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When Armando Iannucci created Veep for HBO, it was not just a great gift to comedy (and continued to be when David Mandel took over as showrunner in last year’s fifth season), but it was also the most absurd and vicious depiction of politics since Iannucci’s own The Thick of It for British television.
The fictional incompetency, stupidity and craven representation of the people’s will stood out as a searing send-up of real-life politics until, well, reality trumped it.
AIR DATE Apr 16, 2017
So, in the aftermath of an almost unfathomable, surreal campaign and the election of Donald Trump as president, it was only natural for Veep fans to wonder — in the months leading up to this sixth season, beginning Sunday — how in the world a TV show could top reality.
As Mandel put to rest in the pages of The Hollywood Reporter already (and anyone who follows the long creative cycle of television could have told you), Veep was never going to get caught looking like a pale imitation of Washington under Trump. Long before last season ended, Mandel and series star Julia Louis-Dreyfus had mapped out a story arc where Vice President turned President Selina Meyer’s political run that culminated in an election tie (season four finale) would come to an end with her loss in the season five finale. The storyline was set before history took that weird turn.
Not being in the White House removed the burden of Louis-Dreyfus, Mandel and the rest of the astoundingly funny Veep cast having to take a backseat to the incompetence (which has been, sometimes, face-palmingly funny) of the real American president.
Instead, with Meyer as a way-less-than-one-and-done president, more comedy can be mined from the outside while the show thankfully avoids any comparisons to real-life events (and no, they never planned for Meyer’s defeat to feel like Hillary Clinton’s either, so scratch that).
As the show begins anew (the first three episodes were given to critics for review), Mandel gets to keep Veep as blisteringly funny and fearless as before without any unwanted or unwarranted comparisons. (As the showrunner wondered in THR, what would it have been like to still have Matt Walsh playing the painfully incompetent press secretary Mike McLintock when you’ve already got the real-life Sean Spicer, not to mention Melissa McCarthy’s searing send-up on Saturday Night Live?)
Instead, with the Meyer White House players scattered into the wind for various other unfulfilling and nightmarish jobs, Mandel and the show’s writers (so much talent there, by the way) are able to branch out in ways that are fresh but keep the DNA of the series intact.
All that really needed to be answered immediately was if Veep could still be funny in a political climate that is anything but funny and has cast a pall over a good portion of the country (and world, for that matter). The answer is a definitive yes, with all three episodes spilling out various kinds of hilarity, punctuated by what seems like an even higher number of vicious and eye-popping one-liners from the brilliant Louis-Dreyfus as Meyer (come on — did you really think Veep would go soft, having been one of the most unflinching, no-topic-off-limits shows ever created?).
Sure, there are moments when you can’t believe what is coming out of Selina’s mouth, but that’s been the wince-inducing truth of Veep for five seasons. Then again, newly out of a job and bitter as hell about it, she is definitely not putting a muffler on (and neither is anyone else).
Tasked with picking a presidential portrait artist, Meyer says, “Get me whoever painted Ambassador Stone’s wife and made her look like not a twat. I mean, that was real artistry.” Or her take on her new status: “You know what being an ex-president is like? It’s like being a man’s nipple — people go right by it and jerk off a dick.”
And yes, these all come fast and furious, Veep style, on top of other hilariously incendiary rants about life, most of them unprintable if they pertain to either Jonah (Timothy Simons), still Congressman Ryan to you, or Amy (Anna Chlumsky), now managing the campaign of her boyfriend Buddy Calhoun in Nevada, while deriding the state and its inhabitants at every turn.
Elsewhere, Ben (Kevin Dunn) has a short-lived stay at Uber (“A bunch of dumbass millennials too lazy to learn how to drive drunk”) and is now advising some very dubious foreign politicians; Gary (Tony Hale) is inconceivably less appreciated by Selina now but still utterly loyal to her, even when he finally gets to tell her “I told you so” and she turns on him by saying, “But you didn’t — you just rolled your eyes like the world’s bitchiest mime.”
Mike (Matt Walsh) is a stay-at-home dad slowly going crazy in very stained clothing; Dan (Reid Scott) gets a co-hosting job on CBS This Morning and quickly regrets it; Kent (Gary Cole) is working for Jonah and not loving it; Richard (Sam Richardson, in a role and performance that just gets funnier by the episode) is working for Meyer, if working means making everything worse, but he’s helpful in noting things like, “That’s a felony; and that’s definitely a felony.”
Will the gang get back together ever? They might. They might not. Having the characters separated but still in politics allows Mandel and his writers to poke at all corners of the universe they’ve created and produce a seemingly endless string of laughs.
Like The Thick of It before it, Veep is a series that deeply understands the comic possibilities in the hollow and venal world of politics. No matter the course it would have taken, the funny would have still been there. But Veep still would have suffered trying to be a show about an incompetent president in our current times if for no other reason than people would constantly be saying that it’s not as insanely stupid as real life. But now, with Selina Meyer out of office and the characters strewn about in different parts of the political world, the show is nimbly bouncing around commenting on a variety of topics, and the end result is a series that’s in a far better position to burn it all down than ever before.
Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky, Kevin Dunn, Timothy Simons, Matt Walsh, Reid Scott, Gary Cole, Sam Richardson
Premieres: Sunday 10:30 p.m. ET/PT (HBO)
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