My wife and I watch a lot of D.C.-based shows, and maybe that’s because I have a B.A. in Political Science and another one in Theater Arts, but anyway we watch House of Cards, The Americans, Scandal, Homeland, and scatterings of others (looking at you, Alpha House and Madam Secretary).

My favorite is Veep. And so this post is going to be a Veeppreciation.

I don’t feel that Veep gets the praise it deserves, and that’s partly because it’s not part of the recap-industrial complex that, in the right season, lavishes weekly paeans to the greatnesses of dramas like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, True Detective, etc. That’s because Veep is a sitcom. But does that mean it can’t be the best show on TV?

veep 1

When Julia Louis-Dreyfus appeared on Jon Stewart to first promote the show, she said categorically that you’d never find out what political party her character was in. Stewart looked shocked, and let’s be charitable and guess that’s less because he thought Louis-Dreyfus didn’t have that much power over her show and more because he, watcher of Washington shows like I am, thought no one could have that much power over any show. Four seasons in, and we still don’t know what party Meyer is in; still think they can’t handle this, Jon?

Let’s just linger on the credit sequence for a moment, since you ordinarily can’t without using your remote’s slow-mo feature. Has any show ever compressed all the background information we need so succinctly, so perfectly tailored to its characters? (Don’t tell me Lost; there’s no information there.) We learn that our lead Selina Meyer was up in the polls, then down in the polls, then extraordinarily bitter, then happy to be vice-president. (The name “Veep” – like a kid trying to be serious – is also a spot-on fit.) This season, now that Selina has risen in rank, we learn in about 3 titles that she’s about to become “The 8-Month President.” One virtue of these titles is that they tell you how quickly words and meanings can come and stick; they warn you to watch the show like a meteor shower, or perhaps like an avalanche of funny coming your way. Those metaphors are a little too act-of-God, though: most of Veep’s funny comes under the heading of Damage Control of S*it We Should Have Gotten Right the First Time.

Veep fans are obviously fans of Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder, Cameron Crowe, Amy Sherman-Palladino, and other bards of banter, but let’s face it: most of their comedies moved toward the warm and fuzzy, toward (eventual) forgiveness and sincerity. In Veep, all the characters hate each other. It’s zinger after diss after barb after insult after chastisement after zinger again. And yet, Veep is funny even when it’s not really trying to be overtly funny, because when it cruises in neutral, the awkward tension never leaves the room, and that tension redounds to the awkward laughter we feel watching these characters pretending they’re more than they ever will be. More than the other shows my wife and I view, this feels like getting D.C. right.

Where was Veep before now? Well, it was clearly unimaginable in the pre-Simpsons, laugh track-dominated era. But maybe we also needed the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2008 financial meltdown (both parties, people) to believe, in a sustained way, that the people running the country are probably all idiots veering from self-created crisis to crisis. And don’t underestimate the power of a star’s career. Most of us know Julia Louis-Dreyfus from the original no-hugging-no-learning show, Seinfeld, and maybe a few of us saw her interim work like The New Adventures of Old Christine. Perhaps we needed a few post-Seinfeld JLD misfires to make it all the more of an ongoing relief to see her persona – in a phrase, I’ve had it up to here with all of you, but my ideas/solutions are equally vexing/perplexing – re-purposed for political satire.

As Selina Meyer, Louis-Dreyfus is so strong on Veep that it’s easy to forget that we don’t even see her all that often. We’re more often flies on the walls of the palace intrigue, and Meyer’s lieutenants’ mutual loathing combined with their constant mishandling means there’s no funnier place to be. Veep is the only show where a bunch of old white guys standing around justifying themselves doesn’t feel like a problem, because their pathetic sense of entitlement is never not the point. I feel that’s a big reason why the show landed Hugh Laurie, a star who probably turned down all sorts of lucrative offers, and who, back when he was on House, was probably making about 100x more money per episode than he now is on Veep. Sure, Laurie could have steered the next Law and Order spinoff, or he could have guest-starred as someone’s uncle on Modern Family, but he knew he’d have more fun helping send up a whole culture of useless white guys on Veep.

I can’t think of another show which rotates seven-plus white guys where I regularly think: oh good, it’s him again. Tony Hale as Gary has accomplished the near-impossible by one-upping his Arrested Development persona for even more humor at the expense of the sycophantic. Matt Walsh as Mike has turned the balding-ginger type (believe me, if anyone should be sick of this, it’s me) into their wife-loving punching-bag who may actually be the show’s worst at performing his job (high bar to clear). Timothy Simons as Jonah is literally the biggest douche-bag on TV (this is the correct use of literally; he’s a head taller than anyone else), while his cluelessness-level is Woody-on-Cheers-convincing (the highest level). Reid Scott as Dan takes the thankless young-hunk role and does what Rob Lowe had to wait 20 years (until Parks and Rec) to do: make you laugh and cringe at his insecurities with the same lines.

I hereby announce that Kevin Dunn is required to stay on the show until the total minutes of his Veep episodes exceeds the total amount of minutes of all the bad movies I’ve sat through where he played some kind of supporting a-hole with nary a funny line to be uttered. Yes, Kevin, I’m afraid that includes three full Transformers movies. Luckily, I believe Dunn sees it the same way. He knows he’s never had a character this juicy, and he’s sucking every drop out of this orchard of hilarity.

Gary Cole has the opposite problem, which is closer to Louis-Dreyfus’ problem: we know he’s a comic genius, so why don’t we see more of him? You probably can’t keep a player like this on the bench this often, no matter how much you tell him he’ll never be on another project this good, just like the Golden State Warriors probably can’t keep Draymond Green in this off-season. In that case let’s just enjoy Cole while we can, with the pungent thrill of knowing every time he unleashes a riposte that he’s got 15 more such arrows in his quiver.

Show of hands: who knew Anna Chlumsky was this good? You knew from My Girl, 20 years ago? You knew more than Macauley Culkin? No, you didn’t. Chlumsky as Amy Brookheimer has to be more than good, she has to be Harry Houdini, constantly distracting us from clichés that could overwhelm her character: the bitch, the control freak, the over-striver who cries herself to sleep, the just-one-of-the-boys, the harried harpy. Somehow Amy is never any of these, at least not for long; instead you want her to win the internecine battles despite her being the smartest and most attractive person in the room (except for Sue, one note played like a symphony by Sufe Bradshaw). You sense Amy’s insecurity, but the show wisely never makes much of this (unlike, uh, every romantic comedy ever) – that’s just one more thing that glides past you in this week’s episode of Damage Control. Trying to cast this part must have been like trying to cast Tyrion Lannister; if Peter Dinklage had said no, did they really have a long list of plausible options?

Showrunner and show creator Armando Ianucci, like Amy Sherman-Palladino around Season 3 of Gilmore Girls or Pete Sampras mid-90s, has clearly hit the sweetest spot of his career. I saw episodes of his BBC sitcom from the 2000s as well as the movie In the Loop; neither had the consistent, vertiginous highs of Veep. Ianucci should try to make more Veep for as long as they’ll let him. Because, really, who else is making a better show? All right, fine, who’s making a funnier show? You know what happens when others try? It’s a bit like when Dan told Selina he’d tried to use Jonah for intelligence, and she replied: “That’s like trying to use a croissant as a fucking dildo. It doesn’t do the job and it makes a fucking mess.”