Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Reid Scott, Timothy Simons
In the premiere of the Emmy-winning fourth season of HBO’s hit comedy Veep, hospital the president’s first speech to a joint session of Congress doesn’t go smoothly. In fact, it’s a downright disaster. Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who toiled in a consistent circle of ineptitude as the Vice President, has now managed to become Commander in Chief of the United States and that means more disasters are on the way. Veep season 4 brings us into her bungled presidency and shows how this ill-prepared politician fares as Commander in Chief with the world watching in profound disbelief.
After her speech to Congress fails, Kyle notes “This speech was supposed to define my presidency.” Sadly for her and her eccentric administration, it has. That’s good news for viewers who are looking for a season full of political laughs and mishaps.
The fourth season, which brought Dreyfus her fourth consecutive Emmy as best lead actress in a comedy, Tony Hale his second Emmy as a supporting actor and this show its first win as best comedy, has just arrived on DVD.
The season finds Kyle trying to come to grips with her new responsibilities. Many of the early episodes focus on firsts for the administration: the first major speech, the first state dinner etc. While the events may be new, the characters are acting as strange and hilarious as they previously did (only now they have more power). Playing Kyle’s personal assistant Gary Walsh, Tony Hale is a clear stand-out as his qualities of loyalty and sensitivity are put on full display when he’s forced away from Kyle’s side for her national security meetings.
In this season, the show hits high marks with its blend of politically-incorrect humor (“Imagine Elton John on the day he feels fat,” one character quips in the second episode) and astute political comedy. With the presidency at stake, the show finds humor in such serious topics as a data breach — which arrives with disastrous and politically-poisonous results — and the sexual harassment of the often obnoxious Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons), who is back working for the White House.
The show also finds plenty to mock in its depiction of Kyle’s presidential campaign, where she recruits a “yes” woman named Karen (Lennon Parham), who is hilariously noncommittal. Also joining the cast is the delightful Hugh Laurie, who plays Kyle’s ultra-charismatic running mate whose fresh personality overshadows Kyle’s brusqueness. Laurie’s naturally-gifted Tom James serves as a perfect foil to the insecure Kyle.
For a show’s fourth season, Veep continues to surprise and even manages to seamlessly break up its core group even more as many of them delve into different aspects of the D.C. culture. Kyle’s campaign manager Amy (Anna Chlumsky) finally lashes out at Kyle (“I wouldn’t let you run a bath without having the Coast Guard and the fire department stand by but here you are running America,” she says) and ends up becoming a successful lobbyist. Dan Egan (Reid Scott) leaves the White House as well, under a clearly different set of circumstances. His feeble attempts at an early comeback from the political wilderness feel both realistic and tragic considering that he was the administration’s scapegoat.
Admittedly, the show’s strengths — the great writing and the strong cast — are sometimes ill-served by some of the crass humor that permeates a few of these episodes. With such strong political humor at its core, the show sometimes settles for the easiest punchlines when it could’ve earned more intelligent laughs.
Such a fault, however, doesn’t take away from the show’s underlying grasp of the D.C. political culture. While other comedies suffer in their fourth seasons, Veep remains relevant and hilarious and the cast keeps the laughs coming even when the material doesn’t always deserve them.
Review by: John Hanlon