Amy, what are your top five DeNiro movies, and you can’t say Meet the Parents because that’s automatically number one. — Richard T. Splett
Here’s what no one needs to tell you going into the fifth season of Veep, which premiered Sunday night at 10:30 ET on HBO…
This is an outstanding comedy show, a can’t miss part of “Peak TV,” and it continues to rise up the all-time ranks.
So, there’s no real point in me spending multiple paragraphs touting individual brilliance in the acting, the ensemble as a whole, or the writing talents we’ve all seen for the past four years. I may delve into it a bit, but in truth, if you haven’t been sold on Veep yet, you may just be a lost cause. And, if you’re not a fan – but have sampled the show – it may not be for you; like how American Horror Story does precisely nothing for me but racks up Emmy nominations and wins by the truckload.
The boss man here at Outkick adores Veep just as much as I do, and we’re certainly not alone. While the first season met with critical malaise, the subsequent years have all received high marks, increasing with each year. It’s more impressive when you take into consideration how much dialogue and story is required to pull off this show correctly. There’s no laugh track, no commercial breaks to provide easy pauses, and there are very few wasted moments or even times to breathe. The entire performance has always moved at a pace best described as insane.
The reason you might be reading today has little to do with specifics, sans one. Armando Iannucci WAS Veep, as he took his successful British concept for The Thick of It, which ended up spinning off into a feature film, and brought a variation on the idea overseas to the American audience. He carefully crafted the HBO version from Episode 1 to Episode 38, the fourth season finale. Then, he made the decision to walk away from the show and relinquish the showrunner title, citing time with family back home and moving to other projects as the major reasons.
We’ve seen these shifts in control result in near disaster in the past, or at the very least a drop off of some sort. Considering just how involved Iannucci was in Veep, the questions had to be asked about the future of the series. At one point, Season 5 was believed to be the likely final season, but on Thursday, HBO announced a Season 6 renewal for 2017, so these ten episodes will indeed not be our last with Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her team.
But, without Armando, would the show still feel the same?
The answer is a resounding yes, in a way I never expected.
While I believed it was possible to maintain the consistency of the show, I anticipated some differences. Admittedly, I didn’t feel the first four installments of Season 5 were quite as fast-paced as their predecessors, but it wasn’t a negative change. I felt a bit more comfortable overall watching them, and the story itself might be the best narrative we’ve had at any point in the show’s run. The larger arc is rock solid, and that one thread is able to avoid any real hint of conclusion without feeling unrealistically stretched. If it goes through the 2016 finale, it will be entertaining all the way to the finish line.
Avoiding spoilers no one needs, because you’ll all be watching if you’ve made it this far, the season opens the day after the election, which resulted in an Electoral College tie, a reality that is almost unthinkable. Every event that takes place within the first half of the season is linked to the fight for the White House, and the expected hilarity and misunderstandings ensue. One point to note is that as narcissistic as Selina has been in the past, never has she been less likable than in Season 5, which makes for a much funnier program. She’s a complete jerk, which is perfect as it separates her even further from the rest of her staff (or most of them). And, considering the political climate in which we live, what once was REALLY outlandish is now merely reprehensible, and sadly believable. But, it’s still a riot.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus continues to shine in the role she was born to play. As much as she’ll always be known for Elaine Benes, no one will ever forget this one. Her career post-Seinfeld is certainly the best of all the actors on that show, with all due respect to Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Her sense of timing and her ability to make the slightest of changes to expression or posture are second to none in comedy, as she has control of the Selina Meyer character in a way you just don’t see very often. While I remain disappointed that Amy Poehler will never win an Emmy for Leslie Knope, when she lost to JLD, it was difficult to be angry about it, if not impossible. This woman has won four consecutive Emmy’s, and she’s going to win a fifth. It’s become an iconic performance, one that joins the very best on the most exclusive all-time lists.
Veep has never been a show to keep the gloves on, but the vitriol, the snark, and the vile retorts are at an all-time high. The writing is as sharp as ever, and here we look from Iannucci to the new producer, David Mandel. His name might not be familiar, but his work includes lead writing credits on Seinfeld, executive producing and directing credits for Curb Your Enthusiasm, co-creating Clerks: The Animated Series, and also working as a staff writer on Saturday Night Live. He brings skill and creativity that Veep has always relied upon, understands how the show should work, and he steps to home plate with his eyes on the upper deck.
Included in the early stages of the season include surprising turns for Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) at the expense of Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons), the usual problems for Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky) and Dan Egan (Reid Scott), and some serious drama within the Meyer family, particularly with Selina’s daughter Catherine (Sarah Sutherland). Tom James (Hugh Laurie) is his smug self, and finds out just how far Selina is willing to go to keep her name clean, including passing the buck. For Bill Ericsson (Diedrich Bader), well, let’s just say he never should have left the Thornhill campaign.
We welcome John Slattery (Mad Men) to the festivities as a billionaire banker and a new love interest, comedy veteran Martin Mull as a past his expiration date Washington insider, and the returns of Gary Walsh (Tony Hale), Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh), Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn), Kent Davison (Gary Cole), Sue Wilson (Sufe Bradshaw) and all the rest. Roger Furlong (Dan Bakkedahl) is also back, and I separate him because of all the insult artists, he’s in a class all by himself.
You’ll also find yourself in random conversations about how to pronounce the word, “Nevada.” But that’s next week. You’ll also see how acne can ruin anything, for anyone, at any time. You’ll watch the highs and lows of a cleanse. And, one more quick tidbit, you’ll find out who wins in a Fitbit steps and stairs contest in the West Wing. That’s as vague as I can make it and still provide a smidge of enticing detail.
It’s hard not to just spill everything about everybody, tell you what they’re up to, and recite the best of the many one-liners, but you’ll get to experience those for yourself. Once you do, return here to Outkick every Sunday night for an HBO comedy dual post, covering both Veep and Silicon Valley in separated sections. Between Clay and I, we will have the greatest three-show lineup in television completely covered every week throughout the season.
If you feared what the series would look like post-Iannucci, put any apprehension to rest. Veep is still freaking hilarious, laugh out loud funny, and provides the most consistent one-liners and insults on television. His vision continues to protrude from every corner of the show. There is no drop off to be found anywhere. It’s still vulgar, witty, precisely constructed, and flawlessly executed. Season 5 gets my highest recommendation.
It will be a real chore to determine which of the two HBO shows is better, because they’re both so exceptional on every level. It’s very likely we could end 2016 with the duo being the top two comedies of the year. If you watched these two premieres on Sunday night, you immediately realized just how much we’ve all missed them. As to which is the superior program, luckily, it’s a meaningless decision, though the debate will always be fun.
We can watch them both. We will watch them both.
And we will laugh.
I’m @GuyNamedJason. No, the President didn’t call. Read my weekly reviews of Veep and Silicon Valley right here…and follow me on the Tweets if you get a chance.