Presidential debates always make me uncomfortable. It feels like such an arbitrary way to figure out who our leader should be, kind of the electoral equivalent of an SAT. What does it measure, really? In real life, the president would never be forced to come up with a solution to a serious problem using nothing but his or her memory, with two minutes on the clock, under stage lights, surrounded by people hoping he or she screws up. POTUS has a fleet of people at his disposal, intel on intel, all the advisors. The only thing debates ever seem to do is make people sweat profusely and give candidates room to say dumb, embarrassing things, or set themselves up to be judged based on ridiculous metrics, like height, posture, or twitches.
But no matter: Selina’s gang is prepping for the first debate. Congressman Furlong is really, really excited. “God, I love this kind of talk. Gets me aroused. I meant roused. Sorry, no, I meant aroused.” Meanwhile, Amy has hired a smiley-face coffee boy named Jackson who calls his iPad a “zinger sewing machine.” His one-liners all go downhill from there.
Still, Amy is prepared for anything. Except for Selina’s haircut.
I’ll give this to Selina: She knows how to sell herself. “What do we think? I love it.” And for something that causes a lot of ruckus backstage, the haircut — a too-long pixie, the front of which sort of brings to mind Kate Gosselin — doesn’t actually derail Selina at all. And, at least to her face, everyone is aggressively onboard. “This is the haircut that your head has always wanted but was too afraid to ask for,” says Amy. Sue could not give a shit.
Speaking of hair changes: I kind of like Dan with the scruff! I also like that Jonah calls him “George Looney.” Dan is back in action, even though at first glance it appears someone forbid him from going anywhere near razors. “I diagnosed myself with an acute case of everything’s fine.” Selina makes him get rid of the beard immediately, which is disappointing and kind of odd; you’d think she’d be feeling very pro-radical hair changes at the moment, but maybe she didn’t want anyone stealing her style thunder.
Seeing Amy in action makes me wonder why Selina ever picked Dan over her in the first place. Amy is ruthless, always managing a million things at once but never seeming all too bothered by it — stress is her natural state; relaxation would probably make her nervous — and seems totally uninterested in having a personal life. (“This feels better than actually having sex yourself!”) We’re talking about a woman who crosses all her fingers in the hopes that a “smoking condom” from Thornhill’s affair will turn up: “Maybe a crack whore if we’re lucky!” She thinks three weeks is plenty of time for Dan to get over a complete mental breakdown.
Selina has an eye twitch, and it temporarily distracts me from the show because I am thinking: Wow, JLD was faking a twitch for all of the days she spent shooting this episode, how insane is that? Just try to fake a twitch for 30 seconds, right now, while you’re reading this. See what I mean?
Time for debate night at the University of New Hampshire! It’s a real batch of weirdos, the exact opposite of whom anyone would want holding the nuclear codes. The whole scene reminds me of the debate from Parks and Rec when Leslie went up against the likes of Buddy Garrity, her look-alike porn star Brandi Maxx, and Paul Rudd. Everyone is a caricature of their worst selves: Chung can’t not make military references; Thornhill can’t not make baseball analogies; Maddox is, honestly it’s hard to explain, but he’s just tripping over his own two feet and generally making everything more uncomfortable than you may have thought possible. And then there’s the new kid, Pearce, who is a bumbling wreck. Thornhill keeps saying “I’m going to coach America” and I keep throwing up in my mouth. Pearce doesn’t get it because “my parents did not allow me to play sports growing up, so … ”
Pearce keeps spilling his water while Thornhill says, “I’m just an ordinary guy. I live in the real America.” (Hoping someday a courageous candidate will admit to residing in Fake America.) Chung wants us all to remember he totally saved his friend from that burning tank that one time. Has anyone ever had worse body language than Maddox? Of course the first question Selina gets is about her personal trainer, because sexism is real, even in Fake America, where this show takes place. Pearce tries and fails, horribly, at making a joke that somehow involves the plug from a kitchen sink.
Backstage, Mike’s wife Wendy comes in to write “a puff piece for the Style section.” As a former Style section writer, I take offense at this. Those pieces were not puffy! But Gary lets his guard down and accidentally contradicts Selina by saying “she does not say nay to Ray, ya know what I’m saying?” Gary thinks he can save himself, and Selina, by offering up the Thornhill affair scoop instead, but then Thornhill goes and admits it himself, during the debate, because, sure. To quote Amy: “If there is any dirty trick I cannot stand, it is honesty.” Poor Wendy and Mike are realizing their entire marriage is a conflict of interest, which, I mean, obviously, how has neither of them noticed that before?
The big joke of the night — Selina forgetting what the last R stood for — wasn’t subtly set up, and waiting for her to trip on it was making me feel as uncomfortable as Maddox looked. “We need to repel criminals, obesity, torturers. We need to repel the enemies of America!” But I wasn’t expecting her failure to actually be a success; as Ben said, “every time she says repel, she attracts more voters.”
Another cloud turned silver lining is her twitch, which distracts Maddox so much from an audience member’s question that he totally botches his answer. “What we need to do is find those loopholes, and find out if they’re loopholes, or are they legitimate holes?” He proceeds to say the word holes approximately 10 billion more times, we all die watching him, we come back to life, he says “holes” again, more death, more reincarnation, just when we think we’re done, Pearce jumps in and is all “With regard to holes … ” and he CIRCLES BACK TO PLUGHOLES.
Wow. This debate. It’s like being dropped into enemy territory unarmed.
And a few other things:
- “Our carrying on is what she would have wanted — sorry, I mean, does want.” Way to be cool about FLOTUS’s suicide attempt, Kent.
- Kent, when told not to “Maddox voice” during debate prep: “I only ever used this voice, even as a young child.”
- “People don’t elect elves. They put them to work in grottos or they get them drunk at frat parties so they can toss them.” She does kind of look like an elf, Mike, but still, not cool. Maybe say something about her making cookies inside a hollowed-out tree trunk instead?
- “Thornhill is still, to use a baseball analogy, winning.” Kent for President, you guys.
- “Are we all allowed to speak at once now? Is that how it’s going to work?” Selina, as the debate descends into chaos
Compliment of the episode
“I never knew you had so much neck! I mean that in a good way. Necks are neat.” —Ben, to Selina, re: the Haircut
Insult of the episode
Kent to Dan: “You don’t have the facial gravitas for a beard.”
Jonah shall henceforth be known as ...
Did I miss all the Jonah nicknames this week? Is this a Veep first: no just-for-Jonah insults? Let me know in the comments.