Four episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
A transition of showrunners is always a tricky move for any TV show to pull off, much less one as full throttle and unrelentingly scathing as HBO’s Veep. When the show’s creator, Armando Iannucci, announced last year that he would be handing off the reigns to Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm alum David Mandel, it was easy to be the tiniest bit cautious. Among many great feats, Veep‘s ability to walk the tightrope of a “heightened” Washington, D.C. – and be consistently hilarious – was something almost too precious to sour.
And soured it is certainly n0t – Veep is, as ever, a head-spinning political satire with enough cracks made by its delightfully potty-mouthed cast of White House scallywags as to feel increasingly less fantastical, and more intriguingly realistic, the longer it goes on. That may be truer than ever in the show’s fifth year, coinciding with a real-life presidential election that arguably has had more unbelievable plot twists and awkward gaffes as anything generated throughout the first four episodes of Veep‘s new season.
Mandel takes that topical fuel and generates a fire almost immediately. The first episode picks up the morning after the presidential election cliffhanger from last year, with Selina Meyer’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) campaign staff in a fumbling disarray after the historically rare results come in: Selina has nabbed the popular vote, but she’s facing an electoral tie with rival Bill O’Brien (Brad Leland) that could ultimately lose her the presidency. “Didn’t those Founding Fuckers ever hear of an odd number?” Selina asks, exasperated.
That’s the thrust of season 5’s first half, but Mandel is playing the long game with the ultimate outcome. Veep keeps the ball rolling on Selina’s presidential aspirations but, like in seasons past, the most memorable, quotable tidbits come from the small-scale human interactions among her colossally dysfunctional staff members. And yeah, that includes Selina: the main plot of the premiere is a particularly nasty pimple that’s emerged on the president’s face, which Gary (Tony Hale) begins treating with various arrays of homemade herbal remedies and heat compresses, much to the chagrin of an actually knowledgable, educated doctor brought onto the staff.
When she gives a speech later in the episode, the internet takes to blaming POTUS (that’s Pimple of the United States) for a plummeting DOW, quickly compared to the 2008 stock market crash and rebranded as Black Wednesday (Selina: “Jesus, it’s only Wednesday?”). Of course the blame is constantly shifted, and victories come in unexpected moments as well, like when Ben (Kevin Dunn) retcons an accidental Presidential tweet as the entire reasoning behind a recent threat of Chinese hackers that breached everything from the NSA’s firewall to White House employee emails, but never managed to fix the Wi-Fi to everyone’s lament.
New cast members slip into the fold with ease, as well, with a new love/archenemy for Selina to obsess over in billionaire banker Charlie Baird (a debonair-as-always John Slattery). The Meyer campaign also decides to bring in a legendary member of the Washington elite, Bob Bradley (Martin Mull), who’s known as “The Eagle,” and seems too good to be true to totally-not-back-and-just-help-out Amy (Anna Chlumsky). Since all hands are on deck when a battleground is set-up in an otherwise peaceful Nevada town, that means the return of smarmy Dan (Reid Scott) and universal punching bag Jonah (Timothy Simons), but it’s Chlumsky’s slouchy, overworked and under-appreciated Amy who repeatedly wins the best, most brutal comedic beats.