Premium cable network struts its stuff with three premieres this weekend
In the third season of Armando Iannucci's send-up of D.C. politicking, the stakes have been raised to presidential levels: After learning that the current, beleaguered commander-in-chief won't be seeking re-election, the hilariously haughty Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her staff of lovable losers, try-hards, and braggadocios are angling for a bid for the presidency. After two seasons of steady, scathing put-downs (there is perhaps no writing staff on TV better at stringing together insults that are not only funny, but also clever and oddly perceptive), this satire of our nation's capital and the elected officials who run it is starting to cut deeper.
Not that the show was completely devoid of any kind of realism: Of all the current D.C.-based series (Homeland, Scandal, House of Cards), Veep gets the most praise for how accurately it captures the maddening tedium of bureaucracy and the grubby, smarmy, back-channel networking needed to actually get it done. Hell, the actual veep himself, Joe Biden, is a fan. But the show has been able to make its jokes by standing a few steps away from the real-life Washington and all its inherent implications: Namely, it's made Selina a duly formidable public servant (there's no doubt in anyone's mind that she could cut you down to size in a single breath), but it's been the show's greatest challenge to convince us to take her seriously as a politician, a flaw easily obscured by its (hysterical) barrage of harangues, puns, and slapstick.
So it makes sense, going into this presidential campaign storyline, that the show decides to take itself, and thus, Selina, more seriously. And this season, the distinction between Veep's riffing on politics and its sincere convictions about government are blurrier than ever, creating a veneer of psychological sophistication that also makes its biting humor darker: In forthcoming episodes, Selina is forced to take firmer public positions, like on fracking and child care, but also on issues like abortion; how the show lampoons these topics is funny, but it's often also just short of grim.
The cast is totally game for this upped sense of reality and are, as always, superb: Special honors go to Timothy Simons as gangly, slimy White House aide Jonah, who gets to cause all kinds of fun trouble for Selina's staff when he starts a Gawker-esque D.C. gossip site. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a master at conveying confusion that turns into elation that turns into absolute contempt. Most importantly, she is able to make Selina, whose hubris and candor gives her the hardest of edges, worthy of our sympathy. In the first half of its 10-episode third season, Veep begins to build her up as a serious presidential contender – maybe even someone you would think about voting for.
Game of Thrones (season four), Silicon Valley (season one), and Veep (season three) premiere back-to-back-to-back on Sunday, April 6, at 8pm, 9pm, and 9:30pm, respectively, on HBO.