Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Karl Puschmann: Veep's razo-sharp satire unblunted in 5th season

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus is in top form in her second career-defining role as Selina Myer. Photo / Supplied
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is in top form in her second career-defining role as Selina Myer. Photo / Supplied

After five long years in comedic power you could excuse Veep for seeming a little tired, bereft of ideas. Especially with the knowledge that there's been a change in leadership, the ultimate sign of instability and incompetence. Here, anyway ...

That's ackshully what you'd expect. At the end of the day I think most New Zealanders would agree with that.

But here art, as it does in life, proves that most New Zealanders would be wrong.

Powering into the first episode of its fifth season (Soho, Thursday 9pm) the political satire of Veep displayed no signs of comedic wear. Instead, it showed what a series operating at the top of its game looks like. The amicable departure of series creator Armando Iannucci barely noticeable. Under long-serving executive-producer/writer David Mandel (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) the show remains as rabid and rapid as it ever was. An intellectual comedy that's not above the odd dick joke and that revels in the outrageous nature of its own political incorrectness.

After the unprecedented tie result of last season's presidential election we join the incumbent Selina Myer (played wonderfully by Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the second defining role of her career) and her team as they desperately attempt to transform their slight grip on power into a stranglehold.

"Didn't those founding f***ers ever hear of an odd number?" Myer spits at her campaign team as they try to strategise their way to victory through America's convoluted and near indecipherable election tie-break rules.

Equally troubling to Team Myer is the sudden appearance of an angry "stress pimple" on her cheek. Caustically dubbed "Zitzilla" the angry spot is causing her to appear less-than-presidential in her television appearances. An absolute disaster at such a crucial time. Subsequently the zit is being blamed for everything from Wall Street's financial meltdown to Myer's own tumbling political stock.

The jokes arrive at such a relentless and frightening pace that it can sometimes be hard to keep up.

Brilliant as Louis-Dreyfus is, Veep's ensemble cast is also incredibly strong and no time is wasted getting their various subplots buzzing around the main action.

The baby adoption news of Mike, her communications director, is met only with scorn. "We are in the middle of a tied election," Myer tells him. "There is no time for a Chinese baby. Cancel it and see if you can get your money back."

Her demotion of the weasely White House liaison Jonah sets up a future revenge plot. "How dare she put you in charge of me?" he rants to his former assistant, now boss. "She's got the great wizard Harry Potter living under the staircase. But what happens in the books? He rises up and kills all the muggles."

And the organisation of a vote-encouraging symposium on race relations disastrously finds itself with an all-white panel. More disastrously Myer's request to "round up some blacks, fast," is almost broadcast. Even more disastrously the symposium descends into anarchy when Sue, Myer's African-American personal assistant, ends up on the wrong side of the security team's guns.

In sharp contrast to the snappy onscreen chaos is the breezy, self-assured confidence that delivers it all. The show is tremendously funny and knows it.

They make it look easy but Veep is not chilled out entertainment. It's dense and crammed with searing putdowns and zings as cutting as a packet of razorblades.

The jokes arrive at such a relentless and frightening pace that it can sometimes be hard to keep up. By the time you've heard, registered and laughed at one joke, two more have whizzed past.

For example, in an early attempt to escape the camera of her daughter's insider documentary, Myer fabricates an urgent need to discuss confidential foreign policy.

"Honey, it's Yemen," she shrugs as her assistant shuffles her out, "Life gives you Yemen, you got to make Yemenade."

Turning to her worried campaign manager she mutters, "There's not going to be a film. The only thing Catherine ever finished was an entire ice cream cake."

It's a comedy that demands you keep your wits about you. Half-assing it simply will not do. Not only because you're liable to miss a bunch of one-liners, but also because the show deals with the arcane absurdity of America's ruthless and byzantine political system.

If you've ever wondered how in real life a chump like Donald Trump got to be standing anywhere near the precipice of world power, tune into Veep. It will explain a lot.

- NZ Herald

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Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

A pop culture junkie, Karl has spent his career writing about the important things in life; music, film, television, comics and video games. He was editor of a popular music rag for five years and has since written regularly for every local culture/arts/lifestyle magazine worth a damn. His recent expansion into travel writing has flung him far, far from the comfort of his couch and into that bewildering place known as the ‘outdoors’. He is also currently endeavouring to make sense of the world by reviewing it over at critikarlreviewstheworld.com

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