Sunday, June 7, 2015

REVIEW: 'Veep' - The Entire Staff (Plus Dan & Amy) Appear in Front of a Congressional Committee in 'Testimony'

HBO's Veep - Episode 4.09 "Testimony"

While Selina fields questions from the press, members of her staff testify before a congressional committee about whether the Families First vote was intentionally sabotaged - and who was really behind the data breach.

Selina and her staff had a major success in getting Congress to vote against the Families First bill in the last episode. But now, they have to try and clean up the major mess they made for themselves in trying to do so. The team have been making so many big mistakes all season long. Like I've been saying all season long, those mistakes needed more consequences now that Selina is President. Because of that promotion, a congressional committee has actually formed and is looking into all the potential misdoings of Selina's administration in the few months that she has actually held the office. Big potential scandals have riddled Selina's administration. There was the data breach that targeted parents of sick or deceased kids to grow support for the Families First bill, the Vice President's chief-of-staff sexually harassing Jonah, and the staff using lobbyists to take down the very bill they were promoting. All of those actions have had magnificent consequences. Dan and Amy are no longer working at the White House. But that doesn't mean they don't get swept up into this whole investigation and have to play their part to protect the administration.

"Testimony" messes with the basic structure of the show and shows things entirely from the perspective of the committee trying to unravel the scandal. Testimonies are heard and depositions are filmed. That could make things impersonal as the entire staff has to do their best to keep their composure and keep things from getting any worse for Selina while making sure they don't get all the blame in the end. It's a fantastic and inventive piece of comedic writing and storytelling. Even though the audience doesn't see all the chaotic stuff happening off camera, it's presence is deeply felt in the characters as they are doing their best to keep things from getting worse than they already are. They all want to play their part to serve Selina as the President. That means carefully navigating these choppy waters as the committee is resolute in discovering the truth. The tricky part becomes whether or not they will listen to the story the team is trying to sell or if they care enough to dig deeper and expose the actual truth.

The answer appears to be the former as all the scandals are revealed through the course of the investigation and blame is ultimately placed on Bill Ericsson, the head of communications for the administration. Sure, it could be disappointing that after all the hoops the characters have to jump through that the blame falls squarely on a recurring guest star. And yet, Veep is able to make that moment work because it had no problem firing Dan and Amy earlier in the season. Plus, this episode was really funny especially when members of the staff were trying to explain the differences between two identical phrases - scapegoating vs. snowballing, lobbyist vs. consultant, meeting with someone vs. having a meeting, etc. Of course, all of those meant the exact same thing but the amount of effort on the staff to craft this elaborate story is impressive.

Everyone is on the chopping block. If the full truth is exposed, they could be facing criminal charges. No one wants to go through that. That's why they are all doing their best to support Selina - including Dan and Amy who have no reason to do so because they no longer work for her. The truth still comes out though. Lee Patterson, the young competent staffer who was initially fired for the data breach before Dan, comes forward ready to throw the accusations out about all the other illegal things the administration has been a part of. The staff really do go in with a plan but with every passing testimony more weight gets added to their overall story. Everyone eventually lets something slip out that they shouldn't have and it's up to everyone else to counter that information with some new rational explanation. That means blame gets flung around a lot from person to person. Throughout the episode, Gary and Mike are each named as the ones with direct access to this information. Their testimony hinges on the committee believing what they have to say while also redirecting their attention elsewhere.

The staff doesn't set out to thrown Bill under the bus. That's just the way the proceedings go. Selina didn't want to force Catherine to break up with her fiancé Jason. But he presented a major conflict of interest during this critical time and so it happened. Selina can say contradictory things about Jason. This is the most important he has ever been to Selina. It's all because he poses a threat to the future of her presidency. That's the only reason Selina intervenes in her daughter's relationship. It also appears that those few lessons from her mother are finally starting to pay off for Catherine. Sure, it's horrible that her life is dictated by her mother's needs. She has a right to be upset when the investigators are asking questions about her personal life. And yet, Catherine is able to leave the room for a minute and return with a rational and level-headed response while also smiling. It's a great payoff to the story from earlier in the season.

It's phenomenal watching all of these characters handle this immense pressure with either grace or paranoia. Selina has always been able to do so wonderfully and with a smile. She can give the allusion of transparency while still always rushing out of the room in order to give the correct and proper answer to these investigators. Dan can't do that. When he tries making a deal, it's after Lee has already revealed all the information that he knows about. That leaves him without any kind of leverage to use. Gary and Mike are awkward during their moments of testimony. Gary has to consult with the lawyer hanging over his shoulder for every possible answer. It showcases how he believes himself to be a crucial and important part of the team but has to declare that he is just the bag man in public. That effectively takes the blame off of him. Mike can scrabble and do his best to tell a story about needing knee medicine but it's clear that he's just doing his best to protect his story. He is noticeably nervous but still able to inform the committee about what they want to know while distancing himself from the blame. That is an agile display of comedy that is apparent throughout this entire episode.

Even though the administration has gotten over this whole scandal and Bill is on his way out, things will still probably be going poorly for Selina and company in the future. This episode showcases how desperate all of these people are to keep their jobs and positions of power. They can weave a crafty tale and manipulate events so that the committee blames the person they ultimately want to blame. It does make them ruthless. But it also makes them incredibly fun to watch. "Testimony" is a great episode of Veep that was made possible by all the mess ups of the season so far.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Testimony" was directed by Armando Iannucci with story by Armando Iannucci, Sean Gray & Will Smith and teleplay by Sean Gray & Will Smith.
  • It was great that the one woman on the committee who was close friends with Selina was the one who wanted to distract the rest of the hearing by inquiring about all the specifics of Jonah being touched by Teddy. It was great. As was that list of hurtful Jonah nicknames.
  • Why were Dan, Amy, Jonah and Richard grouped together during their testimonies? It allowed for some great humor as Jonah or Richard kept interjecting their opinions without being asked questions. I'm just curious as to why anyone thought it was a good idea to have those four people at the same time? Twice!
  • In the end, all Bill had left to do was point out how everyone was just naming him in order to give the committee someone to blame. They weren't effectively doing their job. And yet, when does anyone really do their full job on this show?