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Is Veep the most foul-mouthed show on TV? If Selina Meyer were to answer the question, one might imagine her saying, “F— yes.”
The writers of the Emmy-winning HBO comedy, which wraps its fifth season June 26, have long turned swearing into an artform. With Julia Louis-Dreyfus‘ Selina and her delightfully dirty mouth at the helm, her motley crew of political lackeys launch their insults and political doublespeak with such rapid fire, the show has taken on a laugh-out-loud-and-you-might-miss-it quality.
That was an intention when Armando Iannucci created the show with his band of British writers, and certainly something that new showrunner David Mandel planned to continue when taking over for season five.
“There’s an an elegance to a lot of the language that Armando and some of the other writers set up,” Mandel tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s a Shakespearean approach to cursing.”
Explaining how “you don’t want to curse for curse’s sake,” Mandel gives praise to the actors and their ability to be so facile with the language: “They help us cheat a little bit because a lot of it is written, but they make it seem like it’s not. It makes us look that much better.
“Julia’s very fond of saying that when we had the idea of this boob-ish, foul-mouthed candidate that is Selina Meyer, that it was fiction and perhaps now, not so much,” Mandel continues. “There’s no Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders character, but all of these things kind of go into the soup and you reflect on them later. The good news is, when people are so unhappy with the system, they are looking at a way to laugh at it.”
Thanks, in part, to the momentum between the cast and the fifth season of the political satire existing amid such an outrageous real-life political climate, Mandel and his writers, some old and some new, have certainly delivered on the laughs.
Take, for example, the Amy Brookheimer character (played by Anna Chlumsky) who refers to Richard Splett as a “Paddington Bear-looking f—,” constantly tells Jonah Ryan to “shut the f— up” and once asked about Eleanor Roosevelt: “Did she eat pussy or did she just fingerbang her way down Pennsylvania Avenue?”
The latter f-word was a first for Veep. “We try to be historically accurate,” laughs Mandel, who also delivered an entire episode around who called Selina the c-word, titled “C—gate.”
As for the f-word, Selina appears to have no limits when it comes to talking about or to her paramours.
“He f—ed me and then he f—ed me, what is he trying to f— me?” she asks Gary Walsh (Tony Hale) after discovering boyfriend Charlie Baird’s (John Slattery) duplicitous intentions with Tom James early in the season. Later, when she has her pre-sex standoff with Tom James (Hugh Laurie), the pair launch into a “Who’s on first?”-style altercation of who wants to f— whose brains out.
“I’m sure everyone thinks we just say f— every three words,” says Mandel. “But we definitely try not to.”
Though they don’t keep any sort of tally, Mandel explains how every f-word is written with purpose.
“We kind of get to a point where we say, ‘OK, that’s a great joke, that stays.’ But then we’ll notice, ‘When he bumped into that thing he said f—, can we get that f— out?'” he says. “Because that was simply a f— and not a f— that’s doing much. If you can clear out three or four of the f—s, it allows the f—s that are more intricately worded, the good f—s, to really shine.”
He continues, “If the word f— is really spread throughout the episode, you’re de-powering the word. So if we can not do it when we don’t have to, then when we are saying it, it means something. We are aware to say, ‘Hey, can we lose that one? Because it’s not helping us.’”
Among the perks of working for HBO, Mandel is no stranger to the freedom of the written dirty word and compares Selina to another one of his actresses.
“In my other life, we have Susie Essman on Curb Your Enthusiasm,” says Mandel, who was the executive producer on Larry David’s long-running series (which is now coming back for a ninth season). “Susie also takes cursing to an artform, but in a different way. There’s a street element to Susie, it’s kind of rough and down-and-dirty.”
Some might argue that Selina has gotten a bit down-and-dirty herself this season (see: episode seven, “Congressional Ball”), but Mandel says Selina faced more challenges, both professional and personal, this year than she ever has before.
Kicking off after what Mandel calls one of the worst nights of Selina’s life, season five has charted her journey from a tied election to last week’s devastating results — spoiler alert — that she has lost the presidency. Along the way, there have been ups and downs, including the death of Selina’s mother, MeeMaw.
“I would argue that the stakes this season are that much higher,” says Mandel. “The ‘Congressional Ball’ episode was a nonstop battle for votes amid betrayal and her presidency being on the line. If that isn’t the call for language, I don’t know what is.”
He continues, “This season has been 10 episodes — and we haven’t gotten to 10 yet — that perhaps have been boiling a little more than in an average season. So if there are hotter tempers, I think they’re justified.”
Still, Mandel contends that the cursing feels the same as it’s always been and throws out a challenge for the most discerning of Veep fans.
“I haven’t gone back and charted it,” he says. “If someone wanted to prove to me that it’s up, so be it.”
Veep’s season finale, “Inauguration,” airs Sunday at 10:45 p.m. ET/PT on HBO. The episode description reads: Selina and her staff get ready for inauguration day; Mike suffers exhaustion; Catherine gets a makeover. Make sure to manually set the DVR for extra time, as it follows a supersized season finale of Game of Thrones.
Check out all of THR‘s coverage of Veep this season, including episodic interviews with Mandel, here and watch a preview of the finale below.
Get a sneak peek of the season finale of #Veep, Sunday at 10:45 on @HBO. pic.twitter.com/FhB4mPgZVL
— Veep (@VeepHBO) June 23, 2016
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