The producers and writers felt they were missing a comedic beat as Selina calls her staff together for the cutdown. They want an added joke to milk an extra laugh out of the tension.

"What about this?" Dreyfus asks between the fifth and six takes. "What about if I say, 'We need to get this over quickly, like a good Brazilian wax'? 'Quick, like a good Brazilian wax.' "

Iannucci says he likes it, and Louis-Dreyfus starts quietly saying it over and over, changing a word here, a word there, but most of all playing with the way she sounds each word for emphasis, de-emphasis, loudness, softness and enunciation. Over and over and over — until she likes what she has, and the director calls for yet another take.

The scene plays funnier with her Brazilian wax addition — there is no doubt about it. But it's only the first of five more takes that will be recorded.

"Selina is a diva, and Julia is not remotely a diva," Rich says. "I don't know what people think actors on TV series do, but it's brutal. In any series, people work extremely long hours — often longer than 12-hour days. So that requires an incredible amount of work, and yet her job also requires that she maintain a lightness of spirit because she has to be funny."

The best news about Season 2 is there is even more Louis-Dreyfus: 10 episodes instead of the first season's eight. And in the first four episodes, which HBO made available for screening, she seems even more aggressively funny than last year.

Part of that involves Iannucci giving her a strong foil with the addition of Gary Cole as Kent Davison, a hard-bitten senior strategist to the president. He's the attack dog she has to get past to fight her way into the inner circle of POTUS.

In Sunday night's season opener, which is set on the night of midterm elections, Iannucci wastes little time having her and Davison go head to head. Selina's delivery of her insults makes them almost poetic in their profanity and vitriol.

The last 90 seconds of the episode, which feature an exhausted Selina doing an endless string of morning show interviews, is a comic tour de force. This clip alone, which runs as the final credits roll, could rightfully win Louis-Dreyfus another Emmy.

In addition to more Louis-Dreyfus, Rich also believes Season 2 offers more "universality," thanks in part to the way November's election seem to have changed almost nothing in Washington.

"In spite of the supposed resolution that an election provides with clear winners and losers, Washington is still dysfunctional. It still can't get anything done, even though a lot of the people have spoken," Rich says.

"So I think that helps fuel the universality of 'VEEP,' because 'VEEP' is saying a plague on all their houses. ... We've supposedly had the catharsis of an election in November, but there really wasn't a catharsis. So we're back to a world like 'VEEP,' where you have a lot of people in political life looking out for themselves and not the people's business."

That's surely part of the pleasure of viewing "VEEP." But as I watched the layoff scene being filmed last month, I couldn't help thinking how consistent its themes were with a scene I had watched being filmed the year before in the vice president's make-believe office in Columbia. It was scheduled as the penultimate episode of Season 1, and it featured Selina calling in her staff so she could fire someone for a gaffe that caused her office great embarrassment.

The dots connected themselves. I smiled at the various responses of scheming, begging and anger by endangered staffers as the scene played out before the cameras. But later I found myself thinking about some of the friends and co-workers in the past decade who had seen their careers ended for real in moments just like the one I saw staged for laughs.

Such real-life moments weren't limited to journalism. Since 2008, there has been a steady drumbeat of downsizing and layoffs from Wall Street to the world of nonprofits, like the Baltimore Museum of Art, which laid off almost 10 percent of its staff last week.

Millions of American workers have experienced a national trauma the past five years, but unlike 9/11, which was followed by a spate of shows ranging from "24" to "Homeland" that helped us process our feelings as a nation, prime-time TV has mainly been silent about life after a near-meltdown of the economy.

By all means, watch "VEEP" first for the acting, writing and laughs when it returns Sunday night. But leave yourself open to the deeper feelings a sitcom of this caliber can tap and possibly help heal as well.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/davidzurawik

On TV: "VEEP" returns for its second season at 10 p.m. April 14 on HBO.



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