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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the sixth-season premiere of Veep, “Omaha.”]
One year has changed everything on Veep.
The sixth season of the HBO political comedy opened on the anniversary of Selina Meyer’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) historic election loss, which saw her losing the presidency — and subsequently a chance at reclaiming the vice presidency — in the fifth-season finale. Suffice to say, the now former president took it very hard.
“It destroyed her to her soul,” Veep showrunner David Mandel confirms to The Hollywood Reporter. Savvy viewers who caught Selina saying she visited the “spa” during her missing year will remember last season when, during Catherine’s Kissing Your Sister documentary, it was revealed that “spa” was code for the nervous breakdown Selina suffered after her first election loss in Congress years ago. “This time, she was the least-prepared person in the world to lose the presidency.”
When Selina reemerges into public eye, viewers quickly discover that she’s residing in Catherine’s NYC brownstone while managing her post-presidency projects from an office in the Bronx, with Gary (Tony Hale) and Richard (Sam Richardson) by her side. She’s reunited with her slimy ex-husband, Andrew Meyer (David Pasquesi), and is relying on stay-at-home dad Mike (Matt Walsh) and his diary for her upcoming memoir. Amy (Anna Chlumsky) is engaged and running her fiance’s campaign, Dan (Reid Scott) is a morning TV anchor and Jonah (Timothy Simons) is using his cancer to further climb his political ladder, with Ben (Kevin Dunn) and Kent (Gary Cole) now members of his staff.
Given the current political climate, Mandel is happy to have the post-presidency distance from the White House (“We are not doing the Trump experience,” he previously explained in a guest column with THR), but he does anticipate Hillary Clinton comparisons. Below, he talks expectations for the season with political comedy having its moment, jumping ahead one year to scatter Selina’s crew across a new landscape and why another Meyer run is really off the table.
What real politicians did you meet with for this season and who was the most informing for where Selina is headed?
Meeting with Mitt Romney was incredibly helpful. In terms of the world of his election loss [to Obama in 2012], he’s a wealthy gentlemen with this incredible support system. He’s got a crapload of sons and grandkids. Selina doesn’t care about family or have her mother’s money anymore, so she doesn’t have that to fall back on. How un-Selina Romney was helped us clarify Selina because of what she isn’t. All the things that helped him when he lost, she has none of that. We realized she’s going to have it really hard.
One of the advisers on Veep, Anita McBride, worked for both Bushes and put me in touch with some of George H. W. Bush’s staffers. Bush was veep for eight years under Ronald Reagan and then became president, and none of them were prepared to lose to Bill Clinton. Obviously, it’s not exactly the same as Selina, but in terms of the shock, and not having plans for libraries, and people being depressed and staffers having hard times finding their next job because they’re being associated with the loss — all of that was incredibly helpful in terms of thinking about Selina and what would happen with her staff.
Why did you decide to jump one year?
We landed very quickly on the idea that we would open up one year later. The first idea we had for this new season was that we would start with her being interviewed about the year and her life, and showing clearly that she’s not doing so well with the loss, still. And that we would reveal Dan has landed at the CBS morning show, a la George Stephanopoulos. We wanted to create this world of the CBS Morning Show and be able to dip our toe into another side of Veep that hasn’t been as explored in the past, but would be a real chance to explore now, which is the media and the morning show-entertainment media side of things. The wonderful politics and backstabbing that go on in the world of the Matt Lauers and Megyn Kellys, and grande dames like Diane Sawyer. Then we started thinking about each character and where they might be and we started connecting the dots.
Many politicians assume the Veep characters are themselves — should the TV anchors be nervous now?
It’s Veep. It’s the same thing with politics, where there isn’t specifically this or that character. But anything that has happened in the last couple years of morning television is fair game, as far as I’m concerned. We didn’t sit down and talk with any specific media people but we definitely did our research.
How did you begin to go about connecting the dots for all the characters?
That was a lot of the challenge of this season, figuring out where everybody was and where Selina was going to be once we were released from the Oval Office and the Roosevelt Room. We never really thought about where Selina lived, because, obviously, she lived in the White House. She could be in L.A., D.C., Baltimore or living in Meemaw’s house, but at the end of the day, we were influenced by where Hillary Clinton is and New York being the media capital of the world. For the presidents that are happy to step into the background, like the two Bushes, going back to Texas makes sense. But if you still want to be a player, the way I think Clinton did, you go to New York because that’s where you go if you want to be relevant. Still, we never want to forget that Selina left the White House nearly penniless, which is why she’s been invited to live in Catherine’s brownstone. And Catherine, now having Marjorie as her strength to be able to say no to her mother and handling the money, well it’s such a wonderful way that things have turned.
Some of the characters followed her and some didn’t. Let’s start with Amy, who is now running fiance Buddy’s campaign to become governor of Nevada.
We had seen her with Buddy at the end of last season. Whether she loves him or not, I’m not really sure if Amy can even answer that, but what she does love is a campaign. She has traded Selina in for a boyfriend, but really it’s about working for a candidate. Her inability to talk dirty in bed was something we’d been thinking about for a really long time. Writer Alex Gregory pitched it last year and it was one of those things where we were like, “We have to do that.”
Then very quickly we had this idea of a switcheroo off of last season, when Selina sits with Richard on her last night in the Oval Office and they get drunk together.
And decided to make him her new chief of staff?
She’s grabbed a hold of Richard, which is of course one of the worst decisions you could ever make, and we’ll explore a little bit down the line how upset Jonah probably is or was to lose Richard. Selina will be dealing with Richard and start to realize, or not realize, what he is, and meanwhile Gary is very threatened by Richard. Gary has enjoyed this missing year a lot, probably more than anybody, because he’s had her to himself. It was just the two of them, to some extent. Now that she has reemerged publicly, it’s not just the staff that he has to share her with again, but also with the world.
Now that left Jonah without any staff, which is where Kent comes in. Perhaps Kent couldn’t find a job after being the polling guy behind the Meyer loss. Someone has to pay a price and Kent couldn’t find a job. So, what’s the worst job in D.C.? Working for Jonah.
Ben also finds his way over to Jonah’s wing, but only after losing his job at Uber. Why wouldn’t Selina have tried to keep her chief of staff around?
We decided to take Ben away from Selina partially as punishment because he has been and can be her rock, so that’s why Ben goes to work with Jonah as well. But the key role Ben provides in this episode is when he kills her idea to run again for president.
Why did you decide to throw the idea up, of Selina running again, only to kick it down in the first episode?
We felt the need to make it clear, not just to the audience but also to Selina as a character, that she is no longer a viable candidate and that her window has shut. We felt that was the only way we could get her to embrace being a former president of the United States, if everything else is really off the table. Ben says to her, “You’re done. I can’t do this. The party doesn’t want it and no one wants it.” She realizes she can’t launch a campaign and if she didn’t realize that, then she would never really embrace her foundation, building a library and doing all of these things that a former president needs to do or wants to do. Only Ben can tell her the truth and close that door.
So her political window is, really, shut?
Yes. Here we are. We’re in this other place. We’re still doing politics, we’re just not in the Oval, which gives us both interesting distance and perspective in a really cool way. Selina really does have to move on and figure out, “If I can’t be president and I have to be a former president, what can I do to be relevant?” That’s really what the season is about.
Selina said she’s been at the “spa” over this last year. Are we safe to assume she had a full-on breakdown?
I think monster in your mind is always fun. There’s a lot to come. But I will simply say it is something that we continue to come back to throughout the season. It is definitely connected to how she handled losing last time around. I think there was a lot of backgammon and privacy this last year. The one thing that they’re somewhat able to accomplish is they’ve managed to keep it quiet. The world thought she was just taking time. The way Dan sells it: That she took a year and is now reemerging. And as we pick it up, another big piece is that she’s back with Andrew. Seeing her back with Andrew says more about the year than anything we could have had two characters saying to each other. It’s showing, not telling.
Do you anticipate the comparisons, as Selina reemerges after her loss, to Hillary Clinton?
Of course. We didn’t write it for that reason but you can’t help not draw the comparisons. She’s not Hillary Clinton, and Hillary Clinton lost the presidency but was not president, so there are big differences in terms of what Hillary is going to do. But I love the fact that people are wondering about Hillary as she’s figuring out her next step. She’s not going to run for something again and you don’t want to just be the “I told you so” person. She’s talked about trying to inspire young people and more women to run, which are all great things, but what will that mean and what will that become? Those are some of the same things, in a different way, that Selina is going through.
As we go through the rest of the season, Selina is embracing being a former president and she has to find her path — because she has no other path. If we didn’t squash the idea that she could run again right away, then her path would still be, “I’m going to run again.” She’s moving forward and desperate with finding these things, like a manuscript for her book and a library, because she has to. If the audience doesn’t think she has to then they’ll be thinking, “Oh, she’s just going to run.” We had to take that off the table.
Does Mike have any hope at getting his job back?
Selina is trying to write this book and as a wonderful narcissist, doesn’t really remember any of the details of her presidency. Mike kept this diary where he kept a record of everything, of course including what he ate every day, so while Mike himself isn’t that important to Selina, this diary is. And she can’t really write the book without it. Even though he’s got a “job,” they’re not paying him.
How will Jonah’s political aspirations continue to play out this season, and will he continue to use his cancer?
At the very end of last season they found a suspicious lump on one of his testicles — which was of course ironic because he was the, “Check it, don’t neglect it” guy. Only Jonah would use his cancer. It’s kind of a weird gray zone because he did have cancer, he just pushed it. Jonah is on the rise. He’s a young Congressman looking for ways to separate himself and make a name for himself, and that’s exactly what he’s going to try and do. You’ll see him trying to speak out and ruffle a lot of the leaders of Congress, including Furlong, in his attempt to gain notoriety. That’s a move that we took out of the Ted Cruz book. Ted’s a Senator, but he’s considered the most-hated man in the Senate and he was sort of our model for Jonah as the most-hated man in Congress yet who has a following.
Trump was a model for Jonah last season, but there certainly were similarities. Is Jonah as Trumpy this season?
He’s definitely still a little Trumpy, in terms of the hair-triggered temper and whatnot. But, as I’ve said previously, one of the things people forget is that the Trumpiest character is really Selina. If you actually think about her administration, she was the Trump in some ways. Though in her case, she at least had previous government experience.
Jonah is really quick to embrace some of the new political paradigms, which is to say that the rules have changed. Back in the day, when a guy is screaming expletives at a podium it was considered that his career is over. But now, all of a sudden, he’s seen as a voice of the people. It’s this new political model, the idea that “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get elected” definitely works to Jonah’s advantage.
Because of the current climate, palace intrigue and ratings bumps, do you anticipate more viewers — and maybe even new viewers coming to a sixth season of Veep?
When Trump won, there was definitely a part of my brain that asked, “Is anyone going to want to watch this anymore?” But it seems like the hunger, at least for political comedy, is stronger than ever. If people are not happy with what’s going on in the world and looking to laugh a little bit, I hope they find us. This season is a good joining-in point. Last season was a little dependent on the knowledge of the election tie, but this season, because of a lot of the new situations, is a fun way to join in if you hadn’t watched Veep before.
What did you think of the Veep premiere? Tell THR in the comments below and check back in each week for Live Feed interviews with Mandel after the episodes air Sunday nights on HBO.
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