Because Tony Hale spends much of “Baseball,’ the sixth episode of HBO’s “Veep,” awkwardly trying to impress his macho father and because there was a reference to “afternoon delight,” it was hard not to think of “Arrested Development.” Since AD is basically the funniest sitcom of all time, any show that finds itself compared to it would be usually be on the losing end of things. But watching “Baseball,” I found myself thinking that “Veep” has much in common with the best episodes of that classic show.
Rapid-fire jokes that require multiple viewings? Check.
A large cast of characters who are unlikable on the page but somehow still earn our empathy? Check.
A miraculous performance at the center of the show by a veteran comic television star? Absolutely check.
As befits his character’s job, Hale has been mostly relegated to the background in previous episodes, but he owned this one. As an actor, Hale specializes in characters who are sweet and insecure, so his plotline this week, in which Gary tries to emotionally connect to his jock father (over the phone) by lying about hanging out with professional baseball players, is right in his sweet spot. When he is dipping a pregnancy test into a glass holding Selina’s urine while telling his dad, “I DO do a proper man’s job,” he is lying just like the rest of the staff does from time to time. But while they lie to further their careers, Gary lies just to only connect.
The pregnancy is a bold, risky choice for the show. It would be easy for the show’s writers to back off of this subplot (remember that we are dependent on Gary for the veracity of the test results), but something tells me that Armando Ianucci, the show’s creator, is going to run with this. While I have questions as to whether they can keep the show’s cynical edge with a baby in the mix (if they do, it will be the bleakest comedy in TV history), but in this episode, at least, it works. When Selina confesses to Amy, her chief-of-staff, that she might be pregnant, we get a quick dose of DC reality. They immediately realize that she has only one option: marry her secret lover and backdate their engagement. Having an unwed female vice-president give birth in office is a political impossibility.
The political context in which these decisions are made mark the show’s sharpest satire yet. These deliberations occur quietly at a very public childhood obesity event, and it is easy to see the common theme. Whether it is a generation of children suffering from obesity and type 2 diabetes or her potential bastard child, these predicaments are just opportunities for the characters to consider their political future. Selina and Amy panic. Mike feebly works the press. Dan, tricked into thinking that Amy is the pregnant one, considers how best to get her job when she has to go on maternity leave. Gary, continuing Hale’s reign of sweetness, is the only character who responds as a human being, fantasizing about carrying the baby around in a sling.
On a story level, the pregnancy is another example of how good this show is when it raises the stakes. Two episodes ago, we saw Selina’s vice-presidency in danger for the first time after an unfortunate “hot mic” moment. Now it is threatened by the pregnancy. Elements of disaster push a show like “Veep” to excellence mostly because Louis-Dreyfus plays desperate so damn well. Think of her funniest moments on Seinfeld – selling a convoluted lie to Jerry to explain a funny noise in his car or explaining to her boss why she used so many exclamation marks in her work. These are desperate moments, and Louis-Dreyfus is always willing to make an absolute fool of herself to make it work. So far, she has had explosive diarrhea and spilled urine on her hands at public appearances.
And now we have a pregnancy. Just imagine the opportunities.