Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Veep: “Convention”

Tony Hale (HBO)
Tony Hale (HBO)
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Ever since word broke that Hugh Laurie would be heading to Veep season four, fans have been awaiting his arrival with bated breath. Known to mainstream American audiences for House, Laurie is beloved by comedy fans for his fantastic work on Blackadder, Jeeves And Wooster, and A Bit Of Fry And Laurie. Though his background makes him a natural fit for the series, Laurie’s much ballyhooed arrival as Sen. Tom James comes partway through the season’s weakest installment and fans will have to wait one more episode to see the character fully in action. From his few scenes here, James appears to be a straightforward and likable figure, a contrast to the returning Danny Chung and Gen. Maddox. It’s difficult to say much more about him, however, as everything from Laurie’s accent to the character’s name is decidedly neutral. More is sure to come with James, but by spending so much of its runtime building to a payoff it then defers, “Convention” becomes little more than filler.

Fortunately, Amy’s long-overdue eruption is worth the price of admission on its own. While it lacks the colorfulness of Dan’s breakdown, Amy’s pointed and specific fury towards Selina is powerful. Starting the scene with a quick, entertaining takedown of Karen works well, but pivoting to drama at the end gives the scene the gravitas it needs to believably push Selina towards James. Anna Chlumsky nails both sides of the delivery, making Amy’s frustration, desperation, and exhaustion hilariously and affectingly real. Dan’s departure from the West Wing shook up the show’s dynamic to a certain extent. Amy’s incendiary exit has far more story potential, depending on whether Amy decides to come after Selina, joining her competitor’s campaign, or quietly move on. With any luck, she’ll stay this fired up for the rest of the season.

Amidst the darkly comedic cynicism of the episode (“Way to work that sexual abuse!”), it’s nice to see a moment of idealism shine through in Amy’s motivation for sticking with Selina until now. Her desire to salvage the legacy of the first female president is noble, but Selina appears doomed; at this rate, there won’t be any goats left to scape once the data mining scandal leaks. Even with diminished ranks, Kent is an odd choice of campaign manager for Selina. Kent may have been around longer, but given his background, Bill is the logical candidate. Diedrich Bader is notably absent this episode, one of a few confusing choices throughout. “Convention” is set a few weeks after “Tehran,” which ended with the Vice President being told, off screen, about the data mining scandal. And yet Teddy only just confirms it to him here. What—besides assaulting Jonah—has Teddy been doing for the past few weeks while Karen has been driving Amy insane? Why do Jonah and Richard agree to come help out Dan and once Doyle announces he’s stepping down, why do they scramble to fix Dan’s mess? Jonah’s desire to lord his access over Dan is certainly a reasonable motivation, but why does Richard spend as much time posturing as the others when he’s never done so previously? Tom James swooping in to save Selina’s ticket at the last moment is a deliberate choice made for dramatic effect. These other shortcuts are far more distracting, giving the entire episode an air of sloppiness.

Despite these issues, the episode ends promisingly, with more characters in flux than ever before. Between the various lingering secrets and scandals—the data mining, Selina’s history with James, and let’s not forget Labor Day—there’s plenty of story waiting to unfold in the second half of the season and it’s hard to predict what will come next, an exciting prospect. Laurie has the potential to be a wonderful addition to this cast. Hopefully the writers have something more interesting in store for him and the audience in the coming weeks.

Stray observations:

  • So long, Karen! You were obnoxious, but I’ll miss Lennon Parham nonetheless. It’s a shame she got so little to do.
  • Catherine’s increased presence has been great all season and this episode is no exception, the highlight being her public promise to work on her and Jason’s awkward kissing.
  • If Teddy is off the show, as the episode implies, this is an underwhelming conclusion to what has been a significant arc for Jonah. It would’ve been nice to see him find out Teddy’s been fired. Doyle may be stepping down, but not until January—that’s at least a couple months of a job for Jonah that should now be grope-free.
  • I mentioned above that I appreciate the glimmer of idealism in Amy. I also appreciate the utter lack of it in everyone else. Ben’s, “Who are you, the Pope?” would be the line of the episode, if he hadn’t followed it up in the next scene with, “It’s like Christmas, except happy!”
  • The reaction shots of the episode, however, go to Sue for her “elated face” and Kent, in a rare dramatic moment, for his approving nod to Selina when she reacts to Amy’s departure by asking to meet with James.
  • It’s taken five episodes, but Richard’s gone from taking coffee orders to giving them! It’s an exciting moment for everyone’s favorite new staffer.
  • Each of the returning guest stars is fun, but Paul Fitzgerald is particularly delightful as dim bulb Congressman Owen Pierce. Am I reading too much into it, or does it feel like the show’s lampshading an eventual rise to power for Pierce?
  • Dan’s adventures in zucchini lobbying are underwhelming, but the visuals are effective. The lighting, costuming, and set design come together to make his world oppressively gray, whereas every scene with Selina is infused with color, from the wallpaper to the men’s blatantly bi-partisan ties.
  • Speaking of, this episode goes out of its way to not specify which party Selina belongs to. It works here, but with an election looming, the finagling required to avoid naming a party may quickly become more trouble than it’s worth.