Showing the same shifting nature as its onscreen chief executive, Veep has undergone a series of reinventions over the last couple of years. In 2015, David Mandel replaced creator Armando Iannucci as showrunner, but set minds at ease when he proved more than adept at handling the show’s dark humor and mounting absurdity. There were similar changes going on in front of the camera, with Selina Meyer (the incomparable Julia Louis-Dreyfus) moving from the Observatory Circle to the Oval Office. The title of Veep now only applied to the show, as President Meyer began her first (and only) term in office. It was a gamble that paid dividends, as Selina proved no better suited to the highest office in the land as the second highest, and her staff even less so. Her vanity grew to fit their new, larger digs at a rate that was inversely proportional to her sense of civic duty.
As a result of the promotion, Veep’s approval rating went through the roof. Season five ended with Selina defeated by some byzantine election laws, in what’s turned out to be a somewhat prescient moment. Certainly, such real-life parallels arise during the season-six premiere, but Veep wisely continues to only skirt such issues. Whatever allusions viewers want to draw from the dictator and election interference that feature in this season’s third episode and their real-world corollaries won’t diminish their enjoyment, but they will stay between you and your election judge.
Veep remains untethered to any need to address recent events, but it certainly helps take the edge off. Placing Selina on the periphery of politics hasn’t softened her any, even when she claims to be dedicated to ridding the world of adult illiteracy and AIDS (the latter goal is the result of a typically inadvisable pivot on her part). She’s a former president, after all, and the first female commander in chief. Like Pennsylvania Avenue’s Norma Desmond, Selina refuses to retire from the spotlight. Her desperation leaves her vulnerable to hangers-on with bad intentions, but it also rather reliably creates some of the biggest laughs in the first third of the season.
The former president hasn’t been left completely defenseless, though she probably still despairs of having Gary (Tony Hale) constantly by her side. Their lived-in dynamic has become a bit thornier now that they find themselves in New York, with Gary vocalizing his disapproval more frequently than ever—though he’s still prepared to run onto a tarmac to ensure she has hand sanitizer. With the rest of the group so fractured, it’s comforting to see Gary and Selina together, even if they (well, Gary) have had to make room for one more: Richard Splett (Sam Richardson).
Narratively speaking, Richard working his way into Selina’s good graces is a bit surprising: He didn’t prove useful during the election snafu, and his guilelessness should be anathema to his ever-posturing boss. But no matter how it happened, this new trio is comedy gold. Despite his seniority, Gary isn’t able to pull rank on Richard, who has the thankless job of trying to find a site for the President Meyer library. And because Selina only hears what she wants to hear, she often ends up with the rug pulled out from under her when Richard finally completes a sentence. The combination doesn’t do them any favors, but their disharmony is music to our ears.
Season six is full of these new partnerships and reversals of power, with Ben (Kevin Dunn) and Kent (Gary Cole) now serving under Congressman Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons). Amy (Anna Chlumsky) is trying to keep her skills honed by running her fiancé’s campaign, but it’s obvious she misses the punishing grind of being in thrall to the Meyer doctrine. Meanwhile Dan (Reid Scott) is trying to make a transition to daytime television. All of these pairings and scenarios feature plenty of biting humor—Kent’s silver-haired dignity in his disgrace is a thing of beauty—but they don’t quite generate the same crackling energy we felt when they were all under one government roof. But these circumstances are all just untenable enough to allow for everyone to come together; the first three episodes even feature several big reunions, all of which feel perfectly organic.
Like Selina, Veep is also going through a bit of an adjustment; but contrary to her current situation, it doesn’t have to worry about its legacy. Mandel hasn’t squandered any of his comedy capital; he keeps the barbs flying and the crushing disappointment looming closely enough to maintain the momentum in his second term.
Created by: Armando Iannucci
Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Reid Scott, Timothy Simons, Matt Walsh, Kevin Dunn, Gary Cole, Sam Richardson
Debuts: Sunday, April 16 at 10:30 p.m. Eastern on HBO
Format: Half-hour single-camera political satire
Three episodes watched for review