Drop a Pin on Sunday’s “Veep”

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This season of Veep has been outstanding from minute one, but Sunday’s penultimate episode “Kissing Your Sister” rose to the top of an impressive heap. Eagle-eyed fans of the show know that the ninth episode of each season takes an experimental left turn. Last year’s ninth episode “Testimony” marked the left-est turn of them all, with a full episode of the characters’ hearings in front of Congress presented C-SPAN-style.

It’s early, but I’m confident that “Kissing Your Sister” at least matches that all-time outing, and maybe even exceeds it. It had a higher bar to clear, for one — Catherine Meyer’s fly-on-the-wall documentary has been a throwaway gag since the season premiere, and the juicy combination of the Meyer administration’s antics and a video camera appeared too fruitful not to re-emerge at the season’s climax. “Testimony” extended directly from the events of the episode that preceded it, but “Kissing Your Sister” wove a more complex and intricate narrative that extended back into the events of the entire season, occasionally replaying scenes from previous episodes from different angles or with additional context. The clever conceit of “Testimony” relegated most of the fast-paced action to the background or offscreen, but “Kissing Your Sister” gunned the plot engine even as the jokes flew fast and furious.

What elevates this episode into the TV comedy pantheon, though, was the same thing that elevates “Testimony,” and Veep in general: many, many incredible jokes. Jonah Ryan’s ill-advised congressional bid has brought the consistently hilarious character to a new level of cringeworthy antics all season, but he peaked (what’s the opposite of peaked?) in this episode: sleeping with a Georgetown Day School student (!) the night before a major vote in Congress; berating poor Richard for his shameful driving abilities and general incompetence; struggling to chop a tree stump in half with an axe; and boasting about his sexual prowess in front of a group of elementary school students. The gangly irritant has never been more aw(esome)/(ful).

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And there was so much more to enjoy beyond Jonah. An incomplete list of additional highlights: Kent revealing his membership in a biker gang; Ben greeting his third wife with, “I thought you and the kids were out of town all week!” to which she replied, “That was last month”; Gary (Tony Hale) blanching at the mere sight of the couch where he witnessed Selina and Tom James (Hugh Laurie) hooking up; a naked Charlie Baird (John Slattery) sauntering out of the shower and then stumbling out of frame; Mike being completely clueless as the entire office gives him the run-around AND Mike forgetting to check for lead AND Mike plastering his walls with NHL gear in celebration of a job we already know he failed to secure. Both Meyer generations also had breakouts of their own: Selina scratching her arms vigorously as she insisted she wasn’t concerned about winning the election; Catherine making up with her girlfriend Marjorie (Clea Duvall) just in time for the crucial vote upon which the entire season’s plot is predicated. Everyone in the ensemble — Dan, Amy, Bill, even Vice President Doyle — got to add a hall-of-fame moment to their Veep highlight reels.

I could go on with an extended list of jokes, lines and scenes that had me rolling last night. (“Do you have iOS 9.2.3?”). Or I could opine at length about director and showrunner David Mandel’s impressive commitment to the visual conceit of Catherine’s documentary, with all of the shoddy production and self-absorption that such a project would entail. (You can read more about that here.) Instead, I’ll close with a broader note of praise for this episode. It wasn’t just a collection of individual moments and stray gags. It also served as a culmination for the season’s master plot and a microcosm for the entire series. A Veep novice could watch this episode first and have a clear sense of the show’s complex thematic mission. The stand-alone nature of this episode’s themes, if not its storylines, is a testament to the creative team’s command of tone, and its persistent commitment to relying on characters and situations to drive the show’s ideas, not the other way around.

Those ideas include: American politics is a facade; power corrupts both absolutely and underwhelmingly; every conversation is funnier with a liberal dose of profanity. If Veep keeps finding new ways of exploiting those themes, it will survive for many more seasons — and hopefully, many more standout ninth installments like this one.

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