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Veep: “Chung”

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Veep

“Chung”

Season 1, Episode 4

Hoo boy, you gotta go down to go up.

Veep has more or less lived on the margins of policy so far, avoiding anything beyond a clean-jobs initiative. (Filibuster reform? Only a partisan issue to the party out of power.) But “Chung” sprints right into the immigration scrabble with cynicism so staggering and realistic it basically leaps offscreen and stabs you.

The show, of course, weirdly aligns with our Joe-Biden-driven reality this week, centering around a candid remark by the vice president on This Week. 

Veep’s Biden moment is like a huge cherry bomb, though, and it shot off in the entirely opposite direction from reality: Faulty research and a hot-mic reveals Selina Myer to be a birther when it comes to the war-hero governor of Minnesota, which then blossoms into a room full of hospital patients chanting “USA! USA! USA!” and a backroom deal between the show’s two competent characters and what Selina terms the “pro-Caucasian caucus.”

While I’ve found the show funny in previous episodes, I’ve had a few party obstacles standing between me and embracing Veep, and one of them has been that disconnect between ideology and the content of the episodes. Jamie Weinman of Macleans wrote after the premier that “the attempt to avoid getting specific—to stick to issues that are not specific to one party, to avoid ideology as much as possible, to cut out party identification—may explain why the show feels a bit generic.” I tend to agree with him. Shows like this must establish some boundaries within the alternate reality, allowing for a shorthand to develop about what’s acceptable and what’s outrageous in the realm. And immigration is indeed a quality issue for a television show to deal in. Nothing splits too cleanly within either party, which allows for natural tension within whatever party structure the show presents, as different factions jockey for position.

Veep establishes a boundary (noting that the president holds a strict immigration policy) and then riffs entirely on this. There are no principles to be found here. Selina sells out her old position on immigration fast as lightning, in the service of filibuster reform. This is some cynical work, and I can’t quite believe the show maneuvers itself into a by-night meeting over immigration reform. Veep accompanies this descent with the usual stellar one-liners and back-and-forth (“The one that wants to search random people in ponchos?” “Oh, Bill!” “O’Brien!”)

But really what it does is open into some brilliantly funny disasters, and chief among them is the hospital room scene. The timing’s perfect. Selina musters up a moment of competency after a series of awkward encounters with patients, and then hapless Mike turns up the volume instead of muting it. But where the show’s conditioned another awkward silent moment where the comments are revealed, the crowd has already heard the comments and shifts into a series of entirely racist comments, finally erupting into that “USA! USA! USA!” It is a horrible hilarious tableau that’s basically a remix on reality.

I like that idea of the reality remix when it comes to Veep. The show’s cynicism is pretty damn deep, and I don’t know that there’s much satire of the system beyond that cynicism—but it’s not like the very foundations of pop music are put into question when someone remixes “Call Me Maybe.” There’s a lot to enjoy after all.

Stray observations:

  • Meredith will return next week!
  • I mentioned a few issues above, and one is largely a product of working in Washington (this review's coming to you from inside the Beltway): The pacing and singular focus on Veep is molasses compared to the actual onslaught of political news; similarly, the familiar interaction between staff and the elected officials they don’t work for (i.e. the scene between Dan, Amy, and Sen. Doyle at the book event) does not read right to me at all. But it is a television show, not, like, David McCullough's Truman.
  • “In spite of your preface, I did not detect a whole lot of respect in that question.” When Julia Louis-Dreyfus turns on Timothy Simons (Jonah)—Jesus, you would not want to get in her way. Man.
  • I also loved the desperate search for the remote.
  • The pure facial recoil—especially from Anna Chlumsky—to the dropping of this bon mot, “I’ve got a Purple Heart on my chest, but the one that beats inside of me is red, white, and blue,” was pretty perfect.
  • Lots of great lines, but I’ll limit it to three. Dan: “Who uses withdraw as a fucking verb outside of Catholics and butlers—maybe the Israeli military once in a while?”
  • I don’t know who said it, and that’s what makes it even better: “You’re not even your mom’s favorite Jonah, Jonah.”
  • “That door should be half its height, so that people can only approach me in my office on their goddamn motherfucking knees.”

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