Change has come to Veep, HBO’s political satire and TV’s current gold standard for salty comedy. But should you believe in it? Season 3 finds calamity-prone VP Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) prepping a campaign to replace the scandal-smeared, never-seen POTUS. Less time is spent in Beltway hell; fewer vicious-circle plots concern Meyer and her staff of screwups reacting to the president reacting to them reacting to him. The shake-up brings fresh energy — but subverts some winning strategies.
The first five episodes send Meyer on the road, often separating her from her peeps and disrupting the chemistry of the ensemble. Selina’s bagman Gary (Tony Hale) doing his whisper shtick via FaceTime is funny in theory, but not so much in practice. The paradigm shift also requires a major transformation for White House liaison Jonah (Timothy C. Simons). To keep him in their orbit, Veep gives him a new job, then another, and perhaps another, straining credulity, but he remains an asset thanks to Simons’ acerbic performance.
Line for outrageous line, Veep is still a wickedly funny gut-buster. Yet while I could relate to Selina the perpetually marginalized chump, flailing to advance, Selina the stumping, power-grabbing candidate risks confusion. Episode 3 flirts with poignancy by forcing her to confront the human cost of ruthless pragmatism. But are we supposed to care about the soul of this cartoonish striver? The season’s most intriguing drama might be seeing if Veep is genuinely interested in evolving its cynical worldview or just finding new ways to wallow in it. B+