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‘Veep’ continues to be one of the smartest comedies around

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“Veep” kicked off its third season last Sunday on HBO and picked up two months after Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) discovered that the President wouldn’t be running for reelection. Season 2 left us with a cliffhanger that suggested the Veep might become the POTUS this year. Despite shifting circumstances, a strong premiere nixed any theory that our flawed heroine has changed at all.

The premiere episode follows two parallel stories. The Veep continues her book tour while the rest of the gang celebrates Mike’s (Matt Walsh) wedding. Meyer’s storyline offers the biggest laughs, like when she writes off people at her book signing with empty salutations such as, “God bless you … et cetera.” Meanwhile, Mike’s wedding pokes fun at our crippling dependence on technology.

Dreyfus, who won two much-deserved Emmys for her portrayal of Meyer, nails every dry one-liner at the book signing. She struggles to find words for voters who question the book’s hilariously ambiguous title, “Some New Beginnings,” a symbol for how meaningless most statements are from politicians. It’s impossible not to laugh when another voter gives a butter sculpture of Iowa to the speechless Veep.

At the wedding, Gary (Tony Hale) panics in his leave of absence from Meyer. As he delivers the best man speech, he reduces it to Cliffs Notes so he can take Meyer’s phone call. Hale, not far removed from Buster Bluth in “Arrested Development,” has always been one of the funniest actors on the show. His separation anxiety saves the otherwise bland wedding.

“Veep” continues its wicked, quick one-liners that recall other comedic gems like “Archer” and “Arrested Development.” The zingers often bridge the gap between comedic brilliance and unsettling taboo. In one scene, Amy (Anna Chlumsky) complains that Mike “has more nervous ticks than a shoe-bomber.” That’s just one of the head turning lines that both make us laugh and force us to acknowledge its political incorrectness.

The show has always benefited from these stinging jokes. Last season, when the Veep walks through a glass door, Dan (Reid Scott) comments that she has become “a living metaphor for her own career.” “Veep” excels at puns that aren’t always obvious punch lines, so repeat viewing rewards any fan.

Now in its third season, “Veep” has assembled one of the funniest ensembles on television thanks to its excellent acting. Hale keeps the laughs coming as the Veep’s personal assistant, Kevin Dunn plays Ben, the President’s chief of staff, as a depressed, drunken sage and Sufe Bradshaw, who plays the straightforward Sue, often rebuffs other staffers with a lacerating tongue. And you can always count on Timothy Simons to steal every scene as Jonah.

As everyone’s perennial punching bag, Jonah endures endless burns. In the premiere alone he gets called “Hepatitis J” and “The Seven Foot Mouth.” Thanks to Simons’ performance, the crass, egocentric Jonah is a man who’s worth this level of derision.

The Season 3 debut didn’t drop any clear indicators whether or not Meyer will ascend to the Oval Office this year. Most of the episode deals with fragmented communications between the book signing and the wedding as the Veep’s staff plans to announce her campaign. In the end, Jonah ruins everyone’s plans by posting a photo to his blog that sparks a public relations catastrophe.

The show is like a slapstick “House of Cards,” a humorous, critical portrayal of our incompetent leaders. But while “House of Cards” operates in the shadows, “Veep” exploits its characters’ flaws to make light of corruption and incompetence. Meyer is the perfect comedic foil to Frank Underwood.

After an uneven first season and a strong sophomore outing, “Veep” is well on its way to becoming one of the great comedies. It ranks with “Archer” and “Parks and Recreation” as one of the smartest comedies on television, an incisive social commentary with rapid-fire puns and outlandish characters. If only Congress were this funny, then we might forgive them for being such a headache.

Alex Frail can be reached at [email protected]

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