Hugh Laurie (HBO)

Veep returns for its fifth season with “Morning After,” and boy is it great to have the show back. Creator Armando Iannucci may have moved on, but the show is in good hands. The cast knows these characters implicitly and bringing back director Chris Addison, who has helmed several of the series’ best episodes, ensures visual and stylistic continuity as Veep starts this new chapter. Showrunner David Mandel stays true to the sarcastic, unmerciful heart of the series and in doing so, sets the stage for what should be another entertaining and memorable season.

Picking up the morning after the fantastic season four finale, Mandel and company waste no time establishing the arc for this season and reconstituting the Meyer team. Basing the season around the Meyer/O’Brien Electoral College tie is smart. Veep’s ensemble cast is its strongest asset, but with so many staffers, it can be challenging for the writers to come up with enough storylines to keep them all engagingly involved. Jonah, Dan, and Amy have each spent time outside the Meyer camp and while these arcs have been on the whole successful, finding good reasons for those off the team to interact with the rest of the cast can become challenging. That shouldn’t be a problem this season: By the end of the premiere, Dan and Amy are back on board and with a potential recount in Nevada to manage, Congressional votes to wrangle, and Selina’s usual duties as President under close scrutiny, there are plenty of high-stakes storylines to go around.

The Nevada recount brings with it the first shakeup of the season, as Richard’s background in Constitutional Law and recount procedure prompts Selina to promote him over Jonah. Sam Richardson and Timothy Simons were great together throughout season four and continuing to pair the two, but in inverted roles, is already paying off. Richard’s matter-of-fact, “Jonah, with me please” is fantastic, as is Jonah’s subsequent Harry Potter-flavored rant. Amy and Dan’s returns feel tidy, to be sure, but Anna Chlumsky and Reid Scott are so good in their roles and have such a strong rapport that it’s hard to care. Plus while Dan has a fairly easy route back, watching Amy and Selina spar over who’s going to ask for her to head up Nevada—with poor Candi Caruso a pawn in their maneuvering—more than makes up for the show’s backpedaling of Amy’s decision to leave.

Just as exciting is the latest wrinkle in Selina and Tom James’ relationship. The premiere wisely mentions the possibility of Selina winding up as vice president to Tom, but dismisses it as a concern, at least for now. That will likely come to a head by the end of the season, but at the moment, ticket unity is paramount. This makes the power plays between Selina and Tom all the more potent. Hugh Laurie is always good, but he’s particularly engaging now that Tom has shifted from being a bland party golden boy to Selina’s wily political equal (or better). Veep is full of characters manipulating each other; it’s refreshing to see the usual approach fail so miserably with Tom. As for Selina, Julia Louis-Dreyfus continues her stellar work here, keeping Selina as narcissistic and cutting, yet believably capable, as ever.

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The rest of the Meyer team share a handful of C plots and group scenes, with each character given at least a moment or two to shine. Mandel captures their voices well, from Kent’s deliciously dry, “Three [abortions]” to Gary’s assertion that Clea Duvall’s secret service agent, “smells completely different” than Selina. Mike and Sue’s Fitbit battle is only mildly entertaining, but Sufe Bradshaw and Matt Walsh make the most of it, Bradshaw keeping Sue still as ever while Walsh shuffles in the background, Mike constantly in motion and yet easily outpaced by Sue. Though the script keeps the story moving from character to character and scene to scene, “Morning After” does feel a bit slower paced than is traditional for Veep. There’s more space in the dialogue scenes, almost as if the characters are listening to each other, perish the thought. Contributing to the episode’s lower energy is its almost non-existent score. Veep typically has fairly prominent transitional music and extends this scoring underneath the start of each scene’s dialogue, adding an air of bustling activity to the proceedings. Hopefully the spare scoring here is not indicative of a new approach for season five, but intended to reflect the characters catching their breath as they react to the election results and plan their next moves.

Despite these minor quibbles, “Morning After” is an excellent premiere that not only welcomes viewers back into the world of Veep, but shows off its talented cast and establishes a strong framework for the season. The series may be under new management, but if Mandel and company can continue to adhere to Ben’s three s’s, delivering strongly comedic episodes with tonal stability and plenty of the delightful character bullshitting fans have come to love, Veep is poised to have another great year.

Stray observations

  • Welcome back to weekly coverage of Veep at The A.V. Club! If season five can deliver on the promise of this premiere, we’re in for a treat.
  • Richard truly is a delight. Amy’s reaction to his double PhD is hilarious, as is his earnest assessment of the challenges of her coffee order, “you have so many different moods: Half-caf, full caf, macchiato…” On the other end of the spectrum is Dan, who’s magnificently terrible as he throws away his barely touched sandwich.
  • How to pick a favorite line? There are many contenders, and the description of Cliff as “baby with a beard” is tempting, but Selina takes the cake with, “I’m the L-BJ queen and you are Sargent ‘suck it’ Shriver.”
  • Anyone who’s gotten a stress pimple at the worst possible moment can sympathize with Selina’s zitzilla woes, but if you’re able to summon a dermatologist at your convenience and you go with Gary’s family remedies and heat treatments instead, you deserve what you get.
  • Diedrich Bader, you will be missed. Bill showing up strains credulity—did no one revoke his credentials?—but it’s still nice to see him one more time. Speaking of…
  • I’m looking forward to keeping an eye out this season for when Catherine is shown lurking in the background, filming exchanges the Meyer team would greatly prefer stayed off the record. This episode, she catches Ben promising Bill a full pardon if he goes quietly. Perhaps this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Bill after all.
  • The fiasco that is Selina’s symposium on race should never have been allowed to happen, but it somehow feels like exactly the thing this White House staff would screw up.

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