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Season 5 of Veep fires up just in time to make the real-life Campaign 2016 seem almost fuzzy wuzzy


Julia Louis-Dreyfus trumps 2016 prez campaign in Veep. HBO photo

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Emmy’s reigning best comedy series and lead actress presumably remain well ahead of the curve in terms of craven behavior and opportunism on the part of those seeking the nation’s highest office.

Well, one can hope at least. Again absent even a tinkle of idealism or fair play, HBO’s Veep returns for Season 5 on Sunday, April 24th at 9:30 p.m. (central).

The humor remains mostly profane and more often than not coarsely sexual. Conduct of this caliber surely can’t be equaled -- even behind closed doors -- by the likes of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz. The 2016 presidential campaign continues to chart new vistas in down-and-dirty. But by all that is holy, who can match the pure, unadulterated, self-absorbed power-mongering of Selina Meyer, who’s again played to perfection by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a k a TV’s First Lady of Comedy?

Season 4 ended with the still unresolved election day contest between Selina and Republican opponent Bill O’Brien (Brad Leland). Season 5 begins with an electoral college tie, although Nevada might still be up for grabs. This triggers a ruthless, Florida-like effort by both camps to swing the vote in their favor and avoid a resolution by the House of Representatives.

Selina, who became president after her despised boss resigned from office, desperately yearns to be the country’s first elected woman president. This also would mean continued high-level employment for her fractious staff of grovelers, incompetents and in some cases, halfway capable orchestrators of Selina’s problematic public image.

The four episodes made available for review keep Veep in its wheel house of low comedy executed at a high level. Sunday’s opener cashes in on a burgeoning upper-cheek pimple that’s throwing Selina off her game. Not that it takes much. The blemish soon has its own Twitter account -- and instantly more Followers than its bearer. But it’s rather magically gone by Episode 2, although the ever-vexed sitting president still can’t get over “this Olympic-sized swimming pool of shit that I’m doing the backstroke in.”

Hugh Laurie, also currently starring in AMC’s exemplary The Night Manager miniseries, resumes his recurring role as Selina’s running mate, Sen. Tom James. John Slattery (Mad Men) and the always welcome Martin Mull drop in as new characters, beginning with Season5’s second episode.

Several real-life figures are unseen but hardly unspared. It turns out that Selina hates country music in general and Tim McGraw in particular. And Charlie Rose takes it in the teeth during Episode 4, when Selina tells her oft-discarded daughter, Catherine (Sarah Sutherland), “Honey, if I wanted to talk to an unconscious person, I’d book myself on Charlie Rose.”

Although Tony Hale has now won two supporting actor Emmys as hapless personal aide Gary Walsh, I’ve come to prefer the dagger-like one-liners of ring-wise White House chief of staff Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn). As in, “Maybe the firewalls have more holes in them than a gold digger’s diaphragm.”

That’s one of the tamer lines in Veep, which perhaps could get along with fewer dick jokes, too. But this continues to be a series in which basically no one acts honorably. Season 5 will now take its rightful place alongside Campaign 2016, with the last of its 10 episodes airing in late June just three weeks before the likely turbulent Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

In terms of overall venality, though, Veep almost assuredly has set too “high” a bar for the Republicans or Democrats to clear. Led by Louis-Dreyfus at the height of her powers, this is a show that makes palate-cleansers of the bare-knuckled, real-life characters trying to gouge and kick their way into the Oval Office. But it’s OK. Go ahead and laugh.

GRADE: A-minus

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