Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Photo: HBO)

What does a comedy owe its audience? Ultimately, comedies are judged on whether they make people laugh, but what happens when those laughs come at the expense of character and canon? At the expense of viewers’ common sense? After five strong seasons, Veep has struggled this year, unable to build up the momentum and energy that fueled the end of each of the past few seasons. Selina has been listless, and the season has mirrored her, taking one step forward and two back. The solution the writers come up with to address this and end season six is equal parts exciting and frustrating: Selina is back on the campaign trail, with Jonah throwing his hat into the ring for president as well. Veep has gotten a lot of mileage out of Selina and Jonah’s campaigns in the past—this is something the show knows how to do very well. However, regardless of how talented the cast and creative the writers, it’s hard to be excited for a retread of previous seasons, and one predicated on either the short memory of Selina’s public or the foolhardiness of her entire team.

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Season five saw the Veep writers diving deep into the quirks of the U.S. presidential election process to come up with a twist ending. Laura Montez’s presidency was a big ask of the audience, requiring a suspension of disbelief some were unwilling to give. “Groundbreaking” wants several more. Not only have Selina’s potential criminal charges around her data scandal disappeared, so has Ben’s laundry list of concerns about Selina’s political future. Given the sheer volume of damaging info about Selina’s tenure as president out there at this point, the idea that she could feasibly contend is ridiculous. Are viewers expected to forget the previous events of this season, or believe that Ben has? Then there’s Leon. Selina doesn’t have any money, so what prompts this career journalist, who has shown nothing but disdain for Selina and her team, to so eagerly jump on board? In smaller moments, we’re meant to believe a former presidential press secretary can’t remember the existence of the executive branch (even by another name), that Andrew never broke up with Monica and Monica avoided hearing about the hugely publicized scandal with him cheating on her, and that Jonah would run for president with his abuser as a senior campaign adviser. Jonah dealing with sexual harassment and abuse at work was one of the series’ best arcs. Obviously Jonah isn’t happy Teddy’s back, but the writers sacrificing the satisfying, affecting conclusion to this storyline as a reason to bring back the admittedly hilarious Patton Oswalt is, at best, a disappointing choice.

Compounding this is the broader approach of season six, which is seen in the finale’s flashback structure and which looks bound to continue in season seven. As fun as it is to see the cast in silly wigs and making very specific fashion choices, almost none of the flashbacks impart anything new to the audience. They reiterate what the audience has known all season, and in some cases, all series: Selina’s stay at the “spa” was far from recreational, Andrew has always been terrible, Selina was immediately dismissed by President Hughes upon entering the White House as vice president, and despite previous attempts to humanize her and show her as someone unsuited to parenthood who at least tries, Selina has always been a terrible mother. The only surprise is the reveal of Gary’s past as a candy striper who stumbled into Selina’s orbit quite accidentally. This is the kind of neat tweak to the established canon that these flashbacks allowed; it’s a shame the rest are so straightforward.

On another show, this level of repetition and backtracking on well-known character traits would be a deal-breaker, but with Veep, the cast is so funny and so comfortable in their roles that they can make just about any scene entertaining. For many fans of the series, that is enough. The fun is in the patter, the creative profanity, and the gleeful malice so many of the characters represent, rather than the specific characters or world-building. After being treated to some of the best comedy on television for the past five seasons, however, it’s hard not to see this version of the show, this slightly more hollow but still very accomplished TV, as somewhat of a letdown. The experiment of Selina in retirement hasn’t worked out, and it’s time for a break. Hopefully by the time the series returns for season seven, it’ll be firing on all cylinders, blending distinct character work with cutting political satire and every style of comedy imaginable, as only Veep can.

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Stray observations

  • Most of the reversals in the finale were incredibly irritating, but I loved Dan finding out he wasn’t completely sterile after all. Fingers crossed Amy being pregnant by Dan leads to more time for Anna Chlumsky next season.
  • I love that there are no illusions from anyone as to the shape and imagery of Selina’s library. It’s a great running gag for the episode.
  • Veep has had trouble with its guest stars all season, rarely giving them enough to do. A strong exception is Jonathan Hadary, who’s been terrific as Sherman Tanz from the jump.
  • The structure of the episode wasn’t as successful as I’d have liked, but I loved the final shot of the closed door, as Selina begins her speech.
  • Poor Mike, fired from Team Meyer. That being said, at least as a teacher he should finally get paid!
  • Usman Ally has been a good foil for Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Ambassador Al Jaffar. His and Selina’s breakup here works well and does a lot to soften Selina, particularly as she is next-level harsh toward Catherine, Marjorie, and the baby this episode—even worse than Andrew. Perhaps Selina’s treatment of them here will prompt a new dynamic between her and Catherine in season seven, with Catherine’s Mama Bear instincts taking over to protect Little Richard from Selina’s scheming clutches.
  • There are a few contenders for line of the episode, but for Ally’s beautifully dry delivery, I need to give it to Jaffar’s, “He’s not exactly on the Yes-Fly list.”
  • Thank you for following along with The A.V. Club’s coverage of Veep season six. I may not have loved this season, but it’s been a treat to lurk in the comments and read everyone’s thoughts.

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