HBO Comedy Block, Week 3
VEEP -- THE EAGLE (S5E3)
Well, the Nevada recount is on. Selina is behind by 200 votes, but we just found ten thousand ballots in the home of a disgruntled Washoe County postal worker who blamed the President for much of his plight. That's the beginning and the end of tonight's Veep, which continues to stretch out the election results and leave the White House in limbo. We may not know who won until the season finale. We're already almost a third of the way through Season 5.
No show in modern memory utilizes similes, metaphors, and direct comparisons like this one, and we got two world-class examples within the first few minutes, as Selina goes with, "We are fucked like a Senate page" and, "I feel trapped like a Saudi housekeeper." Not the cleanest instances in entertainment history, but well placed. We generally get the TV-MA material from everybody not named Richard Splett, who instead brings a charm alongside his childlike mentality. The Robert DeNiro "Meet the Parents" line was such an out-of-place question to ask, but seemed like exactly the right thing coming from Selina's new chosen savior.
It didn't take long for Bob Bradley to go all kinds of wrong for the campaign. The Eagle became The Albatross this week, and though Amy attempted to warn Selina, as usual our star doesn't see things until its too late, and then plays the blame game. Going after Gary after her own dumb-ass tweet was a great piece of comedy, because it's completely believable that a politician who lacks tech-savvy would first make the mistake, and then rationalize the problem by finding a scapegoat. She's done that since the pilot episode, and David Mandel continues to push Selina to her jackwagon peak.
Kent Davison understands The Matrix, but Ben Cafferty understands politics. When the leader of the free world (for now) asks whether she can simply blame China for a hack that never happened, his response shows a familiarity with Washingtonian ways, at least those dating back to the Spanish-American War.
Richard Splett finds a way to delay certification simply by knowing the facts. As Jim Whitman attempts to exit the meeting that wasn't, Splett innocently recites what's true and Whitman takes it as an offensive maneuver intended to harm O'Brien in the recount procedure. Not once, but several times already this season, the village idiot has been her saving grace. It's a nice change to the character we first met at a Selina Meyer book signing early in the third season. It will be interesting to see how much more Mandel and his fellow writers give Richard as it relates to positive contributions.
Meanwhile, it was a bad week for Mike McClintock, who is just starting to recover from the Master Cleanse, gets chastised by the President, and then due to a bogus CYA move from the West Wing, sees his chances at adopting a child from China disappear. Worse, the poor guy had to read it as part of a press briefing. Maybe violent diarrhea wasn't the bottom of the barrel this season for him, but I legitimately felt sorry for the character as he spoke to the press at the end of the episode.
John Slattery just has a way about him where he can be two-faced (black or otherwise), a drunk, a philanderer, a liar, but you still wouldn't mind being that guy. He's smooth with Selina, somehow makes Gary feel at home, but you just know he wouldn't spit on you if you were on fire. Because of that ability, the Charlie Baird character is working out extremely well so far, but with plenty of room to become something far greater.
Lennon Parham returned to our television lives tonight as well, which as a big fan of Playing House and much of her work, is a welcome addition. The Karen Collins character annoyed the life out of me, and still does, but now that she isn't pushing Amy out of the way, her obnoxious nature is actually benefiting the show. Plus, we all know we were supposed to hate Karen's guts last year.
Parham and her ties to Matt Walsh and the UCB Theatre are another one of those gigantic figurative neon signs that read, "This is why these HBO comedies are so good." While the Veep writing has always been excellent, the ability to adlib, to think on one's feet, to use the improvisational style to make a particular scene better, you get all of it on Sunday nights. Not everybody is from that style, but they're all able to adapt and both assist the others. The structure stays in place, but the flexibility leads to positive results.
We still don't know how Nevada is going to go, but ten thousand new votes certainly adds a new layer to the proceedings. I kind of wish the last few episodes this year would be Catherine's documentary, following what's happening based on what she's allowed to show us. Veep gives us a humorous version of the entire story, while the approved documentary might be more equivalent to what we get in our actual lives watching the political process.
Watching how everything continues to play out in 2016, it seems we might be closer to Roger Furlong (without the brain) than Josiah Bartlet.
SILICON VALLEY -- MEINERTZHAGEN'S HAVERSACK (S3E3)
The idea of a company, particularly as it expands, losing any and all the expression on its face, played a huge role in tonight's Silicon Valley episode, which began in an endless cavern of data centers. Nameless "mole people" slaving away in obscurity, almost appearing like indentured hermits, relegated to a place where "there's no difference between day and night. For our fearless (fearful) Pied Piper heroes, it's their worst nightmare.
We talked last week about the reality of an entrepreneur or an innovator once control isn't entirely in his or her possession. Jack Barker might not be a complete jerk, but in an artistic sense, he's a dictatorial numbskull. This is a man who sees the bottom line and the Conjoined Triangles of Success, which combine to form a square. What's most important about that diagram is the word that joins the triangles. If you look at the diagonal line, you'll see it clear as day.
It's that kind of attitude that gets things done, but also avoids actually accomplishing the original goal. For Jack, that's not accurate, but for those who serve underneath him, it's exactly the case. Richard Hendricks is no longer able to make the final decision, and must either compromise or get the hell out, leaving behind the technology he created, but no longer owns.
When he goes to Laurie Bream, she agrees with him, but she's caught in a world of business choices and also of corporate reputation. She looks like a fickle, wishy-washy style of pseudo-leader if she were to replace two CEOs in such a short amount of time. Monica explains it to Richard as he finds out his potential coup has gone up in smoke.
Richard just wants Pied Piper to be the platform he envisioned, something able to help people, not companies, in their quest for ideal compression and other tasks. Barker can't care about that kind of thing and still be the killer his position requires. His fiery response to Erlich, who shirked away quickly as he had no answers to the one question Jack asks him during their brief meeting, is a perfect illustration of it. That was the CEO we expected when we first found out Hendricks had been fired, the one that yells and screams and breathes "complete dick" every single time we lay eyes on him. Increasingly, Jack Barker is an assclown, which brings back the occasionally absent sympathy angle for Richard and the boys.
While Pied Piper appears to be a box, Endframe has brought on part of the Nucleus team and they've cracked Richard's entire algorithm. They've deciphered the middle-out concept, which could be the nail in the coffin for the dream that hatched in Erlich Bachman's home. The stark realization of the group's fragility leads Richard to panic and his team to look for a fix, because none of them wants to end up a "mediocre appliance company." Do we end up with another race between the two groups to bring a platform to market? Well, there are serious obstacles on Team Hendricks' side, but that's always going to be the case.
Silicon Valley fooled me twice tonight, and both were credits to them more than demerits to me. When everything started going to hell and tonight's opening sequence ended, I immediately believed Erlich would somehow find a way to save this travesty in classic TJ Miller fashion. That was shut down almost immediately, though later he did launch the thought process for the secret project.
When the skunkworks idea was a go and it looked like we were about to watch geek Ocean's Eleven, I thought it might be a fantastic story to carry us through the remainder of the season. I became quite excited by the prospects of a heist film within a tech satire. I had Office Space flashbacks again thinking of the Initech scheme. But, I forgot the one thing you can never overlook in this show, and generally within Mike Judge's creative brain.
Victories are short lived.
The money, and in this case the interest, is generated by a constant chase for glory. We don't REALLY want to watch our five friends succeed at this point in the show. We have always desired a happy ending, but not until the series concludes. What we all secretly want, even if it's unconscious, is for Richard and the crew to have brief moments on top; small pinches of fun that are abruptly cut-off, because the story is in the personal and professional failure, not the triumph.
That's why we love this show, because it's entirely reflective of what we'd expect to happen in a satirized version of the tech sphere. It may be simplified or amplified, but that's the goal. We know these sad sacks are going to struggle, both at work and in their personal lives. Comedy comes from tragedy. The best jokes often come at someone else's expense, but most are done in a good-hearted manner.
Therefore, when Richard stumbles and the documents he was inexplicably carrying around spill out, none of us should be either surprised or disappointed. These guys are geniuses, but they're entertaining because they're also royal screw-ups who bounce back and forth between being way ahead of the curve or five steps behind another entity in their fictionalized world. The skunkworks arc may already have ended, and it may not have, but what we saw to end tonight's episode is the best kind of cliffhanger. It's one we don't have to wait ages to see remedied. Next week, we'll get some form of resolution, right before Richard and his crew get their genitals knocked in the dirt for the 27th time.
Throughout tonight's episode, the story had me completely hooked, and the Dinesh gold chain running joke had me on the floor laughing. Jared's zingers and his reaction to them were absolutely priceless. This was the best episode of the season thus far and one of the best of the entire run to this point. So much was there to enjoy and the writers laid it out beautifully. No question a few of the laughs were predictable, but sometimes the easy thing is the right thing.
From the jokes to the 20K extortion to the ridiculously funny opening sequence to Jack's ending sentence, this was great stuff. And I, like you (I assume), can't wait to see what the next chapter brings as Jack Barker has discovered the scheme to circumvent his will.
"Bell Biv Dinesh," leading to BBD's Poison as the closing music, especially after using Rick Ross earlier, was an inspired piece of timing, tone, and continuity. Plus, I love that song, which doesn't hurt.
I'm @GuyNamedJason. Dazzle me.