HBO’s Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is back for season three on Apr. 6. Here’s what you need to know to catch up.

 

Veep

Veep

What’s the premise? With aspirations of becoming the leader of the free world, Selina Meyer is relegated to the utterly powerless role of Vice President, which — while only a heartbeat away from the excitement and prestige of the Oval Office — is a neverending string of pointless press opps and the frantic damage control that follows.

What’s it like? Take the incompetence of the Dunder Mifflin office, the political absurdity of Dr. Strangelove, and the quick-paced humor of Arrested Development, and you’re close to the vibe of Veep. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a lovable misanthrope on par with Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm and her staff of hacks is just as funny.

Where can I see it? In addition to DVD and HBO On Demand, both seasons are available to watch on HBO Go and Xfinity with your subscription. Otherwise, purchase season one on iTunes, Amazon or Vudu to prime yourself for new episodes.

How long will it take? Season one is eight episodes and season two is ten episodes. With each installment running a zippy 30 minutes, you can watch one or two Veeps a night and be caught up within two weeks.

What do the critics think? Both seasons are fresh on the Tomatometer, but the general consensus is that Veep gets better with season two (the score climbs from 71 percent to 88 percent). Melissa Maerz of Entertainment Weekly wrote, “The wit is rapid-fire, and keeping up with Louis-Dreyfus as she sprints between appointments, all shaken up like a soda bottle about to explode, is good fun,” and Hank Stuever of the Washington Post said, “Thanks to Louis-Dreyfus, and the show’s remarkable knack for dialogue and timing, Veep is instantly engaging and outrageously fun.”

Why should I watch this? It’s all about the cast with Veep. Louis-Dreyfus, whose comedic chops have scored her four Emmys (including two wins for her role as the Veep) and a record-breaking 14 nominations in all, is fierce as D.C.’s potty-mouthed second banana. And she’s just one reason to watch; the supporting cast takes turns simultaneously making you laugh and cringe. Chief of staff Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky) and personal aide Gary Walsh (Tony Hale) are pitifully loyal. Mike McClintock (Matt Walsh) is the director of communications who has never said one appropriate thing, and Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) is perhaps one of the best least-likable characters on TV. And then there’s Dan (Reid Scott), the team’s overachiever who has hopes of brown-nosing his way into the White House. All are hilarious in their desperation to cling to what look like the worst jobs in America.

What’s my next step? Veep was developed for HBO by Scottish satirist Armando Iannucci, who directed the acclaimed British film In the Loop (based on the BBC series The Thick of It), so give that a watch. If it’s the perversion of politics that attracts you to Veep, try House of Cards or the Danish television series Borgen. For the lighter side of satire, check out Parks and Recreation, with a crackerjack ensemble led by Amy Poehler, or try the animated series Archer on FX. You may also enjoy the over-the-top 2012 slapstick flick The Campaign, starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis.

What do you like about Veep? How would you explain it to a newbie? Get in on the conversation here.

This week on home video, our biggest movie is also the lowest-rated one on the list. This isn’t to say it isn’t any good (it still earned a 66% on the Tomatometer), but the smaller releases and the Blu-ray reissues are much stronger. See below for the full list!

The Campaign

66%

Who better to direct a political farce than the guy who helmed both films like Recount and Game Change as well as the Austin Powers movies? While we’re at it, why not throw in a couple of comedy heavyweights like Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis to play a pair of ruthless political opponents running for the same office? It all seems to make perfect sense, doesn’t it? Well, critics had a fine enough time with The Campaign, but that was also part of the problem: it was only just fine. Not uproarious, not particularly incisive, but just fine. At 66% on the tomatometer, The Campaign wasn’t as smart or sharp as many believed it had the potential to be, but most who saw it still got their fair share of laughs from the film’s charismatic leads.

Safety Not Guaranteed

91%

If her career continues to take off, this will be the film people point to for Aubrey Plaza?s “breakout performance.” Based on a real-life joke ad-gone-viral, Safety Not Guaranteed follows a magazine journalist and two of his interns as they attempt to track down the author of a bizarre classified posting asking for companions on a time-traveling quest. As one of the interns (Plaza) earns the man’s (Mark Duplass) trust, it becomes evident that there may be more to the story than they expected. Safety Not Guaranteed is full of great performances, nuanced humor, and charming characters, and it’s Certified Fresh at 94%.

Ruby Sparks

79%

High-concept romantic comedies are hit-or-miss, but when executed properly, they can offer a refreshing break from typical fare. In the little seen Ruby Sparks, Paul Dano plays a young writer named Calvin struggling to duplicate the success of his first novel who begins a new work about a girl named — you guessed it — Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the script). One day, Calvin wakes up to find that Ruby has materialized into a real person, and her personality manifests in whatever way he writes her. It’s not the most original premise, but critics largely found it charming and delightful, if a bit twisted, and most had good things to say both about Kazan’s acting and writing. Certified Fresh at 79%, this one will score with those looking for something a little out of the ordinary.

Elena

94%

Unless you live in a really big city with a flourishing independent cinema scene, or you happened to be in Cannes last year, you probably never got the chance to see Elena. This noir-ish Russian drama earned rave reviews en route to a Certified Fresh 93% and the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize at 2011’s Cannes Film Festival. The story follows a late middle-aged woman named Elena who marries a wealthy businessman named Vladimir, a former nursing patient of hers. Her own son lives in poverty, and when Vladimir refuses to help with her son’s family finances, Elena turns to a desperate plot that may backfire. Critics called Elena a slow-burning, superbly acted psychological thriller that paints a dark and haunting yet utterly riveting portrait of modern family dynamics in Russia. Definitely worth a watch if you’re looking for a satisfying foreign drama.

Rosemary’s Baby – Criterion Collection

96%

Just in time for Halloween, The Criterion Collection offers up its release of Roman Polanski’s classic psychological thriller, Rosemary’s Baby. Polanski’s American debut, the film has earned a Certified Fresh 98% on the Tomatometer and is a staple of “best horror movie” lists. Mia Farrow stars as Rosemary Woodhouse, who moves into a new apartment building with her husband (John Cassavetes) and finds her new neighbors eccentric and unsettling. When she eventually becomes pregnant after a disturbing dream, Rosemary begins to suspect that her husband and the other tenants are conspiring to take her baby away. This Criterion edition features extras like a new making-of doc, an interview with Ira Levin (author of the source material), and a feature-length documentary on Krzysztof Komeda, the jazz musician who composed the score.

Alfred Hitchcock:The Masterpiece Collection – Blu-Ray

Several years ago, Universal released a 15-disc box set containing a solid chunk of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous work and called it The Masterpiece Collection. Though you won’t get the same velvety box with Hitchcock’s famous silhouette on the cover, The Masterpiece Collection is available this week on Blu-ray, and this time, they’ve seen fit to include one film many were disappointed they left out the first time: North by Northwest. The other films range from well known favorites like Psycho, Vertigo, and The Birds to less frequently mentioned works like Marnie and Saboteur. Each film comes with its own set of bonus features, so there’s plenty to chew on here, but the price tag is hefty, so keep that in mind if you plan on putting this on your wish list.

This week at the movies, we’ve got a man on the run (The Bourne Legacy, starring Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz), a pair of congressional hopefuls (The Campaign, starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis), and spouses in a rut (Hope Springs, starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones). What do the critics have to say?

The Bourne Legacy

55%

With Matt Damon in the title role, the Bourne franchise was a commercial and critical juggernaut. Now, Jeremy Renner tries to give the series a reboot, and while critics say The Bourne Legacy is a bit overlong and more disjointed than previous installments, it’s still a capable chase thriller with strong action scenes. Renner stars as Aaron Cross, who, like Jason Bourne, is a chemically-enhanced super-soldier. He soon discovers that the secret government agency that gave him his powers is trying to kill him, so he goes on the run with research scientist Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who’s also a target of the same shadowy forces. The pundits say The Bourne Legacy isn’t as consistently exciting as the Damon Bournes, but it’s a solid enough conspiracy movie, and Renner and Weisz are excellent. (Check out this week’s 24 Frames, a slideshow of some of cinema’s greatest spies.)

The Campaign

66%

How amusing can a satire of politics really be these days, given the farcical nature of modern elections? Plenty, say critics, who call The Campaign a droll, biting, and often insightful look at the electoral process — though some of the jokes are pretty crude. Will Ferrell stars as Cam Brady, an incumbent congressman who’s running unopposed for re-election until he finds himself embroiled in a scandal. A pair of big-money bigwigs push inexperienced, mild-mannered Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) into the race, and things get nasty in a hurry. The pundits say The Campaign intermittently flails, but for the most part, it’s goofy, timely, and, more often than not, astutely funny.

Hope Springs

75%

Hollywood rarely shines its spotlight on the love lives of older folks, so a film like Hope Springs immediately stands out from the summer movie pack. Still, critics say it’s worth seeing for the virtuosic interplay between Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, even if the script occasionally betrays a heavy hand. Streep and Jones star as Kay and Arnold, whose marriage lost its spark a long time ago. In an attempt to shake things up, Kay enrolls the couple in an intense counseling session with a famous therapist, and she and Arnold take tentative steps toward rekindling their relationship. The pundits say the Certified Fresh Hope Springs is sometimes manipulative, but the leads are utterly absorbing and the situation is refreshingly true-to-life. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Jones’ best-reviewed movies.)

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • Almayer’s Folly, Chantal Akerman/‘s adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel about an embittered ship captain at a remote trading post, is at 100 percent.

  • Meet the Fokkens, a documentary about 60-something identical twins who work as prostitutes in Amsterdam’s red light district, is at 100 percent.

  • The Green Wave, a documentary/animation hybrid about the anti-government protests that rocked Iran in 2009, is at 88 percent.

  • 2 Days in New York, starring Julie Delpy and Chris Rock in a comedy about a couple who are rudely interrupted by the woman’s wild family members, is at 71 percent.

  • Spike Lee‘s Red Hook Summer, a drama about a middle class kid who spends a summer with his religious grandfather in his inner-city Atlanta home, is at 68 percent.

  • $upercapitalist, a drama about a hedge fund trader whose life spins out of control after attempting a hostile takeover of a Hong Kong tech company, is at 17 percent.

  • Nitro Circus: The Movie 3D, a doc starring a fearless crew of stuntmen doing outrageous aerial tricks, is at 13 percent.

  • Goats, starring David Duchovny and Vera Farmiga in a coming-of-age dramedy about a teenager attempting to understand his eccentric family members, is at 13 percent.