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'Veep' is Still Television's Best Comedy Thanks to its Unparalleled Supporting Cast

By Brian Byrd | TV | June 3, 2016 | Comments ()

By Brian Byrd | TV | June 3, 2016 |


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We don’t talk about Veep much around these parts anymore, which is odd considering it’s been television’s best comedy (alongside The Walking Dead and whatever hot nonsense escapes Don Lemon’s mouth on the regular) for the last half-decade. You can point to a half-dozen reasons why Veep remains consistently sharp through five seasons and two showrunners — the exquisitely withering insults, smartly defined arcs for each main character (except Gary, whose story has become incredibly one-note), sublime comic performances from the entire main cast — but the show’s overlooked secret weapon has always been its supporting players.

Like the best pro sports front offices, creator Armando Iannucci and current skipper David Mandel understand that stockpiling a talented bench and knowing how to best utilize their specialized assets is just as critical to overall long-term success as recruiting top-level talent. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a hell of a franchise cornerstone, but Veep isn’t winning Emmys without Dan Bakkedahl, Peter Grosz, Randall Park, Lennon Parham and Zach Woods making major impact with limited minutes.

Take a minor throwaway plot from this season’s third episode, “The Eagle.” Mike McClintock wants to take his wife out to an extremely nice dinner at one of DC’s most exclusive restaurants, which is possible because the restaurant keeps an open table under his name for President Meyer. Of course, when the McClintocks arrive, their table is occupied. Literally anyone could have taken Mike’s reservation. Hell, the writers didn’t even need to show who snaked the spot. But they have Bakkedahl on retainer and his Roger Furlong elevates every scene he’s in, why not put him into play? The ability to insert an enjoyable character into a throwaway moment turned what could have been an unremarkable 30-second detour into a delivery system for one of the episode’s best lines: “I don’t care if artisans crafted this table from your dead mother’s bleached bones, me and my white ass are staying right fucking here.”

So yeah, Veep has talent for days. But someone has to be first off the bench. A few criteria before we begin the rankings. For the purposes of this piece, “supporting character” refers to anyone outside Selina’s main entourage. The series regulars — Mike, Gary, Ben, Sue, Amy, Jonah, Kent, Dan, Catherine, Splett, Tom — while utterly indispensable, appear too often to truly be considered ancillary players. Also, their appearances must be spread out over multiple seasons. Sorry, Patton Oswalt and Chris Meloni. I’m sure you’ll get over it.

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11. George Maddox (Isiah Whitlock Jr.)
Whitlock Jr.’s defense secretary with thinly disguised loathing for Selena is always a welcome irritant. Maddox, who once voluntarily employed Jonah Ryan, exists mainly as an outlet for the main cast’s better insults (he’s been referred to as a “varicose dick vein” and “as useless as a one-inch cock”).

Best line: “Good luck with your Fun Run. Try not to swear when the starter pistol goes off.”

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10. Bill Erickson (Diedrich Bader)
Erickson, the weaselly former communications director who took the fall for last season’s data breach, returned Sunday as the campaign manager for Jonah’s congressional opponent. Yes, Jonad is running for Congress and yes, it’s every bit as hysterical as you think it would be.

Best line:
“Tell the president no hard feelings. Oh wait, that’s right, I do have hard feelings. I’m consumed by them.”

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9. Danny Chung (Randall Park)
Casting Park as an ambitious, flag-waiving veteran with zero compunction about using his military background for personal gain is an underrated stroke of genius. Park infuses the Minnesota governor with just enough faux-sincerity to make you wonder if Chung isn’t much smarter than he lets on.

Best line
: “I’ve got a Purple Heart on my chest, but the one that beats inside of me is red, white, and blue.”

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8. Vice President Andrew Doyle (Phil Reeves)
Doyle is a Veep OG, breaking onto the scene way back in season one as head of the Senate Intelligence Committee before becoming Selena’s marginalized Vice President. Frequently adversarial (he hangs Selena out to dry on the child care bill and often refuses to perform his vice presidential duties), Doyle has appeared in more episodes (16) than anyone else on this list and still manages to delight every time.

Best line (TIE): “As my grandfather never said, let’s go be inclusive.”

“If you can get a senate reform bill through the place it’s designed to reform…that would be like persuading a guy to fist himself.”

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7. Jeff Kane (Peter MacNicol)
I’m breaking my own multi-season rule here because MacNicol’s performance as Jonah’s party kingmaker uncle is too out-of-nowhere spectacular to ignore (his character was mentioned but not seen in earlier seasons, so lick my loophole). The man’s mastery of the subtlety is incredible. Check out the way MacNicol laughs at Jonah’s terrible joke or his unhinged anger when the world’s tallest pile of garbage disrupts a campaign ad focus group (“You gotta learn to control YOUR FUCKING TEMPER!!!!”)

Best line:
“Now listen to me, you walking trisomy. I could get dog shit in a condom elected in New Hampshire. You are my puppet. I let you dance. And when I stuff you back in the toy box to let Ezra lead, you will be grateful I ever let your wooden painted face take the stage. Now, do you or do you not understand me?!”

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6. Will (Nelson Franklin)
Describing Will as Roger Furlong’s perpetually put-upon assistant is a disservice to assistants who spend too much time fetching coffee and taking the blame for their boss’ failures. Will is a carbon-based heavy bag who exists solely to absorb Furlong’s devastating verbal uppercuts. He isn’t even given a last name. It’s a testament to the writers’ brilliance that they keep finding new ways to humiliate him without alienating the audience.

Best Line:
Furlong: “Let’s get this thing over with ASAP. It’s not gonna be easy with this gangly pissflap who moves like…how do you move, Will?”
Will: “As slowly as a Mississippi detective investigating the murder of a young black man, sir.”

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5. Ed Webster (Zach Woods)
Woods only appeared in three episodes over two seasons, but the Silicon Valley star (who worked with Iannucci before on In The Loop) put up an otherworldly efficiency rate. His calm, masterful takedown of Jonah in season two remains one of the series’ best moments.

Best line: “Jonah, you’re not even a man. You’re like an early draft of a man, where they just sketched out a giant, mangled skeleton, but they didn’t have time to add details, like pigment or self-respect. You’re Frankenstein’s monster, if his monster was made entirely of dead dicks.”

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4. Karen Collins (Lennon Parham)
Karen Collins is oscillation personified. On the other hand, what if she’s the series’ most stubborn supporting player? Lennon Parham (bonus true fact: her Playing House co-star Jessica St. Clair had a turn as Mike’s Gary’s overbearing girlfriend back in season three) turns a potentially grating, one-note role into a surprisingly layered recurring character. She’ll have my undying affection for acting as the catalyst for Anna Chlumsky’s phenomenal resignation speech to Selena (“You are the worst thing to happen to this country since food in buckets and maybe slavery”).

Best line: “But how do we define ‘deadline’ and ‘pass?’”

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3. Leon West (Brian Huskey)
Mike once called Leon West “The asshole of an asshole’s asshole.” The veteran reporter is so loathed within the Meyer White House they once left him in Iranian captivity for an extra day just so Selena could arrange a better photo op. And after he was freed, Ben promised to treat West “just like my brother, who I had murdered.” Yeah, lotta love in these here streets. To be fair to the Beltway Butcher (a courtesy West rarely extends to his subjects), Selena’s team did lure him to a yogurt store under false pretenses and fail to deliver a promised scoop. A news scoop. Not pistachio raisin, or whatever.

Best line: “From now on, you bleached, plucked asshole, I am your fucking Siamese stalker.”

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2. Sidney Purcell (Peter Grosz)
Purcell is such an abhorrent, ignorant, ruthlessly effective lobbyist you wonder how some real-life K Street firm hasn’t tried to hire Peter Grosz for seven figures and a company car. Out of nowhere, Purcell has quietly become integral to the show’s overarching election plotline. He employed Dan last year before unceremoniously kicking him to the curb in the season five premiere (via text message with Dan sitting right in front of him), and now appears to be working with Tom James (Hugh Laurie) to accomplish…something that’ll have dire consequences for Selena. I hope he succeeds just so the writers have more opportunities to bring Purcell around.

Best line (TIE): “I don’t have any children. I have a niece, and I fucking hate her.”

“You know I wanted to tell you if you think this bill of yours is gonna go the distance, then you must be even stupider than I think you are. And I should tell you, I think you’re borderline developmentally disabled. This bill is a fucking disgrace, and I’m going to see to it personally that it gets chewed up like a dead prostitute in a wood chipper.”

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1. Roger Furlong (Dan Bakkedahl)
The king dick. No one, not even Purcell, slings invective like the congressman from Ohio. I could spend another 500 words singing his praises but I’m just gonna hand the mic over to my man and let him do his thing.

Best lines:

— “I just came out West to play a little cowboys and injuns with Big Chief Suckem Choad here.”

- “You can wave bye-bye to the Families First bill because the lawmakers in these districts are going to Vulcan death grip you to fuck. Live long and fuck off!”

— “I’d make more money if I installed Will as a full-time glory hole greeter at a Georgetown gay bar, which I’m pretty sure he already does full time.”

— “If I get the stamp of approval from [Selena], I might as well nail a bunch of puppies to the ground and run over their skulls with my campaign bus.”

— “Hey, Grimace. No, not you, the other person in the room who looks exactly like Grimace. You need to trust me on this because I’ve been doing this since before your mother was throwing herself down the stairs belly-first.”

— “I really don’t have any need for you, Mike. You’re like a Viking stuck in time.”

— “You know, you’re about as annoying as a condom filled with fire ants. How’s that for a fucking metaphor?”


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