Written by Christopher Diggins
Veep Season 5 Premiere Plot Summary:
After an unprecedented electoral tie, Selina (Julia Louis-Drefyus) is delighted to discover that a recount in Nevada could keep her in the White House without a House vote. Amy (Anna Chlumsky) feels unsure of her place in the Meyer administration while other staffers are experiencing a shake-up.
Generally speaking, a high-profile showrunner leaving a show is rarely a good sign. Not everything is a Community-level disaster that ends up with the old showrunner coming back, but such situations are still frequently used to mark when a show began a steady decline in quality. And when you have a showrunner like Armando Iannucci, who brings a distinctive style of biting cynicism and acerbic wit to everything he makes, the loss can be felt all the more. But somewhere between Selina saying “when life gives you Yemen, make Yemenade” to dismiss her daughter Catherine (Sarah Sutherland) and Dan (Reid Scott) throwing a sandwich in the trash right in front of a homeless man, I realized there was nothing to worry about. Season 5 of Veep picked up right where Season 4 left off without missing a beat.
The show also literally picks up right where Season 4 left off, starting the morning after election night. And right away we get a symbolic indication of what this season will be about, as a janitor cleaning up after Selina’s campaign event tears a picture of her and Senator Tom James (Hugh Laurie) in half. The two started off as amiable running mates, but as they’ve continued to jockey for power and the electoral tie has opened up the remote-but-not-unthinkable possibility that he ends up as President the relationship has cooled to the point where it seems like he’ll be her main adversary. This is a smart move on the part of the show’s writers; while Senator Bill O’Brien (Brad Leland) is her actual opponent, he’s always been in the background, while James is a much more developed character and active force in the show. This episode only features the opening moves in what promises to be a season-long struggle between the two, but it should be an excellent driving force for the plot in the coming weeks.
Still, there is a minor quibble to be had in the way those opening moves come about. After it is announced that there will be a recount in Nevada that could flip the state (and the election) to Selina, the stock market falls precipitously. Casting about for a scapegoat, Selina names Tom James as the new “Economy Czar,” a position he knows is just a vehicle for scapegoating and refuses before she forces him into it by announcing it to the media. This is an excellent direction for the plot, and their confrontation where James is uncowed by the power of the Presidency offers hints of the great drama to be mined from similar scenes in the future, but it’s unclear why the recount is so unquestioningly blamed for the dive in the stock market. A protracted battle for the Presidency in a divided House, a situation only announced the previous night, seems like a far likelier culprit. A recount that at best provides a clear winner and at worst preserves the current situation is a much less worrying development. It could be that memories of the last recount fight are swirling in everyone’s heads, but the parallel is never made. As said before, this is a minor quibble, but in a show usually so tightly plotted, it’s noticeable that such a wrinkle exists.
Selina and Tom James are not the only stars of this episode, though! In fact, the premiere shines due to its highlighting of some of its most reliable pairings. The first is one that’s been around since the very first episode: Amy and Selina. From the beginning Amy has been intensely dedicated to her boss, and often the only totally competent person on her staff. Her explosive exit from Selina’s campaign halfway through last season seemed to burn that bridge forever, but Amy can’t help but return to her old boss’ side. And in her own way, Selina does still seem to hold Amy in high regard. At one word from Amy, who’s chafing at the idea of Selina hiring a younger woman to run her Nevada recount efforts despite herself, Selina immediately dismisses her new hire and lets Amy do it. The tentative return of the Amy-Selina dynamic is another great sign for future developments.
The other pairing, however, is a far more recent one. The duo of Jonah (Timothy Simons) and Richard (Sam Richardson) last season proved to be inspired, as the two played off each other wonderfully and lead to some of the funniest scenes all season. Now they’re back, and thanks to Richard’s encyclopedic knowledge of recall law (he has two PhDs and was working as a campaign intern, in a depressingly accurate reflection of the job market), their roles are reversed: Richard is the boss and Jonah is once again just a lowly staffer. Richard is far too good-natured and polite to rub this in like, say, Dan would, but he’s still taking advantage of his new position to get all the perks and let Jonah do the grunt work. This sudden reversal is already paying comedic dividends as Jonah fumes and complains over his loss of status, and it should be fun to see how poorly he continues to take it.
The most remarkable thing about this premiere is that if you didn’t already know that Armando Iannucci had left the show, you probably wouldn’t have been able to tell. Veep‘s distinctive comedic voice is fully intact: its elegant vulgarity, caustic wit, and comically sociopathic characters are all still there. And nothing feels off or strangely different. Not only that, but it’s boldly striking off in a new direction that feels natural and exciting. It’s not a dramatic barnstormer of a premiere, but Veep isn’t a dramatic barnstormer of a show. Like this premiere, it’s quietly confident and hilarious, and this season is promising more of the same.
Rating: 9 out of 10