Watching Armando Iannucci's political comedy Veep, which returns to HBO for its second season
this next! sorry! Sunday, can be a little exhausting. His scenes swirl like profanity-filled mini-tornadoes, knocking over furniture, scattering papers, and mussing hair. Dialogue whips around rooms at breakneck speed, everyone involved vibrating with tension and vituperative anger. So, yes, it's tiring, but in a terrific way. From what I've seen of the second season, the show has not lost its groove. In fact, our familiarity with it makes the show better; there's no lag time while they wait for us to catch up.
Standing pinched and frantic at the center of all this hysteria is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a marvel of sourness and anxiety. Her Vice President Selina Meyer is vain and power hungry, but constantly thwarted by her own fumbling ambition, a frustration that Louis-Dreyfus plays with sharpness and just a hint of despair. In some ways we want Selina to win, but we're never quite sure if she really deserves it. The way that genuine smarts and acumen and drive can curdle and fester once they arrive in the halls of bureaucratic power, as they have for Selina, is Veep's main theme, a satire reminding us that despite all the grandstanding and lofty principle, ultimately politics is as petty and banal as anything else.
That's evidenced in Selina's staff as well, a scrambling group of occasionally competent incompetents. All are finely cast, but the standouts are Matt Walsh as Mike, Selina's hangdog director of communications, and Tony Hale as Gary, her creepily devoted personal aide. Mike is world-weary and defeated, but still has to get in the dirt and weasel around with the rest of them. Gary has some sort of strange mommy/lover complex concerning Selina, a dynamic that Hale knows well from his Arrested Development days. What Walsh, Hale, and Louis-Dreyfus have marvelously managed to create is a true sense that these people have known each other and been working together for years. They're in tune with each others' odd rhythms, they snipe and bicker like family. Which is not to suggest that there's some warm family spirit at the heart of this show; there's no such thing as sentiment on Veep, and yet it never feels nihilistic or bleak.
The second season begins on the night of a disastrous midterm election. Selina's party, and thus the (never-seen) president's party, is getting creamed. There's a deck-of-the-Titanic mood in the air, but Selina, who had a successful campaigning season despite all the losses, sees this as an opportunity to seize more power in the administration, to take a bigger role in governing. Not for principle of course, but for ego. To do so, she must reluctantly work with a deadpan, no-nonsense strategy adviser (a pitch perfect Gary Cole) who infuriatingly seems to have more power and access than she does. And, of course, she runs the risk of being loaded up with onerous tasks because, hey, she asked for it. This all makes for deft workplace comedy, all the power-grabs and bus-throwing likely as recognizable to any office drone as it is to someone who's worked in the West Wing.
A comedy that's both smart and silly, Veep is an assured, but manic, delight. And it benefits hugely from the second season settle, when a show has worked out the kinks and can truly hit the ground running come premiere time. Veep's second season is breathless and busy but never cluttered. I feel comfortable in the show's hands, even when mortifying things are happening on screen. (Selina sings, guys.) Despite the prickly nature of the show, the competency of the cast and the crew is comforting. Terrifically alert and present, Louis-Dreyfus and company are creating some of television's most richly satisfying comedy. Hell, in the spirit of giving Selina the singular status she's craved for so long, I'll go ahead and say it's the best.