“Veep” – Season 1, Episode 2: “Frozen Yoghurt”

“You guys live in your own little world with your heads stuck up your Capitol Hill asses.” – the frozen yogurt guy

While I laughed several times during tonight’s second episode of “Veep,” HBO’s new comedy about a gaffe-prone vice-president, the episode basically rehashed the dynamic from pilot and added a few positive tweaks.

Vice-President Selina Meyer is still creating problems for herself and her staff. Last week, she embarrassed the administration by using a slur during a public speech. This time, it’s a policy problem. Selina is making her vice-presidency about two initiatives: clean jobs and filibuster reform. The president has green-lit the Clean Jobs Initiative, but in a personal meeting with her potential Senate champion for filibuster reform, she gets greedy. He promises to sponsor the bill if she agrees to keep big oil off of the Clean Jobs Task Force, and she unwittingly agrees, forgetting for the moment that she has promised industry a seat.

It is exactly the kind of problem that real politicians face, so it should be good fodder for a show. The only problem is that it’s not very interesting, and it’s definitely not funny. The problem that I see “Veep” running into is that neither the Selina nor her staffers seem particularly interested in, you know, helping people, so the stakes are remarkably low. To their credit, the writers recognize this issue and try to make hay out of it. Here is Selina and her chief-of-staff Amy after they learn about the good news from the president’s office on the Clean Jobs Initiative:

SELINA: This is great for me!

AMY: And for the country?

SELINA: That’s what I meant.

It is a weak attempt to pry a laugh on what could be a real problem for the show. Thankfully, the writers realize that the show needs a jolt (in itself not a good sign for its second episode), so they give the president, away on a state trip to South Africa, severe chest pains. The look on Selina’s face when she hears the news – immediate joy, followed by a look of concern so false that it immediately returns to joy – is priceless. Only a fine comedic actress like Louis-Dreyfus can do all of that at once.

Selina is rushed to the Situation Room and gets her first presidential brief. But before she can even make a single decision, word comes that the president is fine. Before she could even have a taste of power, she is back in her old role, and her return to the vice-presidency could not be more humiliating. She is forced to put in a press appearance at a local frozen yogurt shop, but Selina has caught a stomach flu and takes only a single bite of yogurt before, um, having an accident. How quickly the mighty fall.

For many sitcoms, the second episode is often just a rehash of the pilot. The writers feel the need to reintroduce the characters and their relationships for people who are tuning in for the first time. Still, there were some positive developments tonight. The stakes were successfully raised, if only for a few minutes. And it was satisfying to see Dan, the unpleasantly ambitious communications staffer, receive his comeuppance from an even more unpleasant political journalist.

So while “Veep” did not break any new ground, it satisfied the basic requirements of a good show’s second episode and made me laugh a few times. Good enough for a Sunday night.

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