Vanity has no place in comedy. Every balding, pot-bellied sitcom actor knows that. But it’s still all too rare to find women on television who are willing to do what Julia Louis-Dreyfus did on Veep this season, which wrapped June 23. The uglier she made her character, Vice President Selina Meyer, the more laughs she got. One of this season’s funniest episodes found Selina accidentally smashing through a glass door, nose first, and covering every inch of her face with Band-Aids, only to watch those oozing wounds reopen later during a fun run. ”Look at me!” Selina cried, as blood and make-up melted down her cheeks. ”I am covered in scabs! I smell like a hobo’s crap hole.” But the scabs don’t have anything to do with it. It wouldn’t matter if you closed your eyes: The only way to cure Selina of ugliness would be to close her mouth.
At times, it was perversely thrilling to see just how unlikeable Louis-Dreyfus could make Selina. Refusing to temper the character’s ruthless ambition with the same bright-eyed cuteness you might find on Parks and Recreation, her comedy aimed for the same raw nerves as Larry David’s on Curb Your Enthusiasm. She took obvious pleasure in insulting her supporters, delivering punchlines with relish. (The Southern voters who turned up at her pig roast ”probably took turns to f— the pig before they roasted it,” she said.) And it was fun to see her get more and more neurotic every episode as she worked her way through midterm elections, hoping to make a bid for the Oval Office herself. This is where the minor characters shined, especially Randall Park, as a slickster governor who also wanted to be president, and Gary Cole, who was deliciously deadpan as White House strategist (and possible Karl Rove stand-in) Kent Davison. At one point, during a conversation so profane it can’t be printed here, Selina told her staff that Kent probably has a totally blank face during sex. ”Can you imagine f—ing that guy?” she said, laughing. Of course, the joke is that Selina has obviously pictured it — in detail, enough times for her to be able to make that speech.
When there’s rich subtext like this behind Selina’s cruelty, the season worked well, not just poking fun at bureaucrats, but also showed what makes them tick. (It’s no accident that one of Selina’s most memorable arguments had to do with deciphering subtext.) But sometimes Veep tried too hard to shock us with just how cynical politicians are, as if we didn’t already know that the real Washington wasn’t quite as warm-fuzzy as the one we often see on TV. When Selina told local whipping boy Jonah (Timothy Simons) to ”f— off” in a billion different ways (”You like to have sex and you like to travel? Then you can f— off!”), the cursing even started to feel safe and expected, especially since the language wasn’t anything we can’t imagine coming from, say, Rahm Emanuel. And some of the jokes about loosening convictions felt a little too easy. ”I’m not going to sacrifice my morals for her career anymore,” Selina’s daughter (Sarah Sutherland) told her chief of staff, Amy (Anna Chlumsky). ”I’ve done it,” Amy said, shrugging. ”It’s not that bad.” After a while, the unrelenting cynicism started to feel less like satire than just a general disdain for that particular world — or maybe just for the world in general. ”It’s not the job that’s depressing,” said the president’s Chief of Staff (Kevin Dunn) in the finale. ”Life is depressing.” It’s easy to wonder: Was that just one sad sack’s opinion, or was it the show’s? B