“Being vice president,” says a former holder of that office, Selina Meyer,“is like being declawed, defanged, neutered, ball-gagged and sealed in an abandoned coal mine beneath two miles of human s–t!” Somewhere, John Nance Garner is nodding vigorously. Meyer has been president once and would very much like to return to the Oval. “Why is this so hard?” she asks. “I only want to be president.”
The finale of Veep, which concluded a seven-season run on HBO Sunday night, had some valedictory qualities, such as Meyer’s summing-up of the pointlessness of the vice presidency and an uncharacteristically emotional scene in which she weeps at the bedside of a critically ill colleague. The episode is also uncharacteristically baggy; at 47 minutes, it abandons the usual breathless mania. Some scenes even drag. But, ah, that final joke! I won’t give it away, but suffice it to say that when we first met Selina Meyer she was being humiliated and that was the only way to wrap things up.
Veep was on average the funniest show on TV though it had some ups and downs. Season One I thought lacerating and brilliant; Season Two was housebroken by comparison. After the fourth season the series lost its British creator and original showrunner Armando Iannucci, who had proven the master of insult comedy and futility in Veep’s British predecessor The Thick of It. But under the next showrunner, David Mandel, the show became more specifically Washington-insidery, loaded with jokes for politically junkies, though the quality of the legendarily profane insults became uneven. Season Five, built around a Meyer presidential campaign that ended in a tie in the Electoral College and ensuing dickering in first the House (which failed to give any candidate a majority) and the Senate, was a classic. But Season Six, in which Selina was out of office and trying to nail down a location for a presidential library, fell mostly flat.
The final season was somewhere in between, really funny but without the frantically increasing pace of the fifth. Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) continued to be the funniest character on the show as he stumbled close to the presidency from a Congressional seat on a platform of hating Muslims, math teachers, and vaccines. The finale comes up with plenty to do for my second-favorite character, the unflappably pleasant and self-effacing staff-nerd-turned-accidental- politician Richard Splett (wife: Annette Splett), who as played by Sam Richardson had a sunny agreeableness that made him hilariously orthogonal to the back-stabbers around him. (Idea for a spin-off sitcom: Splett. I’d watch.)
The bottomless cynicism and self-interest of the political class on the show makes it a sort of seven-year comedy dissertation on public choice theory. Nobody is out to make hope and change. All anybody wants is to secure advantage for himself, destroy the other guy and stomp on his bloody corpse. In service of its LOL-nothing-matters theme, every other minute the writers came up with a mot that would have been the proudest quip of the year coming from the average political columnist. Take this explanation of the meaninglessness of party platforms: “It’s just the party platform. It’s like a to-do list of things were not gonna do. I mean, ‘restore faith in democracy’? We couldn’t do that even if we wanted to.” The insults were explosively funny: “Right now, you’re about as toxic as a urinal cake in Chernobyl,” “He’s the Pol Pot of pie charts.” Of all the shows ending on HBO this spring, the one I’m going to miss is Veep. Also, the only one I watched was Veep.