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Decide between two new Washington-set TV shows with a few simple formulas. By Tanya Pai
Photograph of Heigl via NBC; Leoni by David M. Russell/CBS.

Despite Washington-set shows being snubbed at this year’s Emmys, the trend of sexing up government jobs continues apace. Looking to piggyback on the smash successes of Veep, Homeland, and Scandal, networks are offering two new series for the fall centered on high-powered women. NBC’s State of Affairs, beginning in November, brings Katherine Heigl back to the small screen as Charleston “Charlie” Tucker, a CIA analyst who advises the President on crises around the globe. Oh yeah, and she used to be engaged to POTUS’s son. CBS’s Madam Secretary—premiering this Sunday, September 21—stars Téa Leoni as ex-CIA agent Elizabeth McCord who’s suddenly thrust into the national spotlight when the Secretary of State dies in a plane crash and the President, an old friend, taps her to take over. So which should you tune in for? Below, we have a few formulas for understanding what each show has to offer. (Check back soon for our recap of Madam Secretary’s first episode.) 

If you want: Scandal’s eye-candy wardrobe PLUS Homeland’s authority-bucking, slightly unstable protagonist

Try: State of Affairs. Heigl’s character wears spike heels, leather jackets, and hoop earrings—and has a very Carrie Mathison-esque habit of drinking too much and picking up strangers at bars. 

If you want: West Wing-style political machinations MINUS the lightning-speed patter

Try: Madam Secretary. Téa Leoni’s drawling delivery seems as though she was aiming for gravitas but overshot and landed on “just took a muscle relaxer.” 

If you want: Veep’s woman-in-the-White House aspect MINUS the often harsh humor

Try: State of Affairs. Alfre Woodard brings her stern, inscrutable presence to the table as the “First Customer,” as Charlie’s team nicknames her—and as the mother of Charlie’s (supposedly) deceased fiancé. 

If you want: House of Cards-style visual flair MINUS the, you know, lawmaking

Try: State of Affairs. While the pilot sees Charlie receiving mysterious texts that pop up as bubbles onscreen, she’s far too busy defusing crises almost single-handedly to have much time to spend courting votes from congressmen.

If you want: Veep’s cast of quirky, recognizable supporting characters PLUS a slightly more family-friendly vibe

Try: Madam Secretary. Wings star Tim Daly plays Leoni’s character’s husband, Henry McCord (who, it’s heavily hinted, will probably cheat on her at some point), and Bebe Neuwirth is her largely unimpressed chief of staff, Nadine Tolliver. House of Cards alum Sebastian Arcelus and Body of Proof’s Geoffrey Arend also appear as staffers. As a bonus, Leoni’s character appears to have a (mostly) functional relationship with her two children. 

If you want: Homeland’s conspiracy theories linked to mysterious deaths PLUS Veep’s antagonistic male coworkers PLUS Scandal’s hyper-competent heroine known for thinking outside the box

Try: Either. Early impressions suggest Madam Secretary will be more focused on smaller-scale, human stories, while State of Affairs goes for big, splashy drama. Either way, it’s a safe bet that both series’ main characters have to deal with far less paperwork than their real-life counterparts.

Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.

Posted at 10:00 AM/ET, 09/19/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The season closes with a double episode that establishes new stakes. By Benjamin Freed
Hail to the chief. Photograph via HBO.

All hail President Selina Meyer, and she didn’t even have to murder people to get there, although she seemed on the cusp of doing so at various points during Sunday night’s two-part season finale.

Yes, Selina, after stumbling to third place in multiple presidential primaries, gets the job she’s coveted when the never-seen POTUS decides to step down to be with his suicidal wife. Who cares about lousy performance in New Hampshire when the order of succession accomplishes the mission?

Of course, there are no happy endings in Veep, and even though the season closes out with Selina moving to the Oval Office, her grasp on power is tenuous at best. The first half hour, “Crate,” features the VP struggling to come back from a loss in Iowa to Joe Thornhill, the former baseball manager turned sports metaphor machine (e.g., “Take your shirt off and work up a sweat”). Kent’s mastermind strategy? Have Selina stand atop a wooden crate so heavy, Gary’s attempts to lift it earn comparisons to Thor’s hammer. (H/T the still screwed-up Dan Egan.)

And because a wooden crate cannot simply be a wooden crate, Selina gets drilled by snooty New Hampshire editor Quincy Carter about its purported $1,200 price tag. The very Brahmin journalist spouts off occasional lines in French and even comes equipped with a style ripped from Bernard Pivot. But the wind-up is worth it to see Mike, flummoxed by the interview, asking his iPhone, “Siri, why does God allow suffering?”

Whether it’s an existential deity or just good writing, Veep would be nothing without suffering. The Meyer campaign is increasingly inept, from bad optics to an ugly conversation about what they think of their donors—spoiler alert: not highly—being recorded when Carter leaves his phone behind. Selina, who almost never restrains herself from threatening her staff, reaches new levels of venom. She’d smash her flunkies’ heads with that crate, if she could lift the damn thing.

Fortunately for Selina’s arms and the rest of the team’s noggins, that fate is averted by Kent’s news that POTUS is done. The ensuing scene, in which Gary and Selina spirit into a dingy bathroom to appreciate the turn of events, is the best of the episode and maybe of the whole season. Gary, so overwhelmed his idol is becoming President, responds with a nosebleed; Selina isn’t sure to pamper him or just laugh at the situation with him.

Everything seems great. Dan gets congratulatory phone calls from Beyoncé and Ashton Kutcher’s assistant, Selina gets the nuclear codes, Mike nails his first briefing as White House press secretary, and the inherent misery of being the Veep is gone.

Until, of course, Team Meyer screws it all up again. The special inauguration shoes Gary’s been saving squeak loudly when Selina walks up to address the nation; Selina’s initial attempts to settle petty cabinet rivalries lead to the United States inadvertently pissing off Iran, and Mike reverts to his old, useless self.

Oh, and there’s still a New Hampshire primary to win. Selina finishes third. She might have a new job, but this is still a cruel, hilarious universe.


Selina: Losing in Iowa and New Hampshire is a bummer. But come on, she gets to be President. Ten more awful things would have to happen in order to knock her into the losers’ bracket.

Amy: She’s not a successful campaign manager, but she’s at least competent. And she does not appear to be on the verge of a Dan-like meltdown. That’s worth something.

Jonah: Sigh. In the end, everyone’s least favorite goon—known to his mother as “JJ”—winds up back in the West Wing after levying his politically connected uncle and denouncing Ryantology. At least the internet commenters hate him now.

Sue: Still the most level-headed of the bunch. Still running the office. Still has something going on with Kent?

Pop culture websites: Oh, look. Another fictional Vice President became President in the season finale of a television show. Cue the “Selina Meyer vs. Frank Underwood” blog posts.


Mike: The season opened with Mike on a winning streak. He got married, found success at work, and had maybe even unloaded his boat. He even had a dynamo first day as White House press secretary, proudly telling people he “killed it.” Too bad his second press conference was full of him joking about killing reporters. That doesn’t always go over well.

Dan: It’s where he stands in the Oval Office hierarchy, especially after Kent fingers him as the source of a false story that Meyer rival Danny Chung tortured prisoners in Iraq. He’s got a job, but he also has to work with Jonah. Eh, he deserves it.

Ben: The most consistently funny character just wants to get away from the White House, but he’s fatally addicted to it. Selina naming him her chief of staff is bad for his health, but good for people who like hearing Kevin Dunn say funny things.

Stuart Hughes: In resigning, POTUS finally gets a name. Farewell, President Hughes. We didn’t know you too well, and we never saw your face, but you’ll be remembered as a paranoid shut-in and pretty decent source of punch lines. Who knows what regard President Meyer’s Vice President will hold her in?

Posted at 02:27 PM/ET, 06/09/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Selina Meyer goes on another road trip, with predictable results. By Benjamin Freed
Beware hats. Photograph via HBO.

Veep is going on too many field trips. As much fun as the concept of black-hearted Brit Armando Iannucci taking his American television series to his home nation’s capital is, the point has been clear since the first season’s outing to a Washington-area yogurt shop: Selina Meyer is terrible on the road.

That’s not to say Team Meyer’s London jaunt is unfunny, but the “Selina fails abroad” shtick is wearing thin. The jokes are amusing, but predictable. It’s England, so there are gags about bitter ale, James Bond, ridiculous hats, Downton Abbey, and soccer.

Selina’s travails right now are less entertaining than the re-emergence of the “Dan vs. Amy” subplot. It should not really surprise anyone that after just a few weeks into his new role as campaign manager, Dan cannot handle himself. Obsessive micro-managers are irksome in any setting; in a fictional political arena, they put themselves in the hospital. Sweet as it was early in the season to see Dan upend Jonah’s master plans—mostly by shoving a burrito in Jonah’s face—it’s just as nice to see Dan’s brain short-circuit and watch him wind up in a hospital bed.

And then things get really dark, even for Iannucci. The episode ends with the news that Veep’s never-seen First Lady has attempted suicide, bringing an early end to the London trip. Iannucci must be playing the long-con here: Veep is never upbeat, but it’s hard to see a punch line after this setup.

In less unsettling developments, Ray the trainer (Christopher Meloni) is still tagging along with his bedroom dynamism and idiotic campaign strategies. (“It’s like watching a goat try to use an ATM,” Ben says.) He’s finally let go at the end of the episode, but only after a terrible hat suggestion and the big reveal that he once published a treatise about how obesity is a form of karmic retribution. Don’t be too hard on the guy. He’s written several “treatii.”


Amy: How to get ahead in presidential politics? Step 1: Affect an English accent and dial up an annoying blogger. Step 2: Reveal your boss’s sex partner’s political past. Step 3: Watch your rival have a cardiac episode and take his job.

Mike: Between Dan passing out and Amy arriving to pick up the campaign manager job, Mike had his brief moment atop the chain of command. It didn’t last, of course, but Mike still had a great week. The speech he wrote for Selina about World War I was elegant, moving and, to paraphrase what Mike said, nailed pathos to the freaking wall.

Jonah: Ugh. Even though he was just a piece in Amy’s scheme, Jonah had a remarkably good week, and not just because Ryantology made a brief comeback. He’s a monster, but it was pretty great seeing Timothy Simons read that medical chart to bed-ridden Dan at the end.


Selina: She really needs to stop traveling. Can one run a presidential campaign without ever leaving the house? She should think about trying it.

Dan: It was going so well for him, but not everyone can handle the peripatetic nature of running a presidential campaign for the world’s most difficult politician.

Ray: It turns out he was never hired for his fitness expertise. Dan basically hired him to have sex with Selina. And if the prostitution isn’t bad enough, he speaks and thinks in rather incoherent terms.

Armando Iannucci fanboys: An episode of Veep set in London surely awakened dreams of a crossover with Malcolm Tucker, the supremely vulgar Downing Street operative from Iannucci’s In the Thick of It and In the Loop. Sadly, it was not to be, as Iannucci is either not into fan service or because Peter Capaldi, soon to be more famous for playing the Twelfth Doctor, is too busy cursing up a storm inside the TARDIS.

Hats: See the photo above. Hats are the worst.

Posted at 05:16 PM/ET, 05/19/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Selina Meyer comes down with a case of Motor City mayhem. By Benjamin Freed
Sally Phillips and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Photograph via HBO.

Now that her presidential ambitions are fully revealed, Selina Meyer is the dog who finally caught a car and doesn’t know what to do with it. It’s a fitting comparison, considering Veep’s latest episode takes her to Detroit, ostensibly for a jobs announcement, which, like everything else in Selina’s life, turns into a three-car pile-up.

There are no actual car crashes in “Detroit,” but Dan wastes little time in losing control in his new role as campaign manager. Selina is in Motor City to announce a company’s creation of 7,000 new jobs; too bad Dan missed the fact that six months on, those positions will be axed or exported. The event is a mess, and then there’s the reappearance of former Finnish Prime Minister Minna Häkkinen (Sally Phillips), last seen in season two when Selina went to Finland to collect a reward and wound up being groped by Minna’s husband.

Minna is that friendly reminder that Selina is not really respected by anybody outside her immediate circle of advisers and flunkies. Selina refers to her Scandinavian counterpart as “my good friend,” to which Minna responds, “Yes, we have met twice.” Her delivery is so sweet that a viewer might think the joke is a lost-in-translation gag, but considering her book is called The Finnish Wolf,there’s probably some bite there. (And compare that aggressive title with Selina’s laughably bland Some New Beginnings.)

Those lupine instincts emerge when Selina and Minna talk about a shooting in Detroit that leaves three people dead, including a Pulitzer-winning reporter. (Note: Murdered journalists are not mourned in the Iannucci-verse.) Selina, committing one of the cardinal sins of American politics, questions—however sensibly—the endurance of the Second Amendment to her supposed friend. After all, a Finn wouldn’t dime on anyone, would they?

A few scenes later, Minna is back, confessing to Selina that she relayed the anti-gun talk. To whom, exactly? “He is, like, in Central Europe, there is a bad companion for Santa Claus, and on Christmas, if children are naughty, he takes away the presents. He’s like a man, but he’s very tall.” Yeah, Jonah is still around, working for Maddox and scoring some big points over his former colleagues when he stages a photo op between Maddox and Selina that depicts her a few steps lower than Maddox.

Things get even more chaotic when a protester rushes toward Selina only to be punched out by her formerly peacenik daugher, Catherine. Selina’s daughter claims to hate violence, but it’s a solid hit, and one that makes her a cult hero when the Meyer gang visits a women’s gun show to compensate for the anti-Second Amendment talk.

The only momentary pleasure in Selina’s life comes in the form of her personal trainer, Ray (Christopher Meloni), who is on the road with the campaign because, as everyone but Mike deduces, she’s having sex with him. “Raycreation” only lasts until Selina’s ex-husband, Andrew (David Pasquesi) shows up to remind everyone the Meyers are toxically attracted to each other, nasty divorce be damned. Sometimes, the only way out is down.


Minna Häkkinen: How did she get displaced as Prime Minister? The former Finnish leader is devious, friendly, and effective—Selina’s exact opposite. And after a few weeks of small victories for Selina, it’s good to see someone knock her back down.

Jonah: Ugh. Everyone’s least favorite political goon has risen from the dregs. Jonad couldn’t remain defeated forever, I guess.

Ray the Trainer: His affair with Selina was obvious, and even though he eventually gets displaced by her ex-husband, he still managed to upend the vice president’s inner circle and fix Gary’s shoulder injury that nobody cared about. Also, after a decade and a half playing the humorless Detective Eliot Stabler, it’s great to see Christopher Meloni exercising his comedy chops, which appear to be as intact today as they were in Wet Hot American Summer.

Catherine Meyer: Automatic victory for knocking out that protester—and Sarah Sutherland, who plays Catherine, has added to her family’s long legacy of onscreen ass-kicking. (That punch was as convincing as any thrown by her dad, Kiefer, or grandfather, Donald.)

Sue and Gary: They’re back in Washington, running the vice-presidential office and having a heck of a time with each other. “What is going on between you two?” Dan asks for the audience’s benefit. We still have no idea.


Selina: For all the reasons listed above, obviously.

Amy: She admitted Selina is probably her best and only friend. That’s just sad.

Mike: After a strong run to open the season—marriage, one-upping Jonah, attempting to have a kid—the poor bastard is back where we found him: writing bad speeches, losing control of the narrative, and getting surpassed by younger colleagues.

Industry pride: If a reporter is killed, will he or she be mourned by the politicians that reporter covered? Perhaps publicly, but privately, their deaths will be laughed off. Ouch.

Posted at 12:08 PM/ET, 05/12/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Selina finally picks a campaign manager, mostly by default. By Benjamin Freed
Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Diedrich Bader. Photograph via HBO.

After four episodes that ought to be counted as one of the best runs in recent television comedy, Veep falls back a bit when Selina Meyer finally picks her campaign manager. The payoff in future episodes might be great, but the execution of settling this crucial decision is less filling than the rest of the show.

Of all the subplots introduced in the first four episodes—Gary wavering about his job, Mike stabilizing his personal life, Kent and Sue flirting, Jonah doing whatever it is a Jonad does—the rivalry between Dan and Amy about who gets to run Selina’s presidential campaign has been the dullest.

Dan gets the job, but only after Selina is snubbed by Bill Erickson (Diedrich Bader), one of those star political operatives she and all of her rivals are lusting over, snubs her in favor of former Major League Baseball manager and “one-dick pony” Joe Thornhill. The character speaks entirely in sports metaphors, which, in the hands of Armando Iannucci results in sports metaphors getting the trashing they deserve. If America is indeed a baseball team, it’s the Cleveland Indians from Major League II.

Bader, who really needs to show up in more shows, nails the sneering, faux-deep-voiced shtick when he’s cajoling Selina into thinking he’s available and dishing out advice like replacing her entire staff. The campaign-manager job defaults to Dan only because he crashes Selina and Erickson’s supposedly clandestine meeting when Erickson turn her down. Had any other character barged in, I’m sure Selina would have surely offered that person the position.

Too bad for Amy, who actually “campaigned” to be campaign manager by trying to be warm toward her coworkers until developments from Selina’s fishing trip with former Defense Secretary and potential opponent Maddox (Isaiah Whitlock, Jr.) force Amy to abort a surreptitiously catered dinner at her rather bare apartment.

Selina, who takes Dan along on her jaunt to Maddox’s country estate, reels back in this episode from presidential ambition to her old habit of hating on her current job, especially when Maddox proposes she run as his vice president. Of course, she refuses. “I’d rather be shot in the face,” she retorts.

The trip also reveals Jonah’s latest rebound—body man for Maddox—and the secret to his resilience. Jonah exists for the worst reason in presidential politics: a family connection to New Hampshire. (Don’t get smug, Iowa, you’re interchangeable with the Granite State.)

Frankly, the strongest jokes in “Fishing” flow from the subplot in which Mike and his wife are attempting in-vitro fertilization, requiring him to make regular, um, deposits. The other characters’ initial horror that Mike is slipping into the bathroom at work to fill a cup gives way to some great masturbation jokes, the best of which cannot be reprinted verbatim. But let’s just say the Veep gang’s chant when they propose launching bad batches of “little Mikes” at Jonah’s house is disgustingly unforgettable.


Dan: Well, he won his little contest with Amy. Also, the scene back at Selina’s office when they discuss campaign plans over whiskey is stuffed with some unexpected sexual tension.

Jonah: Sadly, he’s back up here. West Wing Man and Ryantology were failures, and he may be reduced to banking on family connections to get a horrible grunt job for Maddox, but at least his former coworkers couldn’t go through with their plan to pelt his front door with discarded ejaculate, so that’s kind of a win.

Kent and Sue: The flirtatious banter continues for this unexpected pairing, especially when Kent remarks on Sue’s strong wine knowledge. But I’m into it, mostly because Sufe Bradshaw was horribly underused in the first two seasons, and Gary Cole is superbly weird.

Dick jokes: Just a banner week. Watch the episode. Recaps cannot do it justice.


Dan: Well, he won his little contest with Amy. But sexual tension aside, his new relationship with Selina will probably destroy him, considering Selina’s track record of not really caring about her employees. Also, that story about him snuffing out a stray dog.

Selina: Lost out on her first choice of campaign manager, forced to sit through a humiliating dinner with Maddox, hit on by her new campaign manager. But, new fun fact about Selina: She once pulled a Left-Eye on her ex-husband’s car!

Amy: She’ll probably be better in the long run for not being named campaign manager, but first she has to suffer the news about Dan and realize her forced friendliness was all in vain. That job with Clovis is looking pretty good now.

Federal Election Commission: In the biggest suspension of disbelief, everyone on Veep sifts seamlessly between the campaign office and the Vice President’s office without a bit of deference to campaign laws. All of these people are in flagrant violation of the Hatch Act.

Posted at 11:44 AM/ET, 05/05/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
In which Northern California is even more ridiculous than Washington. By Benjamin Freed
"These idiots are the internet," Amy warns Selina while in Silicon Valley. Photograph via HBO.

If you’re like me, and you’re watching Veep on HBO Go at 11 PM because your 10 o’clock hour is occupied by a critically acclaimed, soon-to-depart series on another channel, you might have missed that Veep this season is preceded by Silicon Valley, a searing take on internet start-up culture and the annoying tech bros it breeds.

Selina Meyer’s campaign stop in the Valley isn’t a crossover, but it does answer an age-old question: What does Armando Iannucci think of America’s tech bros?

Not much, judging from the events of “Clovis,” which takes its title from a fictional company Selina and crew visit that seems to be a mashup of Facebook, Google, Reddit, and the Circle from Dave Eggers’s 2013 novel, The Circle. (Note the cultish employees who correct Selina every time she pronounces the founder’s name, Craig, with a soft “e” instead of the apparently correct long “a.”)

Selina, who is so bad at interacting with the normals, is even more out-of-place with the techies. There are jabs at Google Glass—Clovis manufactures a similarly functioning watch—word clouds, and net neutrality. Maybe the biggest real-world issue addressed is Craig’s desire for a repatriation tax holiday, something Google and Apple have pressed for while they keep their overseas earnings overseas. He seems to think offering 50,000 tablet computers for one of Selina’s education initiatives sets up a quid pro quo for that tax break.

“Tablets? Cool. No taxes? Awesome,” Craig says.

Tax holidays for tech companies aside, Meyer-land is mostly stable this week after an early bump from a California mom who chides Selina for not opposing natural-gas fracking. Gary is suffering from shoulder pain, a fact he states loudly when informing everyone that the fit gentleman who entered his hotel room was a masseur. (Selina and Amy think differently.)

And back in Washington, Jonah continues to spin Ryantology into something vomited up by Jonah’s screeching, badly animated rants against Selina are mean, but viral enough to the point where Clovis is willing to shell out $4 million for Ryantology.

“Jonah with money,” Selina grumbles. “God almighty. It’s like if Hitler could fly.”

Lucky for the rest of the universe, Jonad is stupid enough to fall for a trap orchestrated by Ben and Dan to falsely accuse Selina’s rival, Danny Chung, of committing war crimes in Iraq. Oh, the internet.


Selina: Yeah, she’s uncomfortable in the Valley and she can’t figure out how to work Clovis’s “space toilet,” but she survives her time with the tech bros and manages to throw Chung off his game for a bit.

Amy: Clovis’s chief financial officer wants to draw Amy away from Selina with the offer of a huge salary and an “open working space.” It’s tempting, but Amy is enough of a Luddite to see the idiocy of the social media industry’s workplace temperament. And she’s still counting on being named campaign manager. As Selina points out, anyone over the age of 30 is probably going to end up as the janitor.

Ben: Kevin Dunn continues to be a great addition to the regular cast. His stomach might be bloated with whiskey and vinegar, but dropping that hint about Chung to Dan is the slickest move he’s made yet.

Dan: Smashing a burrito in Jonah’s face was more immediately gratifying, but coercing Jonah to run with the fake torture story lets him get the better of his mortal enemy yet again.

Mike Judge: Silicon Valley is a very funny show and if we all weren’t flipping away to Mad Men at 10, the Game of Thrones-Silicon Valley-Veep lineup is the most solid Sunday-night arrangement HBO’s had in years. Also, if any place deserves a weekly skewering as much as Washington, it’s Northern California.


Jonah: Ryantology goes viral, Clovis comes with money. Jonah runs a fake story, money goes away. Farewell, Ryantology. You will not be missed. But Jonad undoubtedly has plenty left of awful to dole out.

Gary: Years of bag-handling finally ruined his shoulder. And nobody really cares.

Google Glass: Clovis’s internet-capable watch—the “Smartch,” as Craig calls it—is less off-putting than Google’s wearable moral conundrum, but just as clumsy. During the test run, Selina asks the watch to load her website, Instead, it loads, in which Selina is portrayed by filleted meat, and then, in which Selina’s face is digitally placed on female porn stars in action. Surely a page ripped from some Glasshole’s accidental porn finding.

HBO digital marketing: A WHOIS search for shows that HBO registered the domain back in September, but when you enter the URL into your browser, there’s nothing. Domain squatting isn’t cool, HBO!

Medieval France: If Clovis were in the real world, it would be that social media website you tell all your friends you’re not a member of even though you actually have a secret account. But it seems like a pretty dumb company and no way to honor the legacy of Clovis I, who united all the Frankish tribes in the late fifth century and founded the Merovingian dynasty to become the first king of what we now call France.

Posted at 11:08 AM/ET, 04/28/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Selina Meyer launches her presidential campaign in one of the show's best episodes so far. By Benjamin Freed
Selina Meyer and a campaign prop. Photograph via HBO.


Fictional presidential campaigns tend to be windows into their writers’ beliefs of how America should work. The West Wing’s election cycles pummeled viewers with Aaron Sorkin’s soggy idealism. Barry Levinson’s Man of the Year suggested cynicism as the new patriotism. Pigasus, a hog nominated at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, showed just how absurd presidential politics can be.

So it’s clear that as Selina Meyer announces her campaign in front of a carefully managed human backdrop, Armando Iannucci is trying to remind us just how manufactured our candidates are. And Veep has never been funnier for it.

In what might be the series’ strongest episode yet, Selina’s big day is finally here, and for maybe the first time ever, she’s taking a principled stand about something. The titular Alicia is a single mother from Anacostia who’s convinced Selina to add a line about universal child care to her campaign announcement. The speech is locked, the Meyer campaign has a panoply of constituencies to stand behind the Vice President, and Jonah the blogger is being laughed out of rooms by legitimate reporters.

All seems to be going well, until polling guru Kent Davidson appears. “Children are of no value,” he tells Selina, setting off a game of musical chairs that takes Veep to its darkest, funniest places. Alicia, played by Tracie Thoms, is one of the few genuinely good people to appear in the show. More astonishingly, she actually seems to charm Selina, who is generally not a friend of the common people. So when Selina is told by Kent and Senator Doyle, a stodgy party elder with the senior vote in his pocket, that Alicia and her daughter need to make way for the old folks, the resulting meltdown is one of the most enjoyable sequences the show has done.

“I’ve decided that I’m going to let them dictate to me,” Selina says before sinking into a catatonic state with barely an hour before she’s supposed to give her speech. Only her daughter, Catherine (Sarah Sutherland), can snap her out of it, and only by appealing to Selina’s vanity. (Makes a viewer wonder if any of the real-life presidential kids have told their parents that their lives have been hell because of their parents’ careers.)

This week’s episode also has some not-so-subtle hints at Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s early career when Saturday Night Live mocks her for having had a pony as a child. Louis-Dreyfus spent three seasons on SNL in the early 1980s and doesn’t always speak of it fondly, so there might have been some catharsis in letting her vent about comedy writers. (The pony incident also recalls Seinfeld’s “The Pony” episode, in which Jerry and Elaine rag on an elderly Polish woman who also had a childhood pony.)

“Alicia” also succeeds in giving Selina a rare victory in a series about the politics of embarrassment. After being shaken back to reality, Selina decides to “wing it” in her speech and includes Alicia, even though she may have to jettison her child-care plank later on. But most of the game is glad-handing, anyway.

Constituencies represented at Selina Meyer’s campaign announcement:

  • Single mother
  • Sensitive New York fitness guy
  • Injured fireman
  • Foster mom
  • Heroic restaurateur
  • AARP
  • Benevolent taxi driver
  • Beauty pageant of the nearly dead
  • Guy who looks like Jeffrey Dahmer


Selina: Much of her vice presidency has been spent getting steamrolled by party interests, and while Senator Doyle nearly pancakes her again, she gets out of the losers’ bracket by putting Alicia back in the spech and making nice with SNL. Also, you have to achieve something before plummeting back to Earth.

“Dead-eyed white guys”: Art imitates life. We really don’t need to expound on the clout this bunch wields in reality.

Mike: You’d think he’d be a loser after Jonah catches him calling Alicia a “stupid cow” and is forced to kneel down and sing the Civil War ballad “Goober Peas” in hopes of getting Jonah not to run the story, but Selina’s rare decision to stick to her principles gets Alicia to deny the incident ever took place and robs Ryantology of its first big scoop.

Council member Vincent Orange: The opening shot of Alicia features the large neon sign on Good Hope Road, Southeast, that welcomes people to Anacostia. Count on Orange adding the three seconds of DC that appeared in Veep to his arsenal of reasons why the District government should finance the construction of a film studio, an indoor water park, hotels, restaurants, and a 100,000-seat football stadium on the site of RFK Stadium.


Jonah: Of all the unprintable things uttered on Veep, the best ones are about this “bushel of” the most flexible word in the English language, as one of the journalists covering Selina’s kickoff speech calls Jonad. He nearly ruins Mike, but it’s so pleasing to see him fall short.

Senator Doyle: He might be the ringleader of the dead-eyed white guys, but he can’t keep Alicia’s pitch for child care out of Selina’s speech.

Catherine: She should be a winner for yanking Selina out of her slump, but it’s her mother’s retort that lands her here. No one, especially Selina, will thank Catherine for saving the day. Also, they really should have coordinated outfits.

Posted at 12:17 PM/ET, 04/21/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The shortened season wraps up with plenty to chew over during the break. By Tanya Pai
If Cyrus has a moral epiphany but doesn’t get to tell anyone about it, did it really happen? Photograph by Ron Tom for ABC.

At about 10:30 last night, TV critic Ryan McGee tweeted, “How are we only 30 minutes in? Feels like we’ve watched a two-hour ep.” Which is exactly what it felt like—the season finale of Scandal managed somehow to resolve the major plots that have been simmering all season and to introduce some completely new ones. As a consequence, a lot of it was rushed, some so much so that it was hard to fully absorb the impact—but there were still some nice character beats as well as plenty of OMG moments and the usual spate of fabulous coats. Let’s break it down.


Leo! He has become one of the best parts of the show, thanks to his constant supply of snarky one-liners and evil genius for public relations. Him ripping the sleeve of VP Sally’s suit to make it look like she was roughed up by the church bomb might have been my favorite part of the episode. I also enjoyed his blithe disregard of Cyrus’s advice to protect his soul. But what were they supposed to be drinking, exactly? Lemonade?

Brutal honesty. Papa Pope calls out Olivia for visiting him in the hospital because something’s wrong with her, not him; El Prez and Olivia return to their Vermont fantasy when they think he’s going to lose the presidency, and neither can even muster up the energy to pretend it’s really going to happen; and Abby points out that Olivia’s strategy is to “run to Daddy” even though she’s told the gladiators time and again to go over a cliff for her. The show feeds so much on secrets and lies and emotional manipulations, it’s nice to hear some straight talk once in a while.

Abby in general. She campaigns for El Prez on TV, takes down murderous governors, cleans up messes at HQ (both literal and figurative), and has the only functional relationship on the show. Plus her hair always looks fantastic.

Papa Pope. This season Scandal turned into a show not about a Washington fixer and her team of misfit manipulators but about two very scary, powerful people machinating their adult daughter’s life and pulling everyone around her into their swirling vortex of chaos. It’s amazing. Papa and Mama Pope must be plotting together—they’ve both left each other alive for a reason—but the way he got exactly what he wanted by giving everyone the illusion that they were besting him was really satisfying.

Gerry Jr. Damn, Reston supporters don’t stand a chance in the Grant family! But seriously, I was not expecting him to get killed off (at least he didn’t die a virgin?), and Bellamy Young was, as usual, great at playing Mellie’s various stages of grief and anger. You know if you read these recaps that I am not El Prez’s biggest fan, but seeing him fall to his knees on the presidential seal, tortured by visions of all the pain and suffering that has paid for his presidency, it was hard not to feel for him.

Jake’s delivery to David Rosen. Following up his line about not expecting to find a box of evidence to use against B613 to delivering actual boxes of evidence to David’s office was a bit on the nose—but David really, really needs some professional success at this point, so I’ll allow it. Also both of them referring to Cyrus as “Voldemort” was pure gold.

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Posted at 11:44 AM/ET, 04/18/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Meg’s house is full of money, but her hair is full of lies. By Sophie Gilbert
Gibson’s ex-wife looks in no way like she’s about to make out with CIA Director Widener. Image by Chuck Hodes for NBC.

The one thing we know about Gillian Anderson’s character (Meg Fitch) so far is that her hair looks like it is made of sunshine but is most definitely full of secrets. In last night’s episode, “Designated Allies,” it turns out Meg has been bonking a handsome English doctor (Rod Hallett), whose name may or may not be Jonas Clarenbach (which is a great alibi, by the way), and who seems to have been working for the CIA to train extra-deadly soldiers or something, although he now feels pretty bad about it.

Say what you will about Meg, with her gazillions of dollars and her honeyed rich-person drawl—she’s enigmatic, whether she’s hugging Amber’s best friend, the daughter of the dead congressman from last week, or hissing at her sister to tell Finley that Amber is actually her daughter. Why are you so wise, Meg? Also: Your pharmaceutical division gets a contract with the CIA to produce super-secret drugs for super-secret soldiers and yet you don’t have the security clearance to know anything about the operation? I don’t buy that a control freak like Meg would let that happen for a second.

Gibson’s target this week is his wife, Janice, in a nice piece of subterfuge that reveals a few more cracks in his apparently shattered sanity. Janice is also mom to Beth Ann, a.k.a. the world’s most placid teen, and so when Scary-Voice Gibson calls her and tells her to poison the coffee of the bizarrely muscular director of the CIA, Widener, she’s all about it. But then Widener sees her trembling hands and tells her he isn’t going to drink it, before making out with her, which is always my playbook when people try to kill me. And Gibson tells his team that this was his ploy all along and that the poison wasn’t even real, before gnashing his teeth and crossing out, “HE WILL CATCH HER” and “SHE WILL BREAK” in his notebook. I don’t care what anyone says, this show is hilarious.

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Posted at 11:36 AM/ET, 04/14/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others. By Benjamin Freed
Gary (Tony Hale) is smiling through his failure. Photograph by Paul Schiraldi via HBO.

Veep’s biggest storytelling problem has always been Armando Iannucci’s insistence on never explicitly stating Selina Meyer’s party affiliation. The show is usually funny enough to make it not matter in the end, but mostly because when Veep wades into actual policy debates, it does so as broadly as possible.

So, of course the first time the show has its characters debating the finer points of something that real-world politicians argue over, it’s America’s favorite leaky gasoline canister: abortion.

“The Choice” leads off with Selina and company christening her Maryland campaign headquarters, or, as they clandestinely call it, a “real estate acquisition.” Selina, the world’s biggest fan of meeting new people, takes about 15 seconds to forget new campaign aide Kelly’s name, and isn’t exactly thrilled to see Richard, her bumbling assistant from Iowa, back in the fold.

Speaking of bumbling assistants, the episode re-introduces the subplot of Gary getting badgered by his girlfriend, Dana (Jessica St. Claire), to get out from under Selina’s sometimes tyrannical yoke. Gary even cops to his piss-ant station for a moment, berating his reflection in a mirror for having his “father’s face,” but as much as Gary claims to aspire for more responsibility, he fails, often hilariously, back down to subservience.

But the abortion debate that rips open when the President suddenly goes pro-life in the middle is no good for anyone, and not just because the news cuts short Selina’s fact-finding mission to the drug boats of Baltimore Harbor. (Apparently, The Greek exists in Veep’s universe.) Meyer’s rivals for the presidential nomination are out with statements before she can finish trawling through dozens of interest groups and religious chapters to find the most inoffensive middle ground. Only Dan speaks anything close to the actual truth, that she needs to take a firm stance for or against abortion rights, because any position on the subject—as it does in the real world—will inevitably piss someone off.

And dear Jonah, it is so glad to see him sinking even lower than his firing in the season opener. With his “West Wing Man” blog dead, he launches the even zanier “Ryantology” with loud talking-head videos and wild, unfounded accusations about his former employers. But he’s loud enough to get the attention of MSNBC, and Dan, who for the second week in a row gets the upper hand on Jonad.


Sue: As usual, Selina’s understated secretary has the jump on just about everyone else. When she and Gary are assigned makeshift roles in the abortion fray, Gary delights his big opportunity to escort a pro-choice activist to the office and tries to rub it in Sue’s face. “I don’t need an enhanced role to know my worth,” she snaps back to set things right.

Kent: He’s still a numbers-obsessed monster, but he’s gaining value in Selina’s camp. Also, he’s into Sue, and she’s kind of receptive.

Mike: Almost never in the winners' column, Mike wins this week for having the smarts to blow off “Ryantology.” Bonus win for Wendy for ignoring Jonah’s request for a beer.

Dan: Once again, Dan overcomes his inherent smarm—and, in tonight’s case, a bout of oceanside nausea—to best Jonah.

#ThisTown: The Hill's managing editor, Bob Cusack, gets a cameo as an anti-abortion activist. He doesn't do much at all, but you can count on his appearance being one of the top items in Monday morning's Playbook.


Gary: There are some people who just shouldn’t try to rise above their station. Gary is that person.

Selina: Yeah, Selina got dealt a terrible hand with POTUS’s abortion flip, but she played it all wrong. At least she’s still got Gary to boss around. She really could have used a lesson from Kang:

Jonah: What a chump. Where burrito? All over his stupid goon face.

Posted at 11:06 PM/ET, 04/13/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()