Why Veep Is the Best Comedy Since Arrested Development
In honor of the show’s fourth season finale on Sunday night, we took a look at what makes it so damn good.
We’re about 18 months away from a presidential election, with both Democratic and Republican nominees announcing their intentions to run seemingly every week. So I’m stepping forward to make an important announcement of my own: Veep is the best comedy series on TV since Arrested Development. It’s the clearest successor, and it runs laps around any other comedy currently airing on television—and I’m not just saying this because both shows feature Tony Hale.
Arrested Development was very much ahead of its time: a rapid fire, outrageous comedy about a rich family forced into (relative) poverty after its patriarch was arrested. What I think is easy to forget is how political a show Arrested Development turned out to be. Beyond the petty Bluth family squabbles, it was also an intense critique of the one percenters before we were even calling them that. It managed to successfully lampoon both the right-wing elite who benefited from the early years of the War on Terror, as well as the wealthy liberal-minded activists who were never quite sure how they were helping. It was smart and it was funny and ultimately it was gone too soon (and then back and very, very different).
Veep, however, exists in the here and now, and it is spectacular. A quick primer for the uninitiated: Veep is the HBO sitcom starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, the Vice President of the United States. It’s an incredibly fast-paced and biting satire of American politics created by Armando Iannucci, the British mastermind behind the television show The Thick Of It as well as the film In The Loop. Iannucci’s writing style is unmistakable and like nothing else on television; it’s almost impossibly quick. Veep consists of some of the most colorful language and were it not delivered so perfectly, it could easily risk sounding overwritten. Nearly every single line is a joke, delivered with the utmost dry sincerity by its cast.
And while we’re at it, we might as well discuss the cast—a complete cavalcade of talent. Meyer’s team consists mainly of Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky) as her fearless Chief of Staff, Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh) as her hapless Director of Communication, Dan Egan (Reid Scott) as her slimy Deputy Director of Communication, and Gary Walsh (Tony Hale) as her dedicated personal aide. Recurring characters like Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons), Ben Caffrey (Kevin Dunn), Sue Wilson (Sufe Bradshaw), and Kent Davison (the truly wonderful Gary Cole) round out the supporting cast, which also added Diedrich Bader and Hugh Laurie this most recent season. These characters have formed an expert web of both personal and professional relationships and political alliances with one another. None could exist without each other, and just as they’re willing to support each other and Meyer in her vice presidency, they’re also willing to turn on each other at a moment’s notice.
Numerous sitcoms today stumble into the pitfalls of romantic comedy tropes. These shows live and die by the romantic relationships between their protagonists; whether or not these shows are any good is often directly correlated to the will-they/won’t-they factor of each episode. In the way that Arrested Development never strayed from its commitment to the Bluth family, Veep has never strayed from its political roots. It is, first and foremost, a workplace comedy. That’s not to say that the characters don’t have relationships—the Season 3 premiere starts with Mike’s wedding to a woman who hadn’t once been mentioned before that episode. There’s unmistakable sexual tension between Amy and Dan throughout the series, but the likelihood of these characters getting together is outrageously low. Veep isn’t telling those types of stories. The interpersonal relationships add color and depth to these characters, but they never distract from the central conceit.
Veep also expertly navigates the waters between high and low stakes comedy. Most comedies today are relatively low stakes: people’s workplaces are offices, coffee shops, or, at their most advanced, law firms. When a show is based, however, around the second-most important job in the nation, there are always going to be plotlines around the passing (or in most cases in both Veep and real life, not passing) of bills, elections, and global diplomacy. Veep has covered topics ranging from green energy to a woman’s right to choose to the ever-fluctuating job market. It’s deeply aware of the political climate of the actual government and yet manages to remain a somewhat neutral voice. It feels crucial to state that it’s never been mentioned what party Selina actually identifies with.
But that’s not to say the show isn’t willing to get mundane. A subplot in the second season of the show focused exclusively on Mike trying to sell the boat he bought that he can no longer afford. In the third season, much time was dedicated to Gary’s shoulder pain from carrying Selina’s bag. It’s absurd and expertly balanced, like a circus act. Something so simple—like a dinner function where the centerpieces are too big—gets blown out of proportion and becomes a story about how the American public finds Selina’s spending to be out of control. Everything is something in Veep.
Like most cable shows, Veep will now rest for about ten months and return next spring under the direction of a new showrunner (David Mandel of Curb Your Enthusiasm) as Iannucci moves on to other projects. There’s a worry, like with any show, that a new showrunner will turn Veep into something different and unfamiliar. But as of right now, with an unbeatable cast and commitment to itself, it seems almost too good to lose its grasp on itself. Politics, as they say, is about people, and Veep‘s got the best of them.