Welcome to a post-apocalyptic Veep, a show tailored for a political post-apocalyptic America. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has always made her President Selina Mayer a splendidly loathsome monster of American politics – but like the rest of us, she’s gotten bum-rushed by a real-life electoral catastrophe more bizarre than any TV show could have made up. HBO’s scathing D.C. satire, which returns on April 16th, might have gotten outfreaked by reality, yet in the superb new season’s episodes, Selina is right in tune with the national mood of America – or as she tenderly calls it, “this cocksuck of a country.” The U.S.A. now stands revealed as even stupider and more doomed than Selina imagined. Which is exactly why Veep weirdly feels timelier than ever.
The 2016 electoral meltdown never gets mentioned on the show, of course – this is an alternate timeline where Trump, Clinton and Sanders don’t exist. Yet that vibe of “what the hell just happened?” looms over Season Six like a shroud. As Selina, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is now an ex-President, deposed after just one year in the Oval Office. To make matters worse, she got outmaneuvered by a new female President, so she doesn’t even have that to boast about. So now Selina is stuck with the role of a former Commander in Chief, which turns out to be an even more impotent gig than she thought. Looking around her new office, she snarls, “This is the worst place they’ve ever stuffed an ex-President – and that includes JFK’s coffin.”
Will Our Lady of the Beltway make a graceful adjustment to her post-presidential role and find some meaningful work outside the psycho hamster-wheel of politics? Or will she claw her way back into the corridors of power? Can she reunite her old gang of cynical political operatives? Or will she just sit in her new office, terrorizing her underlings and nursing her bruised ego? “You know what being an ex-President is like?” Selina rages at one point. “It’s like being a man’s nipple. People go right by you to jerk off a dick.” But she doesn’t have any idealism to fall back on – she can always be counted on for a political insight like “this election’s going down like Eleanor Roosevelt at Dinah Shore Weekend.”
Veep remains swifter, nastier and spikier than any other comedy on the air, a non-stop firestorm of bile with a deep bench of loathsome villains, from Gary Cole’s unctuous Kent to Dan Bakkedahl’s slimeball Roger Furlong. Timothy Simons’ Jonah is a newly minted congressman from New Hampshire, yet he remains the most horrible (fictional) man on TV. As always, Kevin Dunn finds a way to steal any scene as the most hard-boiled of political fixers, who finds himself unfulfilled when he tries to go into corporate life at Uber, or as he calls it, “a bunch of dumb-ass millennials too lazy to learn how to drive drunk.”
But more than ever, Louis-Dreyfus is the center of this comic maelstrom, lost in a country she doesn’t recognize anymore. Veep took a huge chance when it flipped the premise, promoting Selina to the Oval Office; this season takes an even bigger chance by throwing her back into the wilds of private life. But as an ex-President, she remains terrifying because she’s suddenly (for the first time) relatable. Now Selina’s a private citizen, as shell-shocked and bewildered as any of us. After all her years of sneering about the dumbness of the average voter – “the normals and the normalistas,” as she used to call them – it turns out she was giving us way too much credit. That’s the country Selina’s living in now. She doesn’t like it any more than we do.