Review: ‘Veep’ just did one of the all-time great TV kissing scenes

A review of tonight’s Veep coming up just as soon as I quote the late Lionel Richie…

There’s a famous moment at the end of the first season of Cheers that half the TV business has been chasing in the 30-plus years since it first aired. It’s the moment where the line gets obliterated between Sam Malone and Diane Chambers’ utter disdain for one another and their animal attraction, and one moment they’re threatening physical violence, and the next they are passionately making out. If you’re the kind of person who reads this blog, odds are you’ve seen at least the most iconic part of the scene before, but here it is, anyway:

That show, and that moment, bottled the idea of Unresolved Sexual Tension, which later series would try variations on. Sometimes, the will-they-or-won’t-they couple would have mutual loathing for each other like Sam and Diane (David and Maddie on Moonlighting), while at others they would just be victims of bad timing (Ross and Rachel on Friends, Jim and Pam on The Office). Eventually, each of these couples had their first big romantic moment, and while those consummations were all deeply satisfying in their own ways, I was dumbstruck watching tonight’s Veep and realizing this was the closest any TV show has come in the decades since to recreating the feeling I had the first time I heard Sam ask Diane if she was as turned on as he was.

Obviously, Selina and Tom James don’t have the kind of long-standing tension that defined Cheers and so many of its descendants. The question of their attraction was introduced early on and quickly overshadowed by so many of the other usual problems that have come to define the Selina Meyer administration. So in terms of releasing long-standing pressure between two characters, and between an audience rooting for them to get together – the latter a non-factor on a show where the only thing the audience is ever rooting for is to see each and every character make as big a fool of themselves as possible – their hook up tonight couldn’t rate. And yet despite that, their kiss – and more, as Gary witnessed to his hysterical dismay – was set up magnificently within the context of this episode, so that when Tom admitted his desires and they kissed, I clapped with delight.

Some of this is simply a credit to the genius of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Hugh Laurie, and some to the brilliant decision to gene-splice the usual Cheers dynamics with a bit of A Few Good Men histrionics (Selina getting Tom to admit he ordered the Code Red wants to have sex with her). But its impact had less to do with resolving sexual tension than the political kind.

It was a fantastic payoff to all the conflict at the party, and really all the way back to the election night tie, as Selina decides to give Tom what he wants (her) to prevent him from getting what he really wants (the presidency). It was the conclusion to a night where Selina was incredibly on her game – if the episode had just featured Selina giving Bill Jaeger the “nyet” fantasy about his hot chief of staff… dayenu – up through and past that moment, with her speech to Nickerson (about putting people so far up her husband’s colon, she’ll hope that “the only thing they find is more cancer!”) being among the most ruthless and effective things we’ve ever heard her say. To borrow a line from another classic JLD sitcom, Tom James had hand, and then Selina took it from him. And as much fun as it is every week to watch Selina and her team of idiots screw themselves over, these occasions when she actually knows what she’s doing (in terms of political gamesmanship, if not actual governance) can be a hell of a lot of fun, too(*).

(*) What interesting timing that this aired immediately after a Silicon Valley episode that also stood out for the way its main characters didn’t screw up for once. It’s not quite as eery a coincidence as when Vinyl and Girls both did “Life on Mars” covers on the same night, and then the next week both featured extreme close-ups of characters underwater, but it’s still amusing to see how in sync the two shows can be, down to how both episodes also had the feel of being the penultimate of their respective seasons, even though each show has three episodes after this, rather than one.

It’s a testament to how on fire Selina was, both with Tom James and without him, that we’ve made it over 700 words into this review without a mention of Jon H. Ryan Jonah Ryan. Jonah’s campaign remains a marvelous show-within-the-show, starting with Jonah’s uncle becoming enamored with Richard – “Richard’s only winning because he’s got the easier person, and I have to be me!” Jonah whines, in his most/least self-aware moment ever – before realizing the depths of our man’s stupidity beneath that confident exterior, through to the return of Patton Oswalt as Jonah’s nemesis and molester, Teddy Sykes. If Tom has been taken off the board for now, then the show could use some beefing up in the rival department, and having Teddy (who reappears fingering pool balls, because of course he does) partner with Bill Ericsson was an appropriate supervillain moment.

As much fun as the campaign subplot continues to be, though, this one was all about Selina, who even when she was being so incredibly right for once also managed to be horribly, uncomfortably wrong, like when she sold out Catherine and Marjorie’s relationship and sexuality in order to get the support of the congresswoman from the gay and lesbian alliance.

But back to that kiss. Again, the combative nature of Selina and Tom’s working relationship fueled a lot of those sparks, and I have no particular interest in Veep trying to turn this into a sincere romance (not that I expect anyone to try.) But I watched “Congressional Ball” days before writing this review, and I still feel giddy just thinking about how well the show set up and played that moment.

Some other thoughts:

* I alluded to it above, but Gary’s reaction to seeing his beloved POTUS having sex with Tom James deserves separate mention. Watching poor Gary – who had been riding high on the typo that put his name on the hot list – melt down was perhaps the best bit of physical comedy Tony Hale has ever played away from Arrested Development.

* I love that Richard made the exact same mistake with the video camera twice. A shame, since, as Jonah’s uncle put it, “If you were 10 percent less black, I could make you president.”

* I hope this isn’t the last we see of Stephnie Weir as the swag-obsessed Congresswoman Nickerson. She fit right in.

* Poor Mike, having to switch to tortured golf metaphors after his job with the NHL gets snatched up by his old friend. What’s next: jai alai?

What did everybody else think?