Reid Scott (HBO)

Tasked with following up the terrific “Mother,” Veep’s latest resets and regroups, bringing Amy, Dan, Richard, and Jonah back from Nevada and introducing new storylines and characters. While it lacks the pitch black heart and character focus of its predecessor, “Thanksgiving” is a solid entry for the series, showing Team Meyer on a comparatively light day made more complicated by Selina’s recovery from a cosmetic procedure. Dan grows suspicious of the beloved Tom James, whom he is staffing, Mike and Wendy find a surrogate, and Vice President Doyle makes a play to be Selina’s Secretary of State. The highlight of the episode, however, is Jonah. After being sidelined for the past couple episodes, he is pushed center stage, encouraged by his kingmaker uncle to run for Congress.

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Jonah’s Congressional bid is a pleasant surprise. He may be a reliable punching bag, and his reaction to Richard being promoted over him in Nevada was delightful, but the positioning of Jonah as a scrappy underdog has a lot of potential. Timothy Simons did tremendous work in season four, showing a human side to Jonah as he dealt with workplace sexual harassment, and Simons’ ability to engender sympathy for Jonah without fundamentally changing the character will undoubtedly come in handy here. Jonah earnestly wants to win, he sees this as validation of his years of work and a sign that he’s made of greater stuff than many—including himself—thought. Watching the newly confident and enthusiastic Jonah weather the storm that’s coming should be deliciously entertaining.

Throwing Jonah in the path of that storm is his oft-mentioned, but never before seen uncle Jeff, played by Peter MacNicol. While most characters on Veep hurl insults and profanity left and right, they tend not to deliver lengthy and creative diatribes as a way to dominate them. Even Congressman Furlong seems to find a whimsical glee in his abuse of poor Will, doing so because he genuinely finds it amusing and doesn’t know a different way to communicate. Jeff is a different beast, immediately jockeying for position with Ben and Kent and later, browbeating Jonah when he threatens theoretical future disobedience. MacNicol’s delivery as Jeff pulls Jonah into line is fantastic, the pitch of his voice rising as he builds in intensity, practically shaking with rage. Selina gets quiet when she’s deadly serious, as do most of the other characters on Veep. Going the other way with Jeff adds a new and exciting flavor to the mix; hopefully this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Angry Jeff.

Also featured in “Thanksgiving” are Amy’s parents. Her mother doesn’t make much of an impression, beyond being sweet, but it’s lovely to see Jim O’Heir pop up as Amy’s dad (originally played in season two by Patrick McDade). O’Heir is known best as the good-natured Jerry Gergich on Parks And Recreation, so seeing him call Dan a “shit-sack” is particularly fun. Hopefully the Brookheimers will be back in the future and O’Heir will have the opportunity to let loose a bit more, exploring his full range of expression. The purpose for Dan’s visit, his uncovering of Tom James’ connection to the odious Sidney Purcell, is intriguing and definitely the most interesting development for Tom yet. Tom as squeaky clean party golden boy had its strengths, as did Tom as canny combatant to Selina, but Tom as scheming secret sell-out is better, giving Hugh Laurie more to play as Tom positions himself while maintaining his cuddly façade.

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As for the Selina, all but benching her after “Mother” makes sense, giving the audience time with the rest of the ensemble, and the makeup for Selina’s bruising is effective—she definitely can’t go on camera. Selina’s decision to get cosmetic surgery isn’t given a second glance by the characters, who know better than to voice any opinions on the matter, and the show avoids the easy twist of a complication from the procedure. Rather than punish her for getting surgery by having the decision backfire significantly, the writers let the operation go off without a hitch and Selina is only hampered by the expected recovery period. This is the second episode this season to address Selina’s appearance and it’s neat to see the series engaging with the heightened scrutiny surrounding a female president’s appearance and how elements within and outside of that president’s control might affect it.

While the episode is enjoyable, the space Dan’s storyline requires (he wouldn’t catch on to Tom if there was more happening at the White House) leaves it feeling somewhat inconsequential. With Selina stuck on cold calls, Ben wrangling Doyle, and Sue, Catherine, Jonah, and Amy home with their families, much of “Thanksgiving” is spent setting up payoffs for later in the season. It’s always a treat to see Jonah interact with his mother and Gary’s reaction to Dan being stuck on coffee duty for Tom is golden. Next to the hilarious and dark “Mother,” however, this episode can’t help but feel slight.

Stray observations

  • The undercutting of the traditional presidential turkey pardon with the revelation that they’ll die painful deaths soon anyways is terrific, as is Mike’s runner, culminating in his inquiry about sexually transmitted salmonella poisoning.
  • Marjorie does not like the look of those turkeys towards the end of the pardon ceremony! It’s great to see Clea Duvall finding her moments with this small role.
  • The odds on Chinese hackers leaking Catherine’s footage versus her intentionally doing so keep shifting with each episode, but based on the expression on Sarah Sutherland’s face at the end of Catherine’s scene, Selina needs to do some damage control stat.
  • Sue is married?!? I love Sue mentioning this in passing, and everyone’s reactions to it.
  • Who else “D’aww”-ed when Jonah called Richard his friend?
  • Selina rocks the hell out of her aviator glasses-inspired ensemble.
  • There are a few contenders for line of the episode, from Tom’s Lego comment to Dan’s assessment of Sidney Purcell to Ben’s overshare about yogurt to just about anything Jeff says. However, for his sheer, adorable, unaware enthusiasm, I’m going to give it to Jonah and his prayer upon hearing Jeff wants him to run for Congress, culminating in, “with a strong arm and a willing heart to totally rock this shit, Amen.”

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