Shrewd political calculations and vicious low cunning are back on HBO, with characters scheming against each other and some key players meeting their fates at a big wedding. A power vacuum has ruptured open, and several different factions are gunning for the big chair.
By the way, this isn’t about the latest developments in Westeros.
Veep’s third season opens with Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) on a book tour through Iowa as she desperately waits on her unnamed President to tell the world he isn’t seeking another term. Naturally, she’s bored and frustrated by having to glad-handle a flyover state, a task made even more painful by the absence of her regular staff, who are all back in DC where Mike (Matt Walsh) is getting married to Wendy, a reporter played by Kathy Najimy.
Veep sagged last year when every episode was a rehashed sermon on the relative inanity of the vice-presidency, but by giving Selina an actual arc—she’s running for President!—Armando Iannucci has given his show a fresh trajectory. Even the theme is brassier this year.
The season premiere, “Some New Beginnings,” also shakes up some of the regular cast’s roles. Gary Cole’s number-crunching poll czar Kent Davidson has an expanded part, while Kevin Dunn has been promoted to series regular as White House Chief of Staff (and Meyer supporter) Ben Cafferty. There are also new threats for Selina, like a genteel defense secretary played by Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (Memories of The Wire’s corrupt State Senator Clay Davis abound.)
And Jonah (Timothy Simons) has gotten into anonymous blogging, of course, running a site called “West Wing Man” that appears to be the bastard child of FishbowlDC and Wonkette after Gawker sold it off. When Jonah’s extracurricular activity is discovered and upends the entire White House, his summary firing is one of the most pleasurable scenes in Veep’s entire run to date.
Even with the staff shakeups and the inevitable excitement of a presidential campaign, Veep remains a show primarily about politics at its most mundane. Selina strains to come up with a different greeting for everyone lined up to by a copy of her book, Amy (Anna Chlumsky) and Dan (Reid Scott) bicker over who gets to be the campaign manager, and Ben convinces Selina to crash a congressman’s funeral as a way to scope out the available campaign talent.
As Ben mutters to Selina while he forges her signature in copies of her book (written by Dan), “That’s politics in a nutsack.”
Selina: Yeah, barnstorming through Iowa and having to make small talk with a failed presidential candidate is depressing, but she gets to finally be open about her campaign and enjoys the satisfaction of hearing about Jonah’s dismissal. “All my orgasms have come at once,” she says.
Mike: Hey, an HBO character got married and his wedding didn’t end in mass slaughter. That’s got to count for something.
Dan: Selina ignores his pleas to be named campaign manager, but he did get Jonah fired.
Representative Rick Cowgill: The diminutive congressman from Iowa may be dead, but at least he didn’t have to listen to that “bag of wrist slits,” as Selina describes 49-state loser Blake Stewart.
Jonah: He got himself fired, and it was great. He’ll probably come back 10 times more obnoxious.