'Veep' Season 3 Carves Out New Territory Along the Campaign Trail

veep-s3Seasons one and two of Armando Iannucci’s political satire Veep depicted the vice presidency as whimsically inconsequential: a politician and her extremely driven staff stuck wasting their intelligence and penchant for insults on carefully-calculated interactions with the press and “normals” while the actually important POTUS eluded all his underling’s phone calls. A change seemed imminent, though, at the end of season two when the president announced he would not be running for re-election. This news set the stage for an excellent third season in which VP Selina Meyer and her cohorts left the comfort of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, home for the past two years to some of the best, quickest, and most savvy zingers on television, to blaze a campaign trail towards the West Wing.

I couldn’t help but relate Veep’s campaign-centric season to the last couple seasons of Parks and Recreation, in which, with the help of her friends, Leslie Knope is elected to city council and struggles to see if that’s where she belongs. Although Meyer’s staff is far more likely to throw one another under a bus than their Pawnee counterparts, one thing the tonally disparate shows have in common is the tension inherent in pushing such a show into new territory. If, at the end of her campaign, Selina were elected president, what would become of Veep? The insignificance of the vice president’s office has grounded this show, just as the small-town problems of Pawnee have done for Parks. When Leslie Knope is offered a new job in Chicago she makes the position come to her so she can remain in Pawnee. Selina’s ascension to the presidency wouldn’t allow for quite the same consistency.

Amidst this new season’s risks, higher stakes plunge the show into darker waters. Dan and Amy are two of this season’s strongest characters in an immensely talented ensemble as they fight for the honor of serving as Selina’s campaign manager. Dan muscles his way into the position, much to Amy’s chagrin, but Amy artfully orchestrates a nervous breakdown for Dan — while simultaneously ousting Selina’s personal trainer and sex slave, an overconfident idiot played by the great Christopher Meloni — that puts her in the coveted spot after only a short while. In that same episode (“Special Relationship”), the team receives news that FLOTUS has attempted suicide, which inspires a moment’s pause before nearly everyone returns to unrelated tasks, i.e. in Mike’s case, asking a question of Siri. The darkness haunts even the most celebratory events of the season: during an intimate moment right after Selina selects Dan as her right-hand man, she invites him to share his darkest secret and Dan says he once killed a stray dog on a dare. She looks frightened but then admits that she torches cars.

A big change this season not directly related to Selina’s presidential campaign was Jonah “Jonad” Ryan’s exit from his position as White House liaison. After getting fired in the premiere for running a DC gossip blog from within the West Wing, Jonah flounders for the remainder of the season, trying to find somewhere else to spend his dickhead energy, first making scathing viral political videos on his site “Ryantology,” before latching onto the doomed presidential campaign of one of Meyer’s competitors, finally going to his mom to try to milk a job from his well-connected family. Although absent from the West Wing, Jonah’s persistence in asserting his big ego where it doesn’t belong remains a source of great humor for the show, and the stellar Jonah insults continue to roll in. One of the best is in “Detroit” when Selina’s staff immediately identifies Jonah based on a confused description from the ex-prime minister of Finland: “He is, like, in Central Europe, there is a bad companion for Santa Claus, and on Christmas, if children are naughty, he takes away the presents. He’s like a man, but he’s very tall.” The other, a well-deserved folk tale follow-up to #1 top Jonah insult “Jolly Green Jizz-face,” comes from a post-panic-attack Dan, who smilingly at the end of “Debate” shakes Jonah’s hand, whispering in his ear, “Go fuck yourself, Jack and the Giant Freakstalk.”

The two-episode finale of Veep’s third season saw an unwarranted victory as the president resigned to take care of his troubled wife, turning over the position to Selina. In all the hubbub surrounding Selina’s coincidental success (which Mike, Dan, and Gary each celebrate as a personal achievement in his own life) Amy is the only one keeping the campaign a priority, and Selina winds up in third behind her longtime rival Governor Chung and former MLB coach-turned-politician Joe Thornhill. The brief glimpse of Selina as Madame President came as a surprise and paid off — seeing minor mistakes from Gary, Mike, and Kent suddenly resulting in much greater consequences than they would have when Meyer was VP was very funny. This season demonstrated how Veep can find humor in more than just the VP nonsense we’ve known it for. It’s uncertain what will happen next — if, after more campaigning she’ll miraculously be re-elected, or shifted to some other office, as it seems unlikely that Selina or her opponents would be satisfied with her returning to VP, but it’s safe to say after seeing this season that Veep can handle it.

Jenny Nelson is a writer living in Brooklyn.

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