Veep returns to HBO for its fourth season tonight, and if you haven’t already caught up on the Armando Iannucci satire of American politics, get on it now! You can probably make it through a season and a half by 10 PM tonight. Veep satirizes the political world by distilling it down to what the public likes to watch most: the screw-ups. From foot-in-mouth moments to missent documents to squeaky shoes, everything Selina Meyer (Julia Louis Dreyfus) does is scrutinized, turned into an offense, and spit back at her through the distorted prism of Twitter and never-ending public opinion polling.
They never specify Meyer’s political party, and it’s no surprise that its fans span the political spectrum. Because the main thing Veep stays true to is shining a light on the people more desperate to be near power than to make any real social impact.
Here are five reasons we’re looking forward to Veep’s return.
Thanks to Seinfeld, JLD is an American institution, but it’s truly her ability and willingness to keep playing different kinds of characters that underscores what a talent she is. Louis-Dreyfus will truly commit to a bit, and she has a habit of taking them beyond surface level cute into the truly disastrous and unflattering. Selina Meyer doesn’t walk into glass doors, she shatters them and stands in a pile of glass with bleeding cuts all over her face. She takes bad advice, wears terrible hats, gets a Dustin Hoffman haircut, and can’t go abroad without committing terrible international faux pas. And Selina is at her best as a character when she’s at her most terrible—full of ego, more concerned with being liked than passing legislation, and blaming her staff for her mistakes. After five Emmy wins, hopefully soon Louis-Dreyfus won’t even be asked what it’s like to be a woman in comedy anymore. (It’s a long shot, but I can hope, right?)
Some sitcoms have high joke counts, but Veep goes one better with a high zinger-to-joke ratio. The show’s ace writers don’t spare any character, and its realistic tone means the dialogue is generally underplayed. This somehow enhances the brutally funny putdowns being delivered at screwball comedy speed. And yet every scene still sounds like it could be overheard in a Washington, D.C. cafeteria. The best zingers, of course, are those directed at Jonah (“If you tried to clap, you’d miss your hands;” “Jonah Bond, double-o-fuck-off.”) who might come off as sad if he wasn’t so deliciously, delusionally arrogant.
Every character on Veep is a terrible person whose worst qualities come out when put under pressure, and seeing them misbehave is precisely what makes the show worth watching. Luckily, public scrutiny keeps each of them dialed up on the anxiety scale, insuring that they consistently flub up. Selina’s “bag man” Gary (Tony Hale) is a glorious sad sack, and Dan Egan (Reid Scott) is so coldly ambitious his every misstep feels like a victory. But for every unknowingly selfish thing each person says, Veep’s ace-in-the-hole is Anna Chlumsky’s Amy, whose Olympic-level reaction faces land everyone else’s jokes. (Seriously, why hasn’t anyone made a supercut of her yet?)
As in real life politics, things are perpetually going wrong in Veep’s world, revealing how power magnifies tiny or inconsequential matters into a PR nightmare for anyone in the public eye. Selina can’t choose an outfit or an ice cream flavor without it being polled to death. And the show takes inspiration from political headlines on both sides of the aisle, from Hillary Clinton’s 2008 tear headlines to Rick Perry’s forgetting his third debate point in 2012. If you’ve ever felt like politics is a pointless slog and a losing game, Veep assures that it’s worse than you could ever know. As Selina says off the cuff in the third season, “I’m not gonna be able to pass any single piece of legislation that makes a fuck of a difference in your life.”
Veep’s casting excellence doesn’t stop at its regulars. The smaller recurring roles offer cameos from some of America’s best improvisers, including Dan Bakkedahl (The Daily Show, The Mindy Project), Peter Grosz (who’s written for The Colbert Report and Late Night with Seth Meyers), Dave Pasquesi (half of storied improv duo TJ & Dave), Zach Woods (The Office, Silicon Valley), and Jessica St. Clair (Comedy Bang Bang, Playing House). Through and through, it’s a comedy nerd’s dream team.
Erica Lies is a writer and comedian in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in Splitsider, Bitch, Rookie Mag and The Hairpin.