That Championship Season — Veep, Season Five

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In its overarching narrative, Veep was designed to stay locked into place. Created by Armando Iannucci, who was essentially striving for the U.S. equivalent on his scathing satire of British politics The Thick of It, the new comedy series looked to the office of the vice-presidency. The role in the executive branch is nearly as high as a politician can get and yet it is largely impotent, defining by lying in wait as the undesired tasks of the presidency are flicked downward. As a power-adjacent position, it holds great potential to absolutely madden a ruthless opportunist, such as Selina Meyer, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

And then the creative team upended the scenario, elevating Selina to the office she coveted, while maintaining a healthy dose of indignity. She wasn’t elected, instead rising through the line of succession. Her time at the helm of the White House was shaded by a need to actually earn the position in the election cycle, an imperative Selina and her crew approached with trademark desperation and a set of ethics that worked, at best, on a sliding scale. Iannucci ended the fourth season, and his tenure on the show, by hitting Selina with an act of exquisite electoral cruelty.

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The presidential election ends in an electoral college tie, leaving the question of who will occupy the highest post in the land up to a cumbersome and complicated system of fallback procedural determinations. Iannucci impishly left a tricky puzzle for the next producer to solve, and it may have been the best possible prompt. The fifth season of Veep is also its strongest.

David Mandel became the showrunner, and Louis-Dreyfus took a stronger hand in setting the direction of the show. The two had a rapport, established when Mandel worked on the last three seasons of Seinfeld, and it clearly carried through. As entertaining as Veep was in earlier seasons, it was took a fairly consistent buckshot blast approach. The demeaning situations lined up like boxcars, and the characters met each new challenge with cascade of profane insults, much of it ingenious. The plotting is solid as steel and twisty as a corkscrew, taking Selina on a slalom course between hope and mortification with black-diamond complexity. Having a stronger narrative through line fortified the jokes, making everything more memorable.

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As with the case with the entirety of the show’s run, the performances are excellent across the board, but Veep will justly go into the entertainment record books because of the acting of Louis-Dreyfus, who nabbed the Emmy for lead actress in a comedy for each of the first six seasons with a seventh likely, an unprecedented feat. With a sharp canniness and level of fearlessness that’s almost unsettling, Louis-Dreyfus delivered every last one of her lines with a spin of dizzying invention. Already an irredeemable figure, Selina grow more vicious in the fifth season, her vanity and feverish need for power for its own sake driving her worst impulses. Evidently at Louis-Dreyfus’s urging, the character grew darker and darker, until the comedy was black as scorched forest.

For me, Veep faded a bit after the fifth season. The circumstances grew more antic, the comedy slightly repetitive, the characters hazier in focus and purpose. But in the ten episodes that circle around Selina’s fierce manipulations of a warped system to suit her hollow ends, claiming victory in an election that mostly exposed the weird folly moving in less-than-stealthy parallel with the U.S. version of democracy, Veep was worthy of the most full-throated hailing.

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Previously…

An Introduction
Buffy the Vampire SlayerSeason Five
CheersSeason Five
The SopranosSeason One
St. ElsewhereSeason Four
Veronica MarsSeason One
The OfficeSeason Two
The Ben Stiller ShowSeason One
Gilmore GirlsSeason Three
SeinfeldSeason Four
JustifiedSeason Two
Parks and RecreationSeason Three
LouieSeason Two
TogethernessSeason One
BraindeadSeason One
CommunitySeason Two
Agent CarterSeason Two
The LeftoversSeason Three
TremeSeason One
How I Met Your MotherSeason Two
FireflySeason One
Raising HopeSeason Three
Jessica JonesSeason One
WKRP in Cincinnati, Season One

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