Last night's Veep season-ender went in such an unexpected direction that it had me wondering if this wasn't the second week in a row where a pay cable series aired a surprise series finale.
But the show's renewal wasn't a feint, and Veep showrunner David Mandel – who did a remarkable job stepping into departed creator Armando Iannucci's shoes this season – has plans for what kinds of stories he plans to tell now that Selina Meyer is not only no longer the president, but no longer vice-president, or holder of any political office at all. His explanation for the finale, and for what comes next, coming up just as soon as I hope I didn't f–k Richard…
I finished the documentary episode assuming that Tom James would become president, Selina would be his vice-president, and the show would revert to its original status quo. That is not what you did!
David Mandel: That is what we have been feinting towards for a year of our lives: pretending like it was going to happen, acting like it was going to happen, and making you think it was going to happen. I like to work from the back forward. So when I first sat down with Julia and heard about the tie, I asked myself, “Where are we going to go? What is the end result? And that's how I'll figure out the season.” Very early on, I knew for me that she had to lose the election. I felt she was going to lose the election, and thought it would be really neat for her to end up the vice-president again, for all the reasons people thought that was going to happen. And then as I spent more time on it, I started to realize that it wasn't enough. Not about the future of the show, but to me, the funniest answer is, “What's the worst thing you can do to Selina Meyer?” It seems like the answer is to make her vice-president again, but I realized there was another scenario and another character: O'Brien's VP candidate Montez, who we'd never seen, and knew nothing about, except I think we heard the phrase “Sexy Mexi.” With that in mind, I realized the worst thing that could happen to Selina Meyer would actually be for another woman to get elected president of the United States. And what's more, another woman who was technically younger, perhaps with a happier family. And, I'm certainly never going to say that someone is prettier than Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but someone who would make her crazy for being young and good-looking. I realized that topped the other idea, and what's more, I started to realize that people would assume that the other was what was going to happen, and we could really play into that. We would not only dump more shit on her – which, by the way, Julia is the funniest the more shit she swims through; and I say that about Julia, not just Selina – and to me, that was the worst thing that could happen to Selina Meyer. As bad as it would be being Tom James' VP – don't get me wrong, it would be awful – I think there's a version of it where she could make that work. This is something where everything she ever wanted is taken from her, and it's beyond her worst nightmare. It's a nightmare that never occurred to her: another woman is elected president. So that's kind of how I got to the ending.
This isn't what motivated the idea, but I don't think it's that interesting to be back with the status quo. The thing that excited me about the idea is that as we go into the next season, we are doing a show about the former president of the united states, which is all new ground. I can't tell you how exciting that is, because it's all new in a cool way.
Literally, my response as I was watching the episode was, “Oh my god, they ended the show without telling everybody!” I knew you had been renewed, but I began to wonder if it was all a feint, until someone at HBO confirmed that you'd be back, and will be dealing with Selina's post-political life.
David Mandel: I guess there was a version, because we technically weren't renewed before we started. From when I first went in, my perspective was that if they had wanted to do just one more season, my guess is they could have figured out how to do it with Armando or a special or something. But when I came in, it felt like there was more to do here, and one of those ways was her post-presidency life. To my mind, even though we were only thinking about the one year, I was thinking of it as a two-year plan. It wasn't a trick, we were renewed, and it was an idea of going into this new world. One of the cool things, obviously there's Scandal, House of Cards, there was West Wing. Other than that Jack Lemmon/James Garner movie about ex-presidents, no one's ever done anything in this area, whereas a lot of times, we do a story where someone goes, “Oh, yeah, they did someone sleeping with a Secret Service agent on House of Cards.” Whereas here, we get the first bite at the apple of ex-president stories. We get to do foreign funerals, and all kinds of really neat things, and, in a lot of ways, Selina Meyer's quest for relevancy. She was barely a one-year president. What does that mean? These are all these exciting things we get to deal with next season. So to do something that seemed both really funny and really a surprise, but also sets us up in an in an interesting way in the same way the tie did.
Did you get any sense from Armando about how he might have resolved the tie? Or did he always know he was leaving, and didn't worry about how his successor would deal with it?
David Mandel: Last spring, I went out to London and downloaded all of what I just said to you to him. We didn't really get into anything about what he intended to do, but he dug it and thought it was apt.
Will the whole cast be returning? Have you figured out ways for all these characters to remain in Selina's orbit?
David Mandel: I'm trying to take a one-week break before we start up again, before the writers start up. But I have notions of where we're going to start up, and they will logically follow. We're not going to toss all of this stuff away. All of this stuff was hard-earned, and I'm excited to see: Dan got a job offer, what does that mean? Amy seems to have a relationship, what does that mean? Mike has three kids on the way, Ben is on the verge of retirement. And with Jonah, he is a Congressman. Oh my lord. These are not things we will take lightly. These are all the starting strands of where we're going to go. And how does Selina Meyer process what happened? The other thing about Montez, there's a sense that she came out of nowhere, but she's not a dumb character. She's not an airhead; she's a skilled senator who got on the ticket much in the way Selina did herself. Selina will have to process how a skilled woman who seems to be getting a lot of good breaks, how is her mind going to wrap around that? I think that alone will be fun stuff to deal with. And there's also a wonderful, rich tradition of things we know about our ex-presidents, and what they do, and where they golf, and the houses they build. All of that gets to go into the soup pot as we start thinking about next year.
Was there any consideration given to just keeping her president? Because it felt like the show went to another level when she ascended to the top job.
David Mandel: For me, there wasn't. I can't speak to an alternate version that didn't have the tie. Maybe there's some version where you could have done more of the presidency. But coming into the tie, it felt like time to move on. I will say this about the presidency stuff, having done it for a year: in some way, sometimes it was tougher with her as president. When she's the vice-president, I think you accepted certain stupidity, a little bit of silliness or improper whatever, but a lot of stuff's a lot harder when she's the president. When she is the president, and there are bigger life-or-death things, whether it's talking about a war or the possibility of a war or a terrorist act, inherently, the subject matters became harder to dance around as the president. I guess I could have seen leaving her as president longer before the tie came up, but once the tie happened, for me, at least, it was, “What's the funniest way to resolve the tie?” And that is for her to no longer be president.
One of the things you did in the Congressional ball episode is that, before they have sex, he seems to have – to borrow a line from Seinfeld – all the hand in the relationship, and after she has all the hand and he seems to have been neutralized as an opponent. But the last few episodes made clear that he'd still been working against her behind the scenes. How would you categorize the state of the Tom/Selina mindgames over the back half of the season?
David Mandel: They're two horrible creatures who are inexplicably drawn to each other as horrible creatures are. She definitely had some hand in the moment, and it played its way through, but as the show has painstakingly said from the get-go, Tom James has always been a real master of this kind of stuff. The three abstentions, she couldn't fight them off. What was interesting to us was that he was ultimately blindsided by a bit of hubris: you get the sense he didn't try as hard, because you assumed, as did the audience, that he would win the Senate vote. But the real shame of it is, in some alternate reality, they might have been a couple. And they could have been a really good team together. Forget the relationship part; they could have been an amazing president and vice-president, but their own machinations against each other doomed them both in a grand fashion.
In terms of the original idea you had of Tom as president and Selina as VP, did it get to the point where you actually talked to Hugh Laurie about his availability going forward?
David Mandel: No. The honest answer is that him as president and her as vice-president lasted maybe a week or two in pre-production. It was just a step in the process to the endpoint. By the time I was talking to Hugh and telling him about this season, I was telling him about this version of the story.
Would he be available if you wanted to show more of Tom James' life? Or do you feel that story's done now?
David Mandel: It feels very done to me, especially that last moment, which I do quite love. I do believe he'll end up as a really really rich guy, you can see that down the line doing the hedge fund. I did enjoy that goodbye, and my feeling is the best idea always wins. So if a great idea for Tom comes up, maybe. But I certainly wouldn't want to bring him for bringing him back's sake.
You're taking a week off before you get back into things. So have there been no pitches yet about what Gary's like as a civilian, what Amy's like as a civilian?
David Mandel: I've jotted down some odds and ends of notes, as I've been finishing up the editing. (Episodes) 509 and 510 have a lot of additional elements that we don't usually deal with. 510 had all the special effects to show the inauguration, and trying to find the music and the look of 509 in terms of making it look like a documentary was weeks of work. Somewhere in between, you just start jotting things down. I've had one casual lunch with a couple of the writers who are still around right now and just said, “Here's some thoughts: see you in a couple of weeks.” Just vague notions.
You said earlier that you came into the job thinking of it as a two-year plan. It sounds like you have a lot of ideas for at least one season of Selina's life after the White House; could you see the show going on for quite a while into this phase of things? Or are we a lot closer to the end of Veep than the beginning at this point?
David Mandel: Again, I haven't dug in enough yet. But a lot of times, a president leaves office, even people who are older than Selina, remain part of American life for a number of years. In a weird way, I think there's a lot there. The shorter answer is, I don't think we're near the end, and I don't think Julia thinks we are either.
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