Veep Season 4 Episode 1 Review: “Joint Session”

Veep

What happens when the VP actually becomes the POTUS? Better off, what happens when that change takes place in a show titled Veep? The fourth season of the HBO comedy intends to illustrate the answer to that question.

“Joint Session” begins with Selina Meyer as the (interim) incumbent President of the United States, following the resignation of her predecessor, an action that had been teased throughout a major portion of Season 3. The new role of the former VP presents its own set of new challenges since Selina, who for years had been doomed to strive for power and recognition while assuming minor tasks, has to prove who she is, and that she is capable of running the country. Attached to that fact is the danger of Selina only finishing the remaining eight months of the term, which means that her campaign to run for president is also at risk. Or shall I say, once again?

As the episode opens, Selina is about to give her first speech to Congress as the leader of the country. She greets the attendees with candor, showing her ways have not changed; she acts exactly like she did when she was the vice president, making jokes and awkward comments plagued by Meyer-isms. Then the moment for her to step onto the stage and address the public comes, and Selina does so with grace. She reads the first words from the teleprompter, the customary start for any oratory, yet when she is about to really start to communicate what her goals for the term are, the screen goes blank.

There is a cut to 24 hours prior to her public speaking affair. Her staff is still intact, and as confused as the audience remembers them, only that this time around, the stakes are higher. Selina’s entourage is trying to amend the first draft of the statement, since she deemed it “too vague.” That said, the president also wants to distance herself from the former commander-in-chief, and therefore intends to announce changes to the former proposal that President Hughes had concocted. There is a palpable urgency for the accidental POTUS to showcase what she calls “her vision,” in spite of her not being clear as to what that entails.

While her team follows her orders and writes down “future whatever” as a reference in the draft, Selina is spread thin due to her schedule being overpopulated by commitments. However, her new position and resulting power boost also have Selina sporting a new confidence. I don’t ever recall the character acting with such competence or being so independent. Surprisingly enough, she doesn’t rely on Gary following her around and assisting her at every turn, which has him feeling sidelined. That stated, Selina has not entirely learned from her experience as Veep, and keeps her own replacement out of the loop.

Speaking of the new Veep, the man knows that he is being “frozen out” and sends Jonah as his spy to get intel on what is going on in the Oval Office. As he puts it, “the cycle of abuse (between the President and the second in command) continues,” which is a concept Veep made its own trademark from and one it keeps perpetuating, only this time from a different angle.

Back at the Oval Office, Selina, Dan, Ben, and Kent examine numbers to see how to implement some change. Ms. Meyer, as advised by her team, has her eyes set on cutting Hughes’ military budget in order to use the money towards the “Families First Act” bill, an initiative that, much like Obama’s Affordable Care Act, would be set to help middle-class families and working moms. According to the polls, the bill would help Selina’s numbers; however, negotiations with the military would be imperative.

Meanwhile, Amy is holding the fort at the Meyer campaign office in Maryland and also wants to be made privy as to what Selina is going to chose her legacy to be. She questions Mike as to what option Selina would lean towards: spending money on the Families First legislation or making cuts. Mike admits that he is not sure because the president has yet to make a decision, which prompts Amy to remind him that the polls show that their boss and Chung are neck to neck in the race for the presidency. Like I said at the beginning, it is thrilling to have Selina having a campaign in the works while she is playing substitute president.

Later on, Amy meets with Bill Ericsson, and asks him if Joe Thornhill, one of the presidential contenders, is dropping off the campaign, as gossips suggested. Ericsson bluntly tells her that while Thornhill is not quitting but that, actually, he is. The reason behind that surprising move is that the the chief campaign adviser is after Amy’s job. The confession catches Amy off guard. She is aware that Ericsson is one of the best campaign managers out there, and therefore, her position might not belong to her for much longer.

Selina finally meets with the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the Military, who propose an alternative cut to their budget. They inform the president that she could get $50 billion by obliterating a submarine program that had been deemed obsolete by new technology. The new development seems too good to be true.

Mike and Dan who had struggled with the speech simply due to the fact that they had no content to add, a problem that worsened given that Selina’s schedule prevented them to spend any time with her, are finally able to finish the document, and Selina is thrilled with it. However, Furlong shows up right before the president addresses Congress and informsAmy and Kent that the cut Selina is about to implement would cost jobs in several states. In translation, the plan that was supposed to catapult Meyer’s legacy would actually cost them votes and seats.

The president’s staffers are in dire need to let Selina know that “Families First” needs to be killed,  and when they do, she just orders them to take the military cut announcement out of her speech, which leads to them modifying the script of her speech at the last minute. As they know that the text will not be ready before the POTUS addresses the world, they rely on her being able to read from her hard copy, the issue is that Gary accidentally took Selina’s reading glasses. Details like that are what have always made Veep excel.

All of a sudden, the episode is back where it started: Selina reads the first part of the script from the prompter, and then sees a black screen. It’s time to wing it, so she says a few words about former President Hughes and his wife and asks for a moment of silence that she stretches as her aides load the new speech. When the problem seems to have been averted, it turns out that Mike loaded the wrong document, which forces Selina to improvise and ad-lib. She fills her oratory with random metaphors about trains and journeys, which works, but then, she continues to follow the words from the screen, and accidentally announces the initiatives that Hughes had intended to implement. The original goal of distancing herself from her predecessor has backfired as the new President Meyer has become, in everyone’s eyes, a carbon copy of Hughes.

The episode closes with an enraged Selina yelling at her whole staff, while more and more meetings are being announced.

Veep‘s fourth season opener is the kind of episode that reminds the audience that even when the show has evolved drastically, its DNA remains exactly the same, and oh, how we have missed it. The HBO comedy is still as sharp as ever and uses its strengths to both pull the audience in and entertain, while still remaining smart and focused. The writing is as top-notch as it’s ever been, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus and company provide solid performances that compliment one another.

Highlights:

– Jonah is back! The Veep character that we love to hate simply belongs inside the White House and makes the perfect imperfect snitch.

– Sue. She has always been one of my favorite characters on Veep, but this episode cements all the reasons why, the first one being that Selina’s secretary is the only member of her staff that doesn’t go from freak out to almost heart attack in a span of seconds. Additionally, her comebacks are some of the best.

[Photo via HBO]

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