Vote Veep: Make comedy great again
It’s been seven years since we first met Selina Meyer, the selfish, bungling and ambitious vice president of the United States. In Veep’s final season, Meyer is still selfish, bungling and more ambitious than ever. Nothing is sacred. She is willing to sacrifice her sycophantic staff, her values, and even her family if it helps her into the Oval Office.
Season 7 will not disappoint fans, and while character arcs are compromised to propel the narrative, Veep signs off in style with cracking dialogue throughout and a humdinger of a last episode. The finale avoids the trap of sentimentality and remains true to the show’s warped and sardonic worldview, while at the same time capturing the disappointing mediocrity of Meyer as a person and politician.
The rise of a new zeitgeist
Much of Veep’s success lies in its ability to tap into an American zeitgeist that has been radically altered since the show first aired in 2012. The optimism of Barack Obama’s presidency and the loose parallels between Meyer and Hillary Clinton have been obliterated by the rise of Donald Trump and the US’s regression into culture wars on every topic from gun rights to abortion, race relations, immigration and gay rights.
“Is it a Muslim or white guy? Which is better for me?”
“White guy,” says senior strategist Kent Davison, played by Gary Cole.
“Fingers crossed,” says Meyers.
The funniest show on TV right now
It is a testament to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s comedic skill and delivery that Meyer remains a compelling and funny character, especially as the ambition to become President sucks all decency and most of the humanity out of her character.
For Louis-Dreyfus and the rest of the ensemble cast, satire has become all the more challenging in a world in which absurdities under the Trump Administration have become the norm. Yet Veep’s writers have given Louis-Dreyfus and the cast the material to make Veep the funniest show on TV right now.
While politics looms large, much of Veep’s success in this season is based on the dynamics between the characters.
When Meyer’s “bag man” Gary Walsh, portrayed by Tony Hale, asks for a promotion to a new role in episode 7, the presidential candidate responds: “What kind of role is your mother thinking of?”
At other times it is pure invective that hits the spot.
“Dan f***ed you? What were you wearing, a full-length mirror?” Meyer says to Amy Brookheimer, her deputy campaign manager played by Anna Chlumsky.
Each line is funny in its own right, but each is packed with additional resonance given the characters’ shared experiences through the course of seven seasons. It also reflects Meyer’s selfish and ruthless streak that increasingly manifests through the course of the season.
Davison is one of the few to survive Meyer’s scorn, and when he suggests in the show’s finale that the role of Vice President may be the optimal ambition for her, she says: “That’s not funny, Kent.”
Davison’s response is deadpan: “I haven’t been funny since 1987.”
Overt misanthropy + wry observational wit = top-notch comedy
Comedy has come a long way since the late 1980s, and David Mandel, Veep’s showrunner, would know better than most, as a Seinfeld writer and Curb Your Enthusiasm producer.
While both these shows rely largely on a wry observational wit, Veep is overtly political in an overtly politicised world, and so direct comparisons may not add that much value. But like those great comedies that came before it, Veep is also premised on an overt misanthropy.
“This is a horrific country full of people who are different to me,” says Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) in episode 7.
Standing as a proxy for Trump, Ryan’s suspicions of the other and hatred of “math, which is a Muslim invention” garners him masses of support in the presidential race.
In episode 3, Meyer has to act quickly to salvage a dire performance in a presidential debate. Meyer has no answer to Kemi Talbot (Toks Olagundoye), a black female candidate, and during an interval asks her team for guidance.
Talbot sounds like Taliban, she is advised. Meyer’s daughter Catherine (Susan Sutherland) is mortified, but this stokes the rage in Meyer who rails against her daughter’s millennialism.
“I have had it with you and your generation’s whimpering whining! Grow a pair and man the f*** up!”
The misogynistic trope is then extended as Meyer attacks Talbot.
“I didn’t have to remind everyone I was a woman every ten seconds because they never let me forget it… I smiled through all the casual grabbing of my behind… How about you give a little thanks to women like me who built the ladder that you used to get up onto your soapbox.”
But Meyer’s triumph in the debate is also a triumph of a jaded view of the injustices that many women are still expected to endure and a society in which success is still framed by men, or by women having to behave like men.
Veep also riffs on the #MeToo movement in episode 2 as various women from Capitol Hill come out to say they have never, and will never, date Ryan.
“Jonah Ryan and I have never dated, nor gone on a date of any kind… For too long women have been silent in the face of rumours they went out with Congressman Ryan… But finally people are starting to believe women who say #NotMe,” says one woman.
“Ohh, no! I was all over her! I got super handsy!” is Ryan’s response.
Mandel said that Veep’s writers took great care in scripting these lines, so as not to make light of a heavy and important subject. It is cleverly done, more nuanced than “man up!” and manages to subvert the normal narrative of toxic masculinity in a funny yet respectful manner. It is quite simply Veep at its best.