Changing The Status Quo On ‘Veep’ Was The Smartest Move The Show Could Make

Veep is back for a sixth season, and I have a few thoughts on the premiere coming up just as soon as I host Showtime at the Apollo next week…

You may have noticed that the state of American politics at the moment is so weird and absurd, among other things, as to almost defy parody. When someone last week paired Sean Spicer’s “Holocaust center” debacle with the Veep closing credits, it was a reminder that there would be almost nothing Veep could do if Selina were still in the Oval Office that would seem more ridiculous than much of what’s been in the news for the last few months.

How fortunate, then, is David Mandel that he decided to get Selina out of the job at the end of last season, not because he worried about competing with the incoming real-life POTUS (regardless of who won the election; having Selina co-exist with the actual real first female President would have also led to some creative minefields), but because he realized that the answer to the question “What’s the worst thing you can do to Selina Meyer?” would be to take her position, power, and prestige away in one fell swoop.

So rather than try to compete with the news, Veep season six winds up sidestepping it almost entirely. Government hasn’t been left behind in the new season: Jonah is still in Congress (now with Kent, hating himself all the while, working for him), Dan is still covering politics in his new job on CBS This Morning, and Amy is helping her idiot boyfriend Buddy run for governor of Nevada, but for the most part, the characters are all on the outside looking in, and much of “Omaha” is particularly about how Selina is feeling completely emasculated. Or, as she puts it early in the episode, she feels like everyone is “celebrating my frat house gang rape, except I didn’t even get a candlelight vigil!”

She puts on a good show in the interview with Dan, but life is one never-ending mortification for her. Her book advance was a pittance compared to her predecessor, President Hughes. Her foundation for adult literacy is such an afterthought to her that she adds AIDS to the mission just to make it seem more interesting, and Catherine now controls the family purse strings. She’s fallen back into bed with Andrew, but he’s as much of a sleaze as always, and is blatantly looking to use the foundation as license to pull off various federal crimes (a joke that feels like it was written when everyone thought we’d be facing 4-8 years of Fox News stories about the Clinton Foundation). She still has Gary by her side, and Richard T. Splett is not the worst of her former lackeys to be working as her chief of staff, but this is still a pretty low — and, thus, funny — place for her to find herself after so briefly being on top of the entire free world.

“Omaha” has fun mixing and matching characters(*) and putting them in new contexts: Ben as the token old guy at a tech company whose racist jokes won’t fly there, Mike as a flailing stay-at-home dad, Jonah and Kent as a new duo (and bald jokes having replaced tall jokes as the best way to get Jonah’s goat), a lot more of Selina and Richard (a combination the show tried a few times in the past, and that Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Sam Richardson obviously do great things with), Amy and “Danny” off in their own respective corners for the moment, etc. It’s such a promising set-up, and such a relief from the way things could have gone, that it seems momentarily alarming when Selina announces her plans to run again. (Catherine’s pained sobs at the thought of it prove this is one area where her mother still has power over her.) But that’s ultimately revealed as yet another example of the state of denial in which she lives, and it takes sensible, blunt Ben to explain that nobody actually wants to see a Meyer comeback.

(*) Sufe Bradshaw had to take the season off due to a personal matter, so we don’t get to see where Sue landed. But I will assume she is, as usual, doing better than the rest of them combined.

When Mandel told me last year that he felt there were at least two years worth of stories about Selina as an ex-president, I was a bit skeptical, but “Omaha,” and what goes down in the other two episodes I’ve seen, suggests there’s still plenty of material to mine, and Selina as “former Ma’am,” to borrow Richard’s phrase, is a far better fit in 2017 than keeping her at the big desk could have possibly been.