“Veep” returns Sunday to an unnecessary and clamorous chorus of wags who wonder if the HBO comedy can, in its seventh and final season, approximate anything as remotely absurd as Washington’s daily news cycle. Those folks have been watching “Veep” all wrong, treating the show like it’s a mirror rather than a portal to an alternate — and joyfully wicked, irreparably rotten — political universe.
But let’s be honest: Satire inside the Beltway is a very blunt affair, never more sophisticated than cold-open sketches on “Saturday Night Live” that mostly just pantomime the news of the week. “Veep” works on a much deeper and more cynical level; I can imagine no sadder way to watch it than to compare and contrast it to the comedy of errors America has endured since the 2016 election.
“Veep” has been around a lot longer than that, lampooning the unseemly striving and fake displays of empathy in the Washington milieu since the Obama years, with the obfuscatory schemes, protocols and snakey personality types who probably also tormented the Founding Fathers. Upon learning that presidential hopeful Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) attacked a salad with a comb when her staff failed to procure a fork, it’s tempting to draw a straight line to “Veep” (which has actually been there/done that when it comes to plastic silverware).
The difference, of course, is that Klobuchar is officially and perhaps even privately very sorry about all that. “Veep,” on the other hand, is about a person — indeed, a whole lot of people — who are never, ever sorry for anything. I guess there may be a comparison to make to the current president after all.
Otherwise, “Veep” is and always was a cruelly satisfying, fully original journey into Washington’s darkest behaviors.
Banish any thought that its brilliant star, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, would return to the series after a personal cancer scare inclined to soften Selina Meyer for even a subliminally sentimental exit. Instead, and with great satisfaction, it appears “Veep” will go out at its nastiest and bitterest best — judging at least from the first three episodes (of seven) of this season. Some time has passed since we last saw Selina and her loyal band of nincompoops; they are in Iowa, of course, preparing to announce her candidacy in a crowded field of apparently Democratic (“Veep” was always coy on the matter) contenders.
Desperate to gain a foothold in the race and saddled with a vacuous cola-wars slogan (“New. Selina. Now.”), Selina must once again humble herself at county fairs (“Are all four of these your children? That’s a busy beaver,” she says to a young mom) and coping with old frenemies, rivals (Hugh Laurie as Tom James) and an ex-husband (David Pasquesi) who has been caught bilking funds from her charitable foundation.
“Veep” could certainly rest on its laurels and multitude of Emmys, rehashing old insults and revisiting Selina in her unhinged campaigning mode. (“Can you please find me a real green juice somewhere in Iowa? I’ve been drinking Odwalla like some country lesbian who just got to the big city.”)
But the show has smartly zeroed in on what will be its character’s greatest and lasting flaw (among many), something absolutely topical that was there all along: Selina is a woman who hates other women.
“An all-female ticket?” she scoffs, when someone suggests a potential (female) running mate. “The American people work hard for a living. They don’t need that kind of [B.S.].”
For all the abuse directed at her bagman, Gary Walsh (Tony Hale, whose performance was a vital part “Veep’s” enduring success), Selina reserves her deepest contempt for the women around her, including Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky), who has the audacity to briefly consider keeping the first-trimester fetus growing inside her (Selina chews her out with a lecture about how hard she fought for abortion rights). During a cable-news debate, Selina finds she gets the loudest cheers when she verbally challenges the only other female candidate, and so she doubles down.
The one thing more galling to Selina than having to chip away at a glass ceiling is the notion that other women should be able to follow her ascent. “Why do I have to tell people why I want to be president?” she whines. “I should be president because it’s my g--d---ed turn.”
Is there some epiphany in store? Some final reckoning for this beloved narcissist? Some opening in Selina’s soul? I certainly hope not. She taught us so much by being so awful — and yes, those lessons apply in this world, too.
Veep (30 minutes) returns Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.