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TV Recap: Veep, Season Three, Episode Eight, “Debate”

It’s hard to tell what’s worse, Selina’s new haircut or her performance in the presidential debate.
Those are not the faces of happy staffers. Photograph via HBO.

Real-life presidential debates are insufferable. Our candidates are tested on how well they can remember canned answers to the same old questions over a two-hour span. A successful debater in modern presidential politics doesn’t need to be forceful and compelling, just adequate and free of mental lapses. Was Mitt Romney that great in the first debate of the 2012 election? No, but President Obama was underwhelming enough to throw his supporters into a panic.

Lucky for us, Selina Meyer and her four primary opponents are all disasters in Veep’s first debate episode. But the episode’s success isn’t in the audience watching five presidential candidates stumble through their showdown. Instead, it’s in watching Selina’s staff watch their boss flub her lines and get overshadowed by even less-qualified candidates.

Oh, and the haircut. Selina shows up having traded in her hairspray helmet for a sloppy pixie cut. Gary loves it; everyone else is rightly horrified. The only thing that takes the edge off the haircut shock is that Selina’s opponents are equally unprepared. Maddox, the ex-defense secretary, can barely form sentences. Danny Chung, true to form, can only speak about his military experience. Owen Pierce, a babyfaced member of Congress we’ve never seen before, spills water all over himself.

As for Selina, she drops her practiced answer on immigration, for which she had prepared something called the “three Rs,” forgetting the third one in an obvious homage to Texas Governor Rick Perry’s scatterbrained performances in 2012. Only Joe Thornhill (Glenn Wrage), a former baseball manager, strings together whole sentences, even if they’re made up of slogans like his intention to “coach America” (barf). Candidates who do that in real life make one want their head to explode.

Winners

Joe Thornhill: The ex-MLB yokel finishes first on Kent’s audience-reaction dial for a statistical win. And for all his country-fried, “real America” shtick, he’s unusually canny, even confessing to an extramarital affair mid-debate before Team Meyer can leak it.

Amy: Although her candidate has gone completely insane, Amy, newly installed as campaign manager, manages this train wreck with much more composure than Dan. She’s finally found the perfect job for her completely soulless personality, saying that the prospect of leaking Thornhill’s affair “feels better than actually having sex yourself.”

Jonah: Ugh, again. He only shows up briefly as Maddox’s aide-de-camp, but he gets to insult Dan (a.k.a. “George Looney”) without it backfiring on him.

Kent: None of his advice to Selina gets through, but his numbers-obsessed strategy is still validated when she finishes second in the audience-feedback poll. Plus, his informing Dan that the deposed campaign manager doesn’t “have the facial gravitas for a beard” lands like a deadly razor.

Losers

Selina: A catastrophe among catastrophes in the debate, Selina only survives to fight another week because her misremembered third “R,” “repel,” strikes an uncomfortably popular note on immigration. But let’s not overlook the hair, which, in grand Veep tradition, earns a flurry of insults, the most printable of which is “Selina Navratilova.”

Jackson: Introduced as an uglier, less-talented version of Dan, Jackson has a “sewing machine of zingers”—better known as an iPad—that does not knit anything useful. Nice knowing you, Jackson.

Rick Perry: Sorry. No one’s ever going to forget how bad you were when you ran for president.

Dan: He returns from the looney bin with three weeks’ worth of scruff which, as mentioned, he does not carry convincingly. Also, everyone still assumes he’s crazy.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.