Veep exists in the real world, but it does not exist in our world — so blundering former President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her group of miserable accomplices are the primary players in D.C.’s theater of the absurd. This year, though, Selina must confront one aspect of our current reality — the rise of #MeToo feminism — and true to form, she rejects it completely. “When I was coming up as a lawyer, I didn’t have to remind everyone I was a woman every 10 seconds, because they never let me forget it,” she snaps at a female rival during a debate. “How about for once in your life you stop whining… and just man up?”
It is a defining moment for Selina — the macho outburst gives her latest presidential campaign a much-needed boost — and for Veep itself. The final season of HBO’s Emmy-winning political satire delivers a Selina Meyer at her misanthropic, misogynistic best — a woman who fully embraces her destiny to be as selfish, ambitious, and outright venal as the men who came before.
We rejoin the gang in Iowa as they prepare to announce Selina’s latest run. The first three episodes available for review are packed with obstacles, from the mundane (an unpaid tent bill from 11 years ago) to the deeply morbid (the premiere’s bleakest running joke involves mass shootings, one of which the candidate uses to her advantage). As always, the Meyer for President team is awash in various forms of co-dependent chaos: A pregnant Amy (Anna Chlumsky) tries to sort out family planning decisions with her baby daddy Dan (Reid Scott) in between crises, while preternaturally positive aide Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) is working for Selina and her underling-turned-opponent Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons).
With 10 series regulars and a sprawling supporting cast, the ease with which showrunner David Mandal and the cast balance multiple overlapping storylines with an Adderall-worthy jokes-per-minute pace remains a minor miracle. Simons has perfected the art of brutish buffoonery as Jonah, the vehicle for some of Veep’s silliest story lines (see: his quasi-incestuous new marriage) as well as the target of its most brilliantly savage insults (“Are you kidding me, you 80-story skyraper?”). Emotionally hollowed-out campaign strategists Ben Cafferty and Kent Davison (the tragically Emmy-less Kevin Dunn and Gary Cole, respectively) lurk around the edges of every scene providing incisive social commentary with off-hand brutality (“Ma’am, you’re going to be drowning in money so dark it could get shot entering its own apartment,” notes Ben). The only counterbalance to all of this toxic masculinity — Selina’s included — is Gary (Tony Hale), the president’s ever-hovering, never-appreciated body man. Nurturing and servile, fawning and ceaselessly devoted, Gary is the wife Selina could never be and yet somehow can’t live without.
Lording over it all with flawless precision is Louis-Dreyfus, who brings an undercurrent of seething desperation to Selina as she embarks on her last-chance campaign. Of the many ways President Meyer rejects her gender (“I’m standing here with my d— in my hand in Cedar Falls, Iowa!”), none is more prevalent this season than her rampaging sense of entitlement. “I should be president because it is my goddamn turn!” she rants in the season premiere. It’s been a thrill to watch people serve at the displeasure of this (former) president — may she man herself up all the way back to the White House. A