Veep has always been about the absurdity of the political machine, and the vengeful, petty personalities that populate it. It’s your HOA board put on a national scale, with more money and bigger stakes, but where the same basic human principles apply. One of the issues the HBO series has had in recent years, though, is how to magnify its acid take on politics in response to the chaotic cartoon that realm has even more openly become. There have literally been moments from recent campaigns that have come straight from the show.
But Veep is also its own world. It doesn’t incorporate Trump or Obama or thinly-veiled references to real political figures. It is, and continues to be, the story of one bumbling politician, Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her team of doofuses who are all desperate for power and respect, but deserve none of it. (Well, except maybe Richard). In its seventh and final season, those selfish motivations are at the core of Selina’s new Presidential campaign, where she is running against familiar Veep figures Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) and Tom James (Hugh Laurie). But Veep’s humor mostly comes from the utter contempt with which Selina, her campaign, and everyone involved in this political world have for themselves, the voters, and for each other.
There is a real-world bitterness to the new season that feels like it goes even beyond the humiliation humor of the series’ past. In the first episode, there are multiple shootings (at a school, a mall, in the middle of a city) that are reported almost as background noise. Selina gives a hopeful grimace to her staff, wondering if they can use this to their advantage. It’s horrific, and yet feels completely honest. When she’s confronted with reporters wanting her to say more than just “thoughts and prayers,” the only real statement she makes is in a frustrated outburst to Mike (Matt Walsh), her former communications director who now works for Buzzfeed’s print magazine. It’s one of several times in the first three episodes available for review that Selina speaks a hard truth about her thoughts on being President and the state of the nation. “The country is getting more and more disgusting every day,” she says, with Kent (Gary Cole) immediately interjecting, “and that’s the audience we’re targeting right now on Facebook.”
What Selina soon learns — and those of us in the age of Trump will recognize — is that by sliding away from progressivism and back towards an outdated way of thinking, she starts to gain some traction. It’s damning and not unearned commentary on the actual state of our nation, as Veep has always been so adept at making. “Do I really want to say I want to be the President for all Americans? All?” she asks her staff. The suggested substitute is President for “real” Americans. She agrees. “We can figure out what that means later,” she says dismissively.
As sharp and always-excellent as Selina and her story are (fueled constantly by her desire to be taken more seriously than a Veep), Jonah’s jokingly horrific Presidential campaign teeters on the overly cartoonish. Simons is fantastic as the lumbering loud-mouth, and there are some fantastic early jokes about the sudden appearance of his now-wife (who is also fantastic, and in any just world would herself be the candidate). But his out-sized approach to proudly offending everyone wears thin, like a 4chan troll being given a microphone. It’s a joke that works better when Selina snaps at her super-soft daughter Catherine (Sarah Sutherland) for being part of a “whiny” generation — an outburst whose sentiments later wins her favor with a crowd. Like Jonah’s excessive rudeness, a subplot with Amy (Anna Chlumsky) and Dan (Reid Scott) about her being pregnant with his child doesn’t feel any deeper than a desire to shock with meanness. But it does highlight the fact that these are two people so completely wrapped up in themselves that there is no line more unfortunate than Amy, having a dawning of incorrect inspiration, saying “I am a good person!”
There is certainly not a feeling — at least, not yet — of Veep wanting to specifically wrap anything up because this is its final season. There are cast members from the past who appear briefly and are never seen again, making a quip that references their time on the show, but it feels as organic as anything else (Better Call Saul’s Rhea Seehorn, for example, shows up suddenly in a minor role as Tom’s “Amy”). If anything, the show feels almost completely unchanged, particularly when it comes to its caustic wit. Many of the best lines come from Sam Richardson, like when Jonah’s campaign manager praises the effect his wife has on their candidate, saying “she humanizes him.” Richard immediately adds, “like sunglasses on a dog!”
Those tiny moments — like when Kent casually mentions that email clients usually filter out his messages because they think he’s a bot — play off of years and years of work the show has done to establish these characters as so knowable that every single quip and throwaway line are imbued with meaning. In the first ten minutes of the opening episode, I had to stop myself from transcribing every quote. They’re all nasty, acerbic, and hilarious, which is essentially the show. Not everything is perfect in this final season, as the series barrels towards its end with as many epitaphs as it can manage per minute, but its acknowledgement of the foibles of its leads in meta terms reminds us that this is a show that exists on its own terms. Perhaps the lesson Veep has for us is that — in case you’ve somehow forgotten in a wave of patriotism or misplaced hope or pageantry — politics is just full of common, selfish dickheads.
The seventh and final season of Veep begins Sunday, March 31st on HBO.