Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus made an appearance at last week’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and in this episode, her character performs at a similar orgy of self-congratulation. The gaffe-prone vice president is a hit at the event, but it’s a rule on this show that any win for Selina Meyer has to backfire on her. In “The Vic Allen Dinner,” the usual twist seems forced, and the more obvious targets in this episode (such as the veep not being familiar with social media) make it the weakest so far in what has been a stellar second season.
The HBO sitcom moved in a more confident direction last week by subtly forcing Selina to consider the real-life consequences of power plays in Washington. It was a sign that Veep wants to, as Todd writes about peak Community, challenge rather than merely flatter its viewers with high-brow snark. In “Vic Allen,” the scheming is sillier than ever, and in contrast to last week’s subdued conclusion, the episode ends on a comic high with Selina in an epic meltdown. (“Get the fuck off my plane.”) But the events of “Hostages” are not forgotten. Selina is still shaken by the Marine who lost his leg in the rescue mission, and now she’s weirded out by even the optical illusion of a missing limb (as when Mike innocently sits with one leg curled up at the knee). Whether the incident will affect her decision-making is one of the more interesting questions on Veep this season, and it’s more suspenseful than last year’s storyline about the clean jobs bill that we all knew would hit a brick wall.
This week, however, Selina’s big decision is what schtick to bring to the annual dinner that seems to exist solely for politicians to make a big show about how they can take a joke. (Bostonians will immediately think of the legendary, and cringeworthy, St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in Southie.) Her original plan is to have her staff come up with a song to mock the new Speaker of the House, installed after Selina’s party was wiped out in the midterm elections. But political guru Kent scotches this idea on the grounds that the Speaker might get offended and not play nice with the president as they negotiate the federal budget. (Kent seems to have the quaint idea that mutual respect is the key to bipartisanship.)
Adding to Selina’s woes, Kent releases a photo of the White House situation room where everyone is following the hostage rescue mission. As we saw in “Hostages,” the veep had to be teleconferenced into the meeting, and the official photo—the one that least accentuates the president’s jowls—has Selena staring at a cell phone instead of paying attention to the satellite video from Uzbekistan. This is a nice bit of continuity, as we saw this moment in the last episode: It’s when Jonah shows Selina the photo he’s just taken of her, and she takes a moment to admire herself. Surprisingly, she doesn’t blame Jonah for this fiasco (I wonder if a moment in which she figures out his culpability was cut from the episode), but it doesn’t really matter since she’s constantly irritated by the man she calls “jolly green jizzface” anyway.
Selina on a cell phone becomes a meme—not a “Meme Ma’am,” as she misunderstands Jonah—and not in the cool way of Hillary Clinton in a similar pose. The veep looks more like Sad Keanu or Pepper Spraying Cop, photoshopped into the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Crucifixion, and the moon landing.
Amy suggests that Selina get back at Kent by making him the subject of her Vic Allen act. What Mike and Dan come up with is a parody of “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,” a Paul Simon song that came out 38 years ago. (The average Veep viewer is supposedly 43.) “50 Ways To Win In Denver,” a list of political truisms credited to Kent, turns out to be a good choice, and Selina gets the audience clapping along to the kind of toothless inanity reminiscent of Mark Russell and the Capitol Steps. (“You just say you’ll cut tax, Max… Kiss a fat baby, Amy… Don’t be pro-choice, Joyce.”)
Kent is indeed irritated by the song, which doesn’t really make sense. After all, he told Selina to stay away from political opponents, and she followed his orders by gently making fun of the White House. In worse news, some European leaders are outraged (or pretending to be outraged?) by the song because of such lyrics as “Don’t be European, Ian/Say ‘screw France,’ Lance/Maybe the Germans, Herman/The Dutch, the Swedes…” I’m dubious that heads of state like German Chancellor Angela Merkel would get so upset about a song that actually parodies American jingoism, but Veep needed a plot device to complicate Selina’s upcoming trip to Europe, so there we are. (Oddly, there’s no mention of a backlash to the lyric “Don’t mention Israel, Catherine,” a callback to the episode “Signals” implying that one of America’s closest allies is hypersensitive and a pain in the ass.)
Also confusing: Selina blames Jonah for the fallout, since he posted a video of her song to Reddit and Tumblr. Maybe this is another joke about Selina not understanding how the Internet works; I don’t see how she can be surprised that a performance in front of hundreds of people, including political opponents who’d love to embarrass her, makes its way to YouTube, with or without Jonah’s help.
Anyway, Selina is off on an apology tour, something that will apparently be depicted next week (in an episode titled “Helsinki”). I hope we find out whether Selina’s awkward small talk—sorely missed in “The Vic Allen Dinner”—will be improved in translation or made even worse.
- The personal storylines are overshadowed by the politics in this episode, but Selina has the additional problem of dealing with her bored staff. With practical Sue, the solution is easy: Give her a raise. Cheering up the mopey Gary is more difficult. That’s how Selina finds herself suffering through lunch with Gary and his overbearing girlfriend, while we viewers enjoy Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s interpretation of forced pleasantries and wait for her character to snap. (Last line of the scene: “So, what the fuck?”) As Gary, Tony Hale is just as good trying to hide his disappointment that the only thing Selina knows about him is that he likes fancy bags.
- Jonah (Timothy Simons) gets a prime parking space near the West Wing, making Dan and Mike hate him even more—and bond with each other. This may be Simons’ best episode, and presumably the one he’ll submit for an Emmy. His lanky frame and punchable face are put to good use here, both on the airport runway and in the scene of Jonah stomping through the halls of the White House, getting as much abuse from the guys there as he does in the vice president’s office. Poor Jonah might not have any choice but to be obnoxious; quietly fading into the background, Gary-style, is not physically possible for him.
- Sue: “You need to date, Amy. Find yourself a political nerd who also showers…. I wouldn’t want you to become a fat, neurotic freak.” I’m going to have nightmares about Sue as my life coach.
- One of Selina’s rivals, Minnesota governor and military hero Danny Chung, gets hearty applause for his beatboxing embarrassment, so the Vic Allen Dinner audience doesn’t really have any taste.
- Dan declares that “comedy songs are the mark of a douchebag.” He’s correct in general, if not necessarily in the specific case of “Weird Al” Yankovic.
- Mike the communications director: “How did this photo get out there? Can we delete it off the Internet?” Also: “What rhymes with ‘majority’? Nothing.”
- Mike bonds with Kent by enthusing over the latter’s sailboat: “That’s real man sailing… leaning out in the tack, your big man balls dipping in the salty sea…” I think Dan’s excited expression at this is motivated by narcissism rather than homoeroticism.
- Having been told that the White House will go easy on him, the Speaker (played with appropriate sleaziness by David Rasche) still gets off this Rush Limbaugh–like routine about Selina: “I think we need to give a big round of applause to the vice president for the part that she played in setting free those young guys who had been held against their will for so long. Madame vice president… (leads round of applause) Of course, all she had to do was unlock her bedroom door, but thanks anyway.” Just imagine how many male politicians would throw a hissy fit at being the subject of such a joke.
- Amy informs Selina that “George Denys of Le Monde” called her “a typical American hick.” The veep responds, “I’m not a hick! Screw you, Depardieu!”
- Selina: “They’re not going to be any… veterans at this teen prayer breakfast thing tomorrow, are there?” Amy: “No, ma’am. No missing legs.”
- So far, no meta joke involving Tony Hale and an amputated hand.