Veep season 7 takes Seinfeld’s “no hugging, no learning” mantra and kicks it up a notch. On Veep, not only do the characters not learn from their mistakes, but the mistakes get worse. Not only do they not hug, but most of the time, they verge on inflicting physical violence on one another. Yet somehow, the newest season of Veep, which debuts Sunday on HBO Go and HBO Now, just isn’t as dark as it used to be.
DIRECTOR: David Mandel
STREAMING: HBO Go/HBO Now
‘Veep’ may not cut quite as deep as it did in its glory days, but it’s still a nasty treat led by one of the finest casts on TV.
After a yearlong hiatus so Julia Louis-Dreyfus could seek treatment for breast cancer, Veep and Louis-Dreyfus’s Selina Meyer return, with the former vice president and short-term president once again vying for the White House. The rest of Team Selina is back too, for the most part, all as despicable and hilarious as ever. But the ex-Madame President has stiff competition for the White House in her on-again, off-again, lover/political rival, Tom James (Hugh Laurie), as well as not-so stiff competition from former staffer-turned-congressman Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons).
Picking out favorite actors among the cast of Veep is like trying to pick a favorite type of bacon; they’re pretty much all wonderful and greasy (except for Sam Richardson’s Richard Splett, who remains just adorable). It also seems like folly to try and heap any more praise on Louis-Dryfuss, but here we go anyway. By all accounts, none of the central cast members on Seinfeld should have been able to reinvent themselves. But Louis-Dreyfuss was so good as Elaine Benes that Hollywood couldn’t ignore her. Another iconic television actress, Allison Janney, recently discussed how the industry’s inherent sexism often keeps women from playing more than one role (in her case, she had to overcome playing C.J. on The West Wing). Like Janney, Louis-Dreyfuss now has a pile of Emmys for refusing to accept this notion. Just as it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing Elaine Benes, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing Selina Meyer, and that alone makes her performance remarkable.
Seinfeld writer David Mandel also made his way to Veep as showrunner, taking over for creator Armando Iannucci after season 4. While the Mandel-led seasons are vicious and funny, in some ways, they feel less cutting than when Iannucci was at the helm. This is partly because Mandel came on in 2016, right before the election of President Donald Trump, which destroyed the bar for absurdist political satire. (Let’s not forget that Veep was originally pitched in the wake of Sarah Palin’s rise to fame—ah, simpler times.) But with the first few seasons of Veep, Iannucci also examined how incompetence doesn’t necessarily mitigate ambition; in fact, it encourages it. Mandel fails to rise above Iannucci’s initial assessment regarding incompetent politicians. Instead, their incompetence itself has become the whole joke.
In Veep season 7, for instance, Jonah Ryan has a difficult time stringing a sentence together without saying something offensive. Simons has always been one of the show’s many standouts as Jonah, but his character has become so breathtakingly stupid, it’s hard to believe even Trump would have this hard of a time censoring himself. Then again, maybe that’s the point: Civility is so absent in modern politics, you can say any inane thing you want and accrue a loyal following.
But while its bark may be weaker than its bite, Veep season 7 is still extremely effective. By now, the cast is a well-oiled machine, churning out the writers’ mile-a-minute smorgasbord of insults and curses. It’s the kind of show that makes you cringe as much as it makes you laugh, which, of course, is exactly what it wants you to do. Veep is nasty till very end, and while I can’t say I’ll miss these characters when they are gone, it was certainly enthralling to see how low they would stoop with each passing year.