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Review: 'Veep' Goes 'Contagion' As A Virus Makes Its Way Through Washington

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist April 29, 2012 at 10:30PM

We addressed this in the season's first episode, but if you're looking trenchant insight into the American political system played for laughs, "Veep" won't be doing that. But as, essentially, a workplace comedy boasting a higher concept that most, the week's entry proves that within that structure, the show has promise.
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Veep Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Season 1, Episode 2: Frozen Yoghurt

We addressed this in the season's first episode, but if you're looking for trenchant insight into the American political system played for laughs, "Veep" won't be doing that. But, as essentially, a workplace comedy boasting a higher concept than most, the week's entry proves that within that structure, the show has promise.

Things kick off with good news for veep Selina Meyer who finds out that her Clean Jobs Commission is looking at a greenlight. "Oh my God, that is so great for me!" she exclaims, before correcting her statement by saying that she meant the country, of course. But for Meyer, it's the kind of initiative that Amy (Anna Chlumsky), her chief of staff, notes is "legacy stuff." With the President in South Africa and unable to stranglehold the veep's office in the name of political positioning, Selina is eager to seize the opportunity. But more importantly, she's keen to kick into action an idea that new team member Dan Egan (Reid Scott) -- who, as you remember, defected from a rival politician at the end of the last episode and whose motivations aren't quite clear -- has dreamed up something called 2-point-Me (as in a riff on the web slang, 2.0).

Two factors create a perfect storm of opportunity and humiliation: a crushing heat wave and some kind of stomach bug/flu that is taking down every politician in Washington "Contagion"-style (but without the death toll), passing with amazing speed. With an afternoon window cleared up thanks to a meeting that has been canceled due to someone coming down with the virus, Selina and her team decide to jump on the chance for a photo op with the "regular normals," with Dan suggesting a frozen yogurt shop run by three generations of African-Americans ("There's a narrative built right in, home run" he slickly sells it).

But of course, things tend to go wrong just when it seems that everything is going right. Meeting Sentator Doyle about her Filibuster Reform bill, he puts her in an awkward position, saying he'll only support it if she promises to take any oil-related members off her Clean Jobs Commission. She had just promised a slot to somebody related to oil that morning. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, she's left scrambling to find a way to fix it when things take another turn, as the President is reported to be suffering chest pains and Selina is rushed to the West Wing should the worst happen so she can be prepared to take over (something that could've been a situation for a standalone episode on its own). Meanwhile, Dan is stuck at the yogurt stand with a ruthless Washington reporter, whom he promised the scoop of Selina's visit.

Yes, Armando Iannucci loves (over)stuffing the plot, but when it's weaved as well as it is here, "Veep" begins to exude the brilliance of another show Julia Louis-Dreyfuss once starred in: "Seinfeld." Watching that show now, it's rather miraculous how many threads Larry Charles and Jerry Seinfeld could manage in twenty-odd minutes -- sometimes with new plots arriving in the last third of an episode -- and still manage to make it feel organic. "Veep" isnt quite there just yet (the Filibuster Reform bill/Clean Jobs Commission issue is basically pushed to the next episode to be resolved), and a more focused approach would do wonders (though the "jamaican rum" sequence was pretty brilliant). But that said, with this episode, "Veep" is beginning to show the signs of becoming a really crackling comedy. And in case you think we're being too hard on the show, we haven't even addressed the additional thread that finds an emasculated Gary (Tony Hale) blocking Selina from being sneezed on to prove his worth, coming down with the bug as a result and then passing it along to her.

"Frozen Yoghurt" again choses hijinks over politics, with the general result playing a bit more broad (but yes, still funny) than we would've hoped for the show. But we're beginning to settle in and we'll be curious how the tone and concept of "Veep" becomes more clear (or not) down the line. [B]

This article is related to: Television, TV Reviews, Veep


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