'Veep' Premiere Recap: Selina Meets (And Beefs With) Gary Cole At The Start Of Season 2

04/15/2013 01:48 am ET | Updated Jun 14, 2013
  • Joanna Rothkopf Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Fellow at Columbia University

Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 2, Episode 1 of HBO's "Veep," titled "Midterms."

If you are one of the misguided few who chose to watch the MTV Movie Awards instead of the "Veep" premiere, I have to say that I am baffled by your decisions and question the integrity of your character. That said, this recap will probably be most useful for you.

I am more than willing to admit that Season 1 of "Veep" took a little time to gain its sea legs with some episodes moving a little slowly in that kind of hyper-dry, deprecating mockumentary form that I generally loathe. It would seem, however, that creators Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell have decided Selina Meyer and America can only take so much relentless ego crushing, because Season 2 began with the fastest-paced, most high energy episode in memory.

The season begins on the midterms campaign trail where, through a series of spliced terrifically spot-on sound bites, we learn that Selina is killing it. If you didn't catch the full text of her "speech," I've included it here because it is too absurd not to commend:

North Dakota, we can do this together. There is no I in freedom! Freedom is not me-dom. It's we-dom! [Cheers] I visited a dance studio in Hartford, Connecticut. When I was there, I met a brave firefighter in a wheelchair. Back then, we didn't know what HIV positive was, which meant he had to lose his kidney. He shook my hand and he said, 'You don't remember me, but I am your grandpa!'

Although I have a talent peeker for most everything that Julia Louis-Dreyfus does (Real talk: I once performed an Elaine monologue for an audition. This was regrettably recent. I was not cast), she still outperformed herself as a parody of a slick political figure, albeit of dubious moral standing.

The episode that follows is almost back to back punch lines, written in a way that is nothing but energizing. We reunite with Selina's staff members, who are unchanged save a few key developments: Buster (I'm sorry) Gary has starting seeing a woman named Dana and will not stop weaseling the topic into conversation; Mike has bought a leaky boat, which is causing him considerable financial hardship; and Amy's father, we learn right in the middle of one of Selina's declarations of self-importance, has had a maybe-stroke.

Meanwhile, the midterm election results come in, revealing pretty immediately how horribly the party did ... except for Selina. We follow the team to the West Wing -- which seems to be a gentlemen's party of sweat and despair -- where Jonah is busy running around like an oaf, stealing thunder and being otherwise useless. His staff soon informs Selina how well she is polling, prompting her to seek help from Kent, her former campaign strategist and current senior strategist to POTUS, played by Gary Cole!

This is certainly a triumphant return to the "West Wing" for Cole, who has lived on in my heart as VP Bob Russell to President Jed Bartlett in the early 2000s. He is considerably more weatherworn in his new role, but just as gruff and sensual as ever.

Kent refuses to help Selina with her reputation repair, a roadblock that results in two priceless moments: First of all, this line spoken by the Veep is so short and quickly delivered, but it appealed right to the little idiot in me and has stuck to my ribs since I heard it come out of the TV: "I'm gonna go pee pee and then we're gonna neutralize Kent." The second moment is the real pièce de résistance of the episode: the ridiculous fight over coral lipstick in the Oval Office (the president is obviously absent) where Louis-Dreyfus is really at the top of her physical comedy game -- hanging on upside down as Gary wipes off her high heel, in a grotesque duet of political dysfunction. (You see, this is my analysis of the social commentary of the oeuvre.)

The real shocker of the 30 minutes happens just after, when Selina is given the message that POTUS has actually called! Miracle of miracles! Thanks to her .9 percent increase in approval, he grants her an enhanced role in foreign policy -- and all the extra work that comes with it. Despite her mixed emotions at this increased responsibility, her role is still largely the same -- when POTUS requests that she buck up and do the unpalatable task of appearing as the "Face of failure" on the Sunday morning shows, Selina must oblige and don a Thatcher-esque (pardon me, may she rest in peace) hairdo that is flattering on no one.

My one criticism is perhaps also why I found the episode so easy to enjoy -- there was, dare I say it, potentially an over abundance of plot. Because each character was dealing with a personal drama beneath the arc of Selina's rising popularity, there wasn't much time to really explore any one of them. Perhaps Mike's unsalable boat will take the place of his imaginary dog as an ongoing joke in the season. I was unsatisfied mainly by Amy's father's stroke -- the conflict that arose as Amy was unable to function when Selina hurled verbal abuses at her was amazing -- which is why it felt a little lame to have Amy finally get to the hospital to learn that it maybe wasn't a stroke after all. Regardless, if the plot line did nothing else, it gave us the phrase from her obnoxious sister, "Oh my God, Amy, you work for the vice president; it's not like it's Google."

Main takeaways:

  • "My eyes will say Holocaust, and my mouth will say carnival!"
  • Mike wears Ralph Lauren for Men
  • Amy's sister has had three children by two different men
  • The word: exhaustipated
  • Selina deserves a Cartier dildo, says she

"Veep" airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.