Veep: Season Six Review
Most comedians could play in countless sitcoms and movies and never land a role as iconic as Seinfeld's Elaine. And yet, based on her utter brilliance, Julia Louis-Dreyfus not only portrayed that classic character, but also cemented yet another spot in TV history with Selina Meyer, the toxic and vain narcissist who somehow scammed her way to the top of the US government in HBO's Veep. The first five seasons are masterful bits of hard-edged political satire, anchored by Louis-Dreyfus's legendary lead performance.
Like the other popular HBO comedy, Silicon Valley, Veep is largely an ensemble comedy, and it is packed with some of the greatest comedians and characters to grace the small screen. And when the satire was at its fiercest, the group chemistry at its best, and the insult comedy at its most hilariously brutal, you'd be hard-pressed to find a TV show as non-stop funny as this one.
So what's most surprising about this latest season is not that Selina has departed from the White House, but that in her absence, that core ensemble is no longer, well, ensemble. The group is splintered into three hit-or-miss stories that occasionally intersect in largely unsubstantial ways. And while the writing is probably as good as ever, spreading the cast thin like this reveals some expected flaws within the characters.
The largest portion of the cast is still working with Selina, who has now focused her attentions on various humanitarian efforts, dedicating a presidential library, and finishing up a tell-all memoir about her brief term as POTUS. Her search for donations sends her around the globe, meeting with world leaders old and new. In that sense, it's business as usual for Veep, so Selina's transition out of office is not as jarring for the show as it could've been.
Just because there's a new President doesn't mean that politics is out of the picture: the pressures (or lack thereof) of office now fall on Congressman Jonah Ryan and his new lackeys, Ben and Kent. Jonah has always been a great character, and he's pretty much as funny as ever, but it is disappointing to see Ben and Kent relegated to the sidelines for pretty much the entire season. Also, separating Jonah from everyone else means that there are only a few occasions when the other characters really rip into Jonah, which has always been one of my favorite parts of the show.
Last and, if we're being honest, least, is Dan Egan's new gig as co-anchor of CBS This Morning. His story mainly revolves around the same sexual harassment joke for the entire season, although he does get some pleasurable moments when Selina and Jonah guest on his show. Otherwise, it's pretty much a single, season-long joke, made slightly acceptable by actor Reid Scott's always-great performance.
And here, we arrive at what is Veep's greatest strength and weakness: the characters. When everyone is in a crowded room, flinging hurtful remarks at each other with wild abandon, their personalities meld together splendidly. But alone, you realize that most of these characters are pretty flat: Gary is hopelessly in love with Selina; Mike is a forgetful goof; Dan is a selfish womanizer; and Kent is an emotionless number-cruncher. On top of that, very few of them are actually likable, which is why it's so wonderful to see their spirits crushed.
The only moments of real characterization come from Selina Meyer, who has a sort of identity crisis and must make some difficult decisions to figure out what she wants from the future. And Louis-Dreyfus delivers in both the funny and (rare) emotional moments.
Veep's sixth season is by far its most turbulent yet. To be sure, there were several surprising moments, and the humor pretty much ran through every episode. But by separating everyone that should've stayed together, it ran into an unforeseen issue. The people of Veep are one-note -- very good notes, mind you -- that function much better while harmonizing. Based on the developments in the season finale, I'm not too worried that they can't recapture the magic of earlier days, but we also know that the magic can fade just as quickly.