Ousting Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) from the Oval Office at the end of Veep’s fifth season felt risky last summer. What was the HBO comedy without its bumbling press conferences, clodhopping photo ops, or tripping-over-its-own-feet attempts at legislation? But Selina’s ejection from the White House less than a year into an accidental presidency has become the best gift the show could have given itself. The Meyer and Trump administrations are enough alike — especially in their hypermasculine bluster, absurd levels of incompetence, and resentful contempt for the citizenry — that a running mental comparison between the two could have leached the fun out of the series.
Veep has never enjoyed a wide variety of jokes: Other than satirizing politics as cynical and inept performance, it’s mostly variations on the theme of “if I don’t get what I want, I’ll ram this appendage into that orifice.” So it’s an extra relief to see Meyer and company out of the West Wing, stumbling through the fairly novel conflicts of establishing a foundation, a library, and a post-POTUS legacy. Showrunner David Mandel, who seamlessly took over from creator Armando Iannucci after the fourth season, has called Selina a “Trump-like character.” But it’s also easy to see Selina as an alt-universe Stupid Hillary, as she flirts with the idea of running again, mulls over the scandal-ability of multimillion-dollar donations from corrupt foreign leaders, and leans in in the worst and most hilarious way about being the first female president.
(Publicly, at least, Mandel says he wants viewers to focus on Veep’s universe and forget about IRL politics while watching the show. And then there are lines from international dictators about American democracy like, “I saw your last election. No thank you,” so who knows.)
Arriving on Sunday, the sixth season premiere plays a giddy game of Where Are They Now? with Selina’s scattered goons. I won’t spoil the surprises, except to say that her advisers remain joyless mental klutzes everywhere else — and that faithful Gary (Tony Hale) is still right by Selina’s side, ineffectually fluffing her ego. When someone calls Selina’s election-watching in the country of Georgia “elder statesman duty,” he’s quick to correct them: “jailbait statesman.” The other remaining aide is even more useless: The goofy Richard Splett (Sam Richardson), whose immunity to the venom and sarcasm around him makes every scene even funnier. The other recurring character I was happiest to see in the first three episodes was former Finnish PM Minna (Sally Phillips), another oddball who threatens to destabilize the fratty volley of insults and whose presence in Georgia leads to some hysterically cutting jokes at the expense of maladroit do-gooders.
With a single major exception, Veep has routinely attempted to ignore its protagonist’s gender. (Selina is so one of the guys that she generally refers to setbacks as dick punches — which is funny, but gives the overwhelmingly male writers a pass not to stretch themselves by thinking up jokes involving the female anatomy, of which there are many to be made.) Among the new places Mandel and his writers are (finally) going now is a reconciliation with Selina’s femaleness — specifically her status as America’s first female leader and the sanctimony that she borrows from that dubious achievement (since she only became president after her predecessor unexpectedly resigned).
Planning a speaking tour, Selina bristles at her relatively low fees compared with her former running mate: “I will not work for less than 87 cents on the dollar!” And when her alma mater, a women’s college, proposes a school of public policy dedicated to her, she tries to talk the college president out of adding “women’s studies” to the name. Thankfully, Selina hasn’t grown — but Veep already has in its sure-to-be-great season.