Followed by the much talked about season four premiere of Game of Thrones, Armando Iannucci, the British comedian and television filmmaker, débuted season three of his seminal political satire, Veep, on HBO. The comedy has earned a handful of Emmy nominations, and with the return of the new season, it does not seem like Iannucci plans on letting any of the quiet hilarity of his opus go unnoticed. Iannucci, responsible for critically acclaimed works such as the U.K. series The Thick of It, and the 2009 film In the Loop (a spin-off of the former), brought his efforts to American shores to do a send-up of the politics of Washington D.C.
The series, based around the political and personal life of Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia-Louis Dreyfus), drops expletives in ways that almost seem artistic, and where other office setting comedies (like The Office or Parks and Recreation) set you up for a punchline, Veep winds you up above the character’s situations, dangling the punchline like a trap.
This effect often spirals into chaotic, and many times, quiet hilarity. Meyer’s staff are prone to yelling over each other, scheming together (and against each other) to climb political ladders. These plot devices are skillfully subverted by Iannucci and blow up in these character’s faces. What seems like even the smallest political action in this show, snowballs into a series of hilarious consequences – followed by vulgar language that’s hard not to smile at.
This is all highlighted by the visceral physical comedy that Iannucci brings out in his key players. Minor spoilers ahead for those who have not seen Sunday’s premiere yet. In the opener of season three, Vice President Selina Meyer is supporting her book (that her staffers wrote for her) on a book signing tour in Iowa, while secretly gearing up for a presidential run. Meanwhile, her staffers are at the wedding of Meyer’s press secretary, when news breaks that a Pentagon official is resigning (signaling his interest in the White House, and thus the current president not running). What follows is. . . A funeral?
After finding out about a congressman’s death, Meyer attends the funeral in hopes of scoring political points, where she meets a man who lost a previous presidential run. The once presidential hopeful reads a poem at the service (despite publicly saying he is a bad public speaker, which is why he lost the run) in a dry, self-deprecating display of grief. Not the grief for the man who lost his life, but the grief of his own life. It is a wry, dark, and ultimately subtle performance. And it is hilarious. Meyer takes the stand and serves out loud platitudes and anecdotes of a life well lived by the congressman (information she only had because of her new assistant who worked under the late congressman).
Veep is a show that requires careful watching. For the average viewer, it might seem inane or just outright ridiculous (as it often is). However, everything happens in a vacuum in this show, and there’s rich precedent for every joke told at the expense of somebody else. When dissected, and watched over, and over, and over again, Armando Iannucci’s Veep provides viewers with layers of subtext, shifting character dynamics, and a quiet hilarity carefully hidden under all the tense noise.
Opinion by Tyler Collins