Capping a very full night for HBO, the hilarious, Emmy-winning political sitcom Veep returns for its third season, which sees terrifyingly ambitious Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) launching her campaign to be president.
Each season of Veep has captured Selina at a different stage in her political career. Season 1 found her at her lowest, after a previous presidential bid flamed out and left her in the thankless role as second-in-command to the unseen POTUS, who never returned calls or dropped by her office. By Season 2, set after midterm elections that were disastrous for Selina’s (unspecified) political party, her fortunes started to turn once White House staff noticed that Selina was a first-class populist who could charm a crowd with such cornball mottos as “Freedom is not me-dom! It’s WE-dom!”
As Season 3 opens, Selina faces new hurdles before she can publicly announce her candidacy. First, POTUS refuses to announce he is not seeking re-election until the White House senior strategist Kent Davison (Gary Cole) finds a poll that indicates it’s advantageous to do so.
Second, she has to pick a campaign manager, and in-house rivals Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky), Selina’s chief of staff, and Dan Egan (Reid Scott), her smarmy deputy director of communications, are competing bitterly for that position.
Finally, in tonight’s premiere, Selina’s team is dismayed by signs that an unexpected, more conservative contender for the nomination is getting ready to throw his hat into the ring.
Some of Selina’s other staff members have distractions of their own, however. Gary Walsh (Tony Hale, who won an Emmy last season), Selina’s doggedly loyal personal aide, is suffering from crippling shoulder pain that comes partly from toting around the massive bag in which he has packed every conceivable item Selina might need. Some of that pain may be psychological, however, since Gary is starting to fret about being a middle-aged bag-boy.
As for Mike McClintock (Matt Walsh), Selina’s director of communications, Season 3 opens with his wedding to girlfriend Wendy (new recurring guest star Kathy Najimy), which includes a commitment to have a baby together via in-vitro fertilization – which means in turn that Wendy expects Mike to take, um, task-related breaks at work.
Watching the first five Season 3 episodes HBO sent for preview (out of 10 for the season), I was struck by two things: first, how the character-driven Veep just gets stronger every season, as we get better acquainted with the people in its world and its cast members continue to meld into one of the most amazing comedy ensembles I’ve ever seen (it’s easy to see why Veep has won two Emmys for casting).
Foremost, however, there’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus herself, who has won the Emmy Award as lead actress in a comedy for both of Veep’s previous seasons. I don’t expect that to change with Season 3, because I found myself watching some of these new episodes over and over just to try to catch all the incredible details Louis-Dreyfus packs into every moment.
I strongly suspect this actress is probably the Meryl Streep of the American sitcom. I know, that sounds like lazy hyperbole, and you can watch these new episodes casually and still enjoy them. But pay close attention to them and you can see that the blazingly intelligent Louis-Dreyfus is constantly shifting dizzyingly from one emotion to another, and often conveying multiple emotions and attitudes at the same time – and when I say “multiple,” I mean “way more than two.”
Consider next week’s episode, “The Choice,” in which Selina, a very discreetly pro-choice candidate, is rocked by POTUS’s out-of-left-field announcement that he is adamantly pro-life. As calls from various lobbying groups start to pour into Selina’s office asking her to clarify her position, she tries frantically to answer both sides in a manner that will not cost her votes.
Then Mike rushes in with a phone call from the ACCDP. He has no idea what the acronym stands for, but he’s reasonably sure the group is pro-life. As Selina takes the call, however, Amy desperately signals her that, no, no, no, the group is pro-choice. Selina struggles to navigate the call without committing herself, but her attempts at fishing for clues fall short as the caller keeps saying things like “Our position has not changed.”
Maybe it’s just me, but watching Louis-Dreyfus fighting to maintain her calm and sunny phone voice with a volatile caller while furiously miming “WHO THE F—- IS THIS?!” to Mike and Amy is one of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen on Veep.
(Spoiler alert: It didn’t really matter, because as it turns out, the call actually came in from the ADCCP, not the ACCDP. Although Mike has no idea what the ADCCP is, either).
God, I love this show.