“Veep” – Season 1, Episode 4: “Chung”

This was the week that I really started to like Selina Meyer. The fourth episode of “Veep” miraculously accomplished two things that are hugely important to creating a successful television narrative: it humanized its protagonist and raised the stakes.

Last week, I wrote that “Veep” was going down a dangerous road by making Selina too unsympathetic. This week, it righted the ship and found its groove, starting by addressing the problem of Selina’s likeability head-on. As she preps for her appearance on “Meet the Press,” she and her communications director Gary go over some basic facts about her official favorite NFL team, should it come up during the show’s “small talk segment.” The aim of such a segment is to humanize the guest, and, in a delightfully “meta” moment, it serves the same function here. Who among us didn’t do a double-take the first time we heard the first name of the Ravens’s primary wide receiver? “Anquan?”

This stellar episode also gives Selina a romantic subplot, albeit a ridiculous and embarrassing one involving some not-so-clever innuendos, though I did care for “the rose garden.” Having an affair further humanizes Selina, but I did find it a bit odd that we do not yet know who her stud is. In last week’s episode featuring her daughter, there was not a single reference to a husband or father to her child. Is the guy supposed to be Mr. Meyer? I don’t know any married people who talk to each other like that. If not, what happened to her husband? These are questions that the show will need to answer at some point soon.

As the real political world keeps spinning, “Veep” continues to reap the rewards of serendipity. Selina’s signature legislative campaign is filibuster reform, although it appears now that she may be forced to jettison it. In the real world, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this came out in support of the efforts of freshman senators Jeff Merkley and Tom Udall to overhaul the Senate’s prohibitive filibuster rules. Further, Selina’s appearance on “Meet the Press” coincided with  Vice-President Biden’s history-making appearance on the same show. Selina, unfortunately, suffers a much bigger gaffe, when she unwittingly appeals to birthers by erroneously suggesting, when she thought she was off the air, that the popular Governor Chung, a potential candidate for higher office, was not born in America.

Her team tries to run damage control, and they get a gift when a workplace disaster and an out-of-country POTUS give Selina the opportunity for a presidential moment at a local hospital. It is nice to see her team functioning well in this sequence for once…just before the bottom drops out. A TV shows the story of her “hot mic” moment on “Meet the Press” at the hospital, and a crowd of on-lookers jump on the bandwagon. My particular favorite was: “It’s called the White House, not the Yellow House.”

Back at her office, the team frantically tries to contain the situation to no avail, and for the first time, we sense that her vice-presidency is actually in jeopardy. It’s a brilliant move by the show’s writers. In a single episode, they make us care about Selina and then immediately take her to the brink of disaster. It’s quite an achievement for a show that revels in cynicism.

By raising the stakes and Selina’s Q rating, “Veep” is forging a bond with its audience, as well as a sense of faith. Even if there is an occasional dark, less likeable episode like last week’s “Catherine,” we can trust now that the show’s writers know what they’re doing.

Regardless of all that, I will happily keep tuning in on the chance that I will get to hear Louis-Dreyfus expertly deliver another line like, “Ray Rice he play nice.”

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