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Veep: "Frozen Yoghurt"

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Veep

"Frozen Yoghurt"

Season 1, Episode 2
A-

Veep

"Frozen Yoghurt"

Season 1, Episode 2

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In tonight’s episode of Veep, “Frozen Yoghurt,” Selina experiences a day that begins with promise, quickly spirals into a nightmare, perks up briefly once again, only to end in the most embarrassing way imaginable. Selina’s riding high at 10 a.m., but by 5 p.m. she is, quite literally, shitting herself. To use a tired but useful cliché, it’s quite a roller coaster ride for the vice president, who teeters on the knife-edge between glory and utter humiliation over the course of a single work day. It's in these extremes that Veep finds comedy.

As Selina's day begins, there are already two signs of trouble on the horizon: It’s a brutally hot day in Washington, and an explosive case of gastric flu going is working its way across Capitol Hill. But even these unfortunate circumstances aren’t enough to squelch the brimming sense of accomplishment in the vice president’s office. First, Amy has a productive meeting with Eric, chief of staff for Senator Doyle, regarding filibuster reform. Then, she gets an email from the White House saying that Selina’s clean jobs task force is likely to get the go-ahead.  It’s a double dose of triumph for Selina, and suddenly, she’s feeling invincible.

 With a two-hour window in her schedule, she tells her staff she wants to “normalize it”—that is, arrange a visit with some regular old Americans. Dan just so happens to have the perfect suggestion: visiting a yogurt shop run by an African-American family. Selina laps it up. Her motivation is at once cynical and idealistic. Yes, it’s a calculated photo-op, but she’s also clearly excited about getting back to retail politics.

But first she has to get Senator Doyle's commitment to filibuster reform. Despite her anxieties about  Doyle, who’s apparently known as a real “hogfucker,” the meeting goes swimmingly. Even Gary's sneeze-dive isn't enough to sabotage the pow-wow. Feeling overly confident, Selina sends Amy off to round up more support for the bill. This is the moment we know she’s doomed, not only because she doesn't have Amy there to guide her, but also because she's entirely too pleased with herself. Armando Iannucci loves to puncture this kind of over-confidence, and so the chain of indignities that follows is hardly surprising; it is, however, very funny.

With her guard down, Selina makes a promise to keep oil off the clean jobs task force, one that contradicts her earlier plan to appease the plastics industry. As cynical as Veep is about contemporary politics, it also has its oddly sympathetic moments. Selina’s trying to accomplish two worthwhile things—filibuster reform and green jobs—but they’re at odds with each other. To get anything accomplished in Washington, Selina will have to do more than just compromise; she’ll have to contradict herself.

It’s then that Selina gets the news of a lifetime, courtesy of Jonah: “POTUS” is experiencing heart pains, and she’s needed in the situation room immediately. Selina feigns horror, but she can barely contain her excitement. Who cares about the clean jobs task force when she’s going to be president? Jonah instantly begins to suck up to his new boss, running over bystanders in an attempt to get her coffee, and Selina basks in the glory—while it lasts.

For 40 minutes or so, she’s the most powerful woman in the world, and certainly not the kind of person who can be bothered to “normalize” at frozen yogurt shop. But it turns out the president is merely suffering heartburn after some spicy food, and just like that, Selina’s back to her old job. One minute, she’s reviewing Pentagon briefings; the next minute, she’s eating melted frozen yogurt with an angry small business owner who won’t even let her—the vice president, after all—use his bathroom. And so Selina’s day, which began with such promise, ends in disaster. I’m a little surprised by just how scatological “Frozen Yoghurt” gets in its final minutes. We all knew Selina was doomed to get the gastric flu, but did she need to crap her little black dress, too?

I interviewed Iannucci a few weeks back, and he talked about the inherent irony of the vice presidency, the way that the job offers little real power, only the potential for it. “It’s all there, and yet it’s not,” as he put it. I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to suggest that’s what’s going on here. Where some might see something more epic—maybe even Shakespearean—in this narrative, Iannucci sees something humorous.

Something else Iannucci is interested in, especially in “Frozen Yoghurt,” is the rather complicated hierarchy in a place like DC. For instance, early in the episode, Selina stages a “brush past” with Eric, Senator Doyle’s chief of staff, because she wants to “give him a smile to take back to his boss.” In other words, she’s sucking up to Doyle by sucking up to his staffer. Veep is, in a way, a comedy of manners about DC, a place where being powerful is equated with having people to do things for you. So, Selina dithers around in her office while Amy meets with Eric, then pretends to be busy (“This is an interesting piece of paper,” she tells Gary) as she does her “brush past.” 

Veep is acutely sensitive to the bitter ironies of the vice presidency, but if anything, I think the show’s portrayal of Selina’s staffers—and their internecine rivalry—is even more interesting. Each character has his or her own distinct skill to offer the vice president, and it’s fascinating to see how they leverage their relationship with her. Gary is physically closest to the veep, which he believes gives him a kind of proximate power. He boasts of being Selina’s “moon,” and he proves it by intercepting a germ-laden sneeze (alas, his selfless act doesn’t do much to help, since he and Selina both get sick). Dan is the schemer, the guy who’s eager to leak news about the task force to Leon West, a powerful DC reporter, all in an effort to steal Mike’s job. After all, what good is Selina’s triumph if Dan can’t use it to ingratiate himself to someone in power?

Maybe he’s just learning from the boss. After all, it’s Selina who, after learning about the success of the green jobs task force, exclaims, “That is so great for me!”

Stray observations:

  • Jonah is quickly becoming my favorite character on this series, and his riff on frozen yogurt flavors is, for me, the highlight of the whole episode. “Mint implies “freshness, trust, traditional values,” while a swirl suggests “racial harmony, crossing the aisle.” Jonah, of course, takes the mission completely seriously. “This is one of my areas, food choices, seriously,” he says.
  • Telling detail: Senator Doyle bullies Eric in order to ingratiate himself to Selina, who bullies Gary in order to ingratiate herself to Eric.
  • Mike: “You work at the White House? My God. Can I blow you?”
  • Something I wish they’d say on the Sunday talk shows: “If you can get a senate reform bill through the place it’s designed to reform, that would be amazing. That would be like persuading a guy to fist himself.”
  • I love how unimpressed the mom at the yogurt shop is with Leon.
  • The saddest part about the president’s rapid recovery: Selina even has to return her pen and binders.
  • Further hints the unnamed president is probably not conservative: The owner of the yogurt shop complains about taxes.
  • “I just won’t be photographed eating a hot dog or any other phallic food,” Selina declares. Could this be another reference to her failed presidential campaign?
  • Selina: “You could move more air by farting.” Gary: “I’m sure you could ma’am.”

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