Julia Louis-Dreyfus (HBO)
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Fresh off of having her hopes of returning to public office dashed in “Omaha,” Selina finds new purpose in “Library,” setting her sights on building a presidential library commemorating her brief, but historic presidency. One episode into this likely season-long project, Selina is already taking $20 million pay-for-play bribe donations and (unsuccessfully) pimping herself out to a former college fling; what will the rest of the season bring? While many of the terrible decisions Selina makes in regards to her library stem from Andrew, the writers make sure she is ultimately responsible for each infraction. Selina’s breezy attitude toward getting someone off the no-fly list is a bit of a stretch as her first significant crime of season six. However, with Andrew on the outs by the end of the episode, establishing her corruption and complicity—rather than the obliviousness on display in “Omaha”—is essential. As the premiere showed, Veep is strongest when Selina is invested in the events surrounding her. This library has the potential to provide a solid spine to at least her portion of the season, and the more invested Selina is, the more cornered she becomes thanks to her reckless choices here, the more entertaining it will be to watch her try to squirm out of trouble.

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“Library” does an excellent job setting up short- and long-term goals for Selina and for Jonah, but the episode is surprisingly uneven. The opening sequence, as Selina, Gary, and Richard attend the opening ceremony of President Hughes’ library, is a blast. From Gary’s last second flip of Selina to Richard’s ridiculous slo-mo robot hands when she asks him to walk slower, the cast nails these moments of physical comedy and starts the episode off strong. The scene immediately after, however, is overly broad. It’s hard not to cringe, in the wrong way, as Julia Louis-Dreyfus tries to sell, “Selina Meyer belongs in an institution.” That line might work from Gary or Mike, but even at her most unaware, this isn’t something Selina would say, particularly given her sensitivity over her previous stays at the “spa.” Richard’s usual background commentary is foregrounded both here and later on, and this shift, making him more forceful and having him talk over other characters, throws the reliably hilarious Richard off balance, demonstrating just how delicate the rhythms of the show are.

Another example is Minority Leader Furlong and his perennial whipping boy, Will. The glee and resignation, respectively, that typically accompanies these characters is less tangible this season. There’s more malice to Dan Bakkedahl’s delivery and Nelson Franklin’s Will feels dead behind the eyes. These are tweaks to the characters that make sense given Furlong’s new role in Congress, but they rob their scenes of energy. Will’s advice to Kent is great, and Jonah’s interactions with this even more intimidating Furlong are a lot of fun, but it’s hard not to miss the specific tone Veep struck with Furlong and Will in seasons past. Fortunately, everything else the show is doing with Jonah and his new team is working beautifully. Kent and especially Ben’s self-loathing at where they’ve found themselves post-Meyer is a thing to see, and the team’s quest to find Jonah a romantic partner is fantastic. It’s hard to imagine an appropriate partner for Jonah, but if the writers can find one, the storyline potential is tremendous. For now, there’s plenty of humor to be mined from Jonah tanking date after date, particularly if Dan keeps popping up to observe and interfere.

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Romance is a theme in “Library,” with relationships running the gamut from Catherine and Marjorie’s supportive partnership to Amy’s strained relationship with Buddy to the implosion, once again, of Selina and Andrew. The scene in the car, as Andrew’s phone reads out the incriminating texts, is a highlight of the episode and Andrew’s betrayal also prompts the lovely exchange we get between Marjorie and Selina. Considering Marjorie started the season calling Selina, “Mom,” it’s likely the two have shared similar moments in the past and it’s nice to hear Marjorie’s clear-eyed view of Selina. As for Amy, she increasingly feels abandoned in her corner of the show. While both Dan and Amy are off in their own spheres, Dan’s new role is challenging him, forcing creativity and inspiring his promising new feud with Jonah. Amy’s stuck, running a campaign she doesn’t fit with and weighed down by a fiancé and candidate she doesn’t even seem to like. Whereas Dan’s making active choices to maneuver in his less-than-ideal situation, Amy’s inert, marking time until the breaking point that is surely coming. Hopefully she’ll be out of Nevada and back in the mix soon, for the audience’s sake as well as Amy’s.

Despite its misses, “Library” is a step in the right direction for the season and an improvement on the somewhat disappointing premiere. Veep has been remarkably consistent over its run and it’s odd to see the show not quite working. However by the end of the episode, the series looks to be on firmer ground, with new purpose and a sense of what its post-White House normal will be. Now the real fun can start.

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Stray observations

  • How do you cast June Diane Raphael and then not use her? Hopefully she’ll pop back up at some point, because she’s utterly wasted here as the artist for Selina’s presidential portrait, with whom Andrew cheats.
  • “Nobody in Congress cares about ethics.” I know this was written before the 115th United States Congress was sworn in and immediately moved to silence the Office of Congressional Ethics, before backing down after strong pushback from the United States citizenry, but the parallel is delicious nonetheless.
  • The most recent president the Veep universe shares with our own is Ronald Reagan. This episode we meet President Stevenson who, based on Selina’s comments about apartheid, succeeded Reagan in the White House. It’ll be neat to see if and how Veep deploys the other ex-presidents, now that Selina’s among their ranks.
  • Richard may have a few clunkers, for perhaps the first time ever, but his reaction to the final of Andrew’s texts, “That was a long one. She must be at a light,” is so quintessentially Richard, I’m hopeful this is just a one-episode fluke.
  • After a premiere over-reliant on profanity, “Library” is surprisingly stingy with it. However, one of the episode’s few examples is perfectly deployed in the line of the night, Selina’s rebuke of Gary’s anti-Andrew meddling, “Unlike small-town America, Andrew fucks me in a way I really enjoy.”

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