It’s perhaps a surprising turnaround after last year’s season, the first to feature Meyer as the President (after her boss resigns over a health issue). That shift gave Veep a surge of energy just as it was beginning to get into a familiar story rhythm. While the first three seasons delighted in the obscurity of the vice president’s role and the incompetence of Meyer’s staff, the fourth season had much higher stakes. Suddenly, their political decisions actually mattered, and their screw-ups could have real global impact. Meyer and company could still be blundering fools, but the satire felt all the more caustic as a result.
Since season four, the Veep creator Armando Iannucci (a titan of British TV comedy who worked on shows like The Day Today, I’m Alan Partridge, and The Thick of It) has departed to new projects, leaving the show in the capable hands of his writing lieutenants. But the loss is still deeply felt. In the first four episodes provided to press, Meyer’s screw-ups feel a little more basic, and their real-world influences a little more obvious. The mis-sent tweet is blamed on anonymous Chinese hackers, recalling Congressman Anthony Weiner’s flailing attempts to distract from his sexting scandal. Episode-long stories about pimples or a misbegotten juice cleanse, which troubles the press secretary Mike McClintock (Matt Walsh) in one episode, lack the narrative intricacy this show often excels at.
More importantly, there’s a little less humanity to this season, something that Iannucci and his cast (who improvise much of the show’s dialogue) really tapped into once Meyer became president. Her relationship with the embittered veteran Chief of Staff Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn) had an emotional grounding beyond their profane interchanges of dialogue; robotic factotums like Sue Wilson (Sufe Bradshaw) and Kent Davison (Gary Ross) finally served a purpose beyond simple exposition. Most fascinating were the arcs of Dan Egan (Reid Scott) and Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky), veterans of the VP’s office suddenly thrust into the world of lobbying; this year, they’re both back on the inside and all the more cynical for it.
There’s still fun to be had. Louis-Drefyus’s Selina Meyer is one of the funniest characters of TV’s last decade, and she can still convey so much emotion (usually negative emotions) with a look. Dan and Amy’s on-again, off-again romantic tension is a surprisingly strong narrative hook for the first part of the new season, and there’s real drama in the vagaries of ballot-counting laws. Following on from a 269-269 electoral college deadlock, the show’s first arc concentrates on a recount in Nevada that could swing victory Meyer’s way; like every political drama in TV history (from The West Wing to Scandal), Veep is sure to satisfy anyone looking to indulge in some speculative election fiction.