Recap: 'Veep' Again Chooses Lower Stakes Humor Over Richer Comedic Potential

Television
by Kevin Jagernauth
April 21, 2013 10:30 PM
2 Comments
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Season 2, Episode 2: "Signals"

Having barely survived the midterm elections in the season opener, Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) has now finally been granted a greater say in the West Wing, starting with a chair on Foreign Policy. So, would we finally see Armando Iannucci try and tackle some bigger political themes, and perhaps grapple with potentially richer comic material? The answer is: not really. Essentially, this episode is basically A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Meeting, detailing the wide range of mishaps and crisis management Meyer and her team have to undergo on the way to getting her to an important, key strategy deliberation regarding a hostage situation overseas.

You would think that meeting alone would be a great place for some pretty pointed jabs at foreign policy and the sometimes absurd line of thinking at the top ("Until the numbers support intervention, doing nothing is the most positive thing we can do," strategist Kent Davidson -- played by Gary Cole -- says), but instead the show pivots again toward easier and less fulfilling laughs. The North Carolina Pork Board is having a pig roast, and POTUS taps Selina to go there and gladhand, opening things up for jabs at easier targets. 

"They want me to go to a pig roast, to meet a bunch of men who probably took turns to fuck the pig before they roasted it?" Selina rhetorically asks, to which Amy (Anna Chlumsky) quips: "I wouldn't presume they took turns." But luckily this mean streak toward working class folks gets turned right back on Selina and everyone else in her entourage. Overcompensating just a little bit, Selina hits the pig roast nearly in full on cowboy gear, her attempts to blend in falling flat against the denim and flannel mostly everyone else is wearing. And if smiling through this unwanted assignment is tough, it gets doubly complicated thanks to Selina's own daughter Katherine (Sarah Sutherland), whose review of the documentary "5 Broken Cameras" (a pretty odd reference to be using) has gone viral, thanks to painting the Israelis as the aggressors. 

It isn't long before the media has descended upon the pig roast to ask Selina about her thoughts on the Israel/Palestine situation live on television, leading to the incongruous imagery of discussing the Jewish state while a pig turns on a spit over an open fire. So where is Selina's team who are usually able to swoop her out of this kind of mess? Well, Dan (Reid Scott) and Amy are back in D.C. trying to come up with the perfect statement to both apologize and remain non-committal about the situation in the Middle East. And Mike (Matt Walsh) has been tasked to find Sarah and bring her to an Air Force base so Selina can speak with her before the media come knocking on her door. Meanwhile, her body man Gary (Tony Hale) doesn't have his usual array of non-verbal cues to communicate with Selina -- usually used to get her out of a bad situation -- because they've all been leaked to the tabloids, forcing them to create new ones on the fly. All of this culminates in Jonah (Timothy Simons) -- who has a pet project (U.S.Hay!) tied into rural communities -- literally getting on his hands on knees behind Selina to block the pig from being broadcast as she talks about the Middle East. It's the stuff of farce, but it also wastes the riskier proposition of creating gags around a super-charged issue.

After managing to worm her way out of the PR event, Selina finally meets with her daughter and negotiates with Katherine for her to apologize in exchange for letting her spend some of Thanksgiving with her father (Selina's ex-husband) and her new Iranian boyfriend, Rahim (Walid Amini). Again, having Selina bristle and then quietly order a background check against Rahim is somewhat amusing, but also obvious and somewhat contrived. And while Rahim is a nicely carved character, using him as a device for Selina to react against seems a bit cheap. Hopefully, he'll have more to do later in the season, but his revelation that he'll be chasing his student debt of $60,000 for the next two decades or so (a wickedly sharp political statement, the kind we wish this show would do more of) is a bracing wake up call to Mike. Telling Dan that he has $100,000 of debt, Mike was just becoming content with the fact he would never pay it off, but hearing how long it would take to square $60,000 has sent him back into a panicked spiral.

All this to say, Selina does manage to get to the meeting via video conference on Air Force Two, something that we unfortunately don't get to witness, and the show winds to an anti-climactic close. Other odds and ends: a dangling subplot that really needs to die already found Congressman Furlong stalking the halls on his final day in the West Wing and demanding a meeting with Selina before being shut down by Sue (Sufe Bradshaw, one of the best things about the show). He leaves threatening that he has all kinds of potentially damaging info about the Veep, which suggests this likely won't be the last time we see him. Meanwhile, Dan tries and fails to get close to Kent via pilates, while Amy's Dad remains in the hospital, giving her an excuse to get out of uncomfortable situations in the office. For now.

Again, an amusing but also inconsequential outing for "Veep," which continues to play safe, offer up a few choice barbs per episode, but doesn't manage to resonate the way sharper comedies do. It's a frustration because the players here are so, so good, it's the breeziest 30 minutes you'll likely find on TV right now, and there is enough to enjoy to make a weekly watch a no-brainer. But it's time for the show to step it up. [B-]


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2 Comments

  • Alex | April 22, 2013 5:05 AMReply

    I think the problem with Veep is that Selina Meyer isn't a good character. She has no authority and I can't imagine how she could never have actually become Veep. I know that's part of the joke but it still detracts from the show.

    The Thick of It had a firecracker of a main character, and it also had the Westminster system in its favor, which basically allows for any ordinary and incompetent MP to become a Minister.

  • Alan B | April 22, 2013 2:24 AMReply

    Egads, a sitcom isn't afraid to be, um, a sitcom? Let's string up Iannucci and his cohorts and force him to give us LAME SOAPBOX LECTURES instead of jokes. That'll teach the fools to try to entertain us. Who else is with me?

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