Despite being the creation of Armando Iannucci, who mastered the satirization of British politics over four seasons of the aggressively cynical The Thick of It (later adapted into the feature film In the Loop), the inaugural season of Veep was basically a D.C.-centric version of The Office, only with a saltier vocabulary. In its second season, however, the series seemed to find its footing. Selina’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) relationship with the president of the United States (affectionately, and sometimes not-so-affectionately, referred to as POTUS throughout) had deteriorated to the point where she feared being replaced by a popular war veteran, pushing her neuroses to a breaking point and raising the stakes for both her and her epithet-hurling staff.
In the show’s third season, Selina and her team are in campaign mode, brought on by the news that POTUS won’t be running for re-election. In addition to embarking on a substantive season-long story arc, these new episodes also tread fresh emotional territory. In the premiere, Selina signs copies of her new memoir in Iowa while her staff celebrates long-suffering Director of Communications Mike’s (Matt Walsh) wedding in D.C. Selina tries to get in touch with them, not because she needs them, but because she’s lonely. Alas, the wedding guests have all been forced to place their phones in a big fishbowl during the reception. The gag both suggests the development of a familial bond between Selina and her staff and lampoons modern society’s reliance on portable devices: “It’s like losing a limb, I can feel a phantom phone ringing,” says Selina’s chief of staff, Amy (Anna Chlumsky), as Mike forces her to part with her phone.
These early scenes of warm familiarity are soon quashed, however, when Selina is forced into an ultimatum via a highly credentialed campaign manager who insists she fire her entire staff—a move she seriously considers. The fact that these people have no friends outside of the workplace, yet are still willing to stab each other in the back, speaks to their deep-seated insecurity. Whereas that insecurity is fairly obvious in, say, Tony Hale’s Gary, who follows Selina around like a puppy dog with her bag on his shoulder, constantly seeking her approval, it’s less apparent in Dan (Reid Scott). The veep’s deputy director of communications, Dan began the series as a young hotshot, but has transformed into a borderline sociopathic bridge-burner, too conniving even for Washington insiders, his ambition so blinding that he can’t see how much he depends on his colleagues. There seems to be a suggestion that political life is so all-consuming that no happy, well-adjusted person would ever choose to be a part of it. Instead, it attracts people willing to live in misery for the sake of their ambition.
In my review of season two of House of Cards, I commented that “Joe Biden’s life is probably closer to the farce of Veep,” and, indeed, that’s the irony that drives Iannucci’s satire—the sense that such incompetent bungling could easily result in the same watered-down policy proposals and campaign promises that get parsed on cable news every day. As in previous seasons of the series, the VP’s office is chaotic, with decisions constantly made at the last minute and for the wrong reasons, but the result is inevitably a centrist, compromised decision that doesn’t ruffle too many feathers. Sure, the myriad scandals that engulf politicians on a regular basis could be the result of conspiracies and backstabbing, but isn’t it more likely that our elected representatives are just a bunch of narcissists? Either way, it’s much funnier.