Don’t expect Veep to suffer many growing pains. TV shows often take a while to define themselves (think the lackluster first seasons of Parks & Recreation and the American Office), but last week Veep debuted as an assured and fully formed entity. That’s not much of a surprise, though; creator Armando Iannucci is a seasoned pro who’s already plowed similar turf with the BBC’s The Thick of It, and a few cast headliners, including Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tony Hale and Matt Walsh, are basically playing to type. Everybody involved knows exactly what Veep is aiming for, and that confidence led to a pilot that didn’t feel like a pilot because it didn’t waste time establishing the show’s premise or setting up anyone’s backstory. That sense of supreme self-assuredness is reaffirmed by this week’s thoroughly competent second episode.
As with my Girls write-ups, my first Veep review was focused less on the pilot itself than on the overall impression created by the show’s first three episodes. In other words, I’ve already sort of written about “Frozen Yoghurt,” although not explicitly. “Frozen Yoghurt” is the strongest of those three episodes because it’s the funniest. The fast-paced back-and-forth between Vice President Meyer’s staff clicks more here than in the other episodes, with basically all of them snipping at each other constantly whenever Meyer is out of earshot. There’s more of the expected cynicism—Meyer’s signature “clean jobs” initiative is more about her legacy than helping the environment, and she immediately offers such concessions as “non-earmark earmarks” during a meeting with the Senator whose support is vital to her filibuster reform bill. (Parks & Recreation’s bit player Phil Reeves plays the Senator and gets one of Veep’s best lines so far.) It also pokes at the ridiculousness of marketing speak, from Meyer’s new “2.me” personal branding initiative to the act of “normalizing” with average citizens. It presents modern politics as the soulless exercise in cronyism and self-puffery that everybody believes it to be.
“Frozen Yoghurt” also builds on the closest thing Veep has to a central plot. Meyer meets with the Senator about her filibuster reform bill, but his cooperation hinges on who she names to her clean jobs commission. This demand explodes in next week’s episode and will probably impact the rest of the season.
The title comes from that bit of “normalizing” recommended by Dan (Reid Scott), Meyer’s ambitious new communications staffer. Dan talks Meyer into filling up a suddenly open afternoon by hobnobbing with the regular folks at a yogurt store “with a built-in narrative” of being run by three generations of black businessmen. Dan and Mike (Walsh) go to the store early to meet the media (including a hot-shot Washington Post political writer played by the omnipresent Brian Huskey) and to prep Meyer’s arrival. They wind up twisting in the wind for hours, growing increasingly antagonistic with each other while trying to placate the writer and the store owners, who are less solidly behind the Vice President than Dan thought. Scott and Walsh play off each other well, Dan dripping with contempt for his middle-aged colleague and Mike struggling to maintain whatever dignity he thinks he has while dealing with this handsome young usurper.
Meyer is late to the yogurt store because everybody in the President’s staff thinks she’s seconds away from taking over the White House. The President suffers a health scare while on a trip to South America, and the early reports don’t look good. Meyers and the rest of her staff are quickly ushered into a secure location by the Secret Service, and the White House staffers who ignore and disrespect her suddenly begin treating her with the deference afforded a President. For a brief moment Meyer tastes the power and respect she craves, and surprisingly doesn’t embarrass herself that badly. Of course the scare quickly passes and once again she’s just the Vice President, the second highest position in the country but one that’s surprisingly lowly. Louis-Dreyfus is great in this scene, underplaying Meyer’s obvious excitement as it turns to both disappointment and relief.
After that false alarm, Meyer finally shows up to the yogurt store, hours after her allotted time. The special new flavor named after her is sold out, with only a mushy cup of melted vanilla left. The media is reduced to a few unimportant bloggers, and the store owners she’s supposed to “normalize” with are angry and confrontational. In one day Meyer goes from being played and disrespected by Congressmen, to briefly becoming the most powerful person in the world, only to wind up being openly insulted by three generations of yogurt store owners.
“Frozen Yoghurt” is a solid half-hour of television, and Veep will remain a show worth watching if it can maintain this quality every week. It’s still not exciting in the way the best shows are. It’s a confident and competent workplace sitcom that lacks the greatness and inspiration of the genre’s best examples.