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'Veep' And the Comedy Of Pointlessness

By Dustin Rowles | TV | April 17, 2017 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | April 17, 2017 |

Veep returned with its sixth season premiere this week, notably no longer set in the offices of the White House. Selina Meyer — who was bounced out of the Presidency by a tie in the electoral college, a tie in the House of Representatives, and some arcane rule of succession — finds herself powerless, on the outside without even a window to look in. After a brief flirtation with another run at the big house, Selina is eventually talked out of it by her own campaign manager, Ben, who soberly informs her of what even the television audience knows to be true: “No one wants to see a Meyer comeback.”

It’s over for Selina Meyer. There’s no rebounding from her failures. There’s no legacy to shore up. She barely warrants a footnote in a tapestry of bullshit. This season of Veep is like watching the “unhappily ever after” of Biff Tannen in Back to the Future: Defeated, dispirited, and broken. All we can do now is find comedy in watching him flail around in life, spending his remaining days washing George McFly’s car.

There’s plenty of comedy in that, and scene-for-scene, the Veep premiere is as good as it’s ever been, delivering a steady stream of brilliant one-liners and sharp comedic performances. But there’s also an aimless unsettling feeling about the direction of the series. Selina has hit rock bottom, and there’s no where left to go but down. The stakes are gone. Failing upwards — something the series has done so well over the course of five seasons — is no longer an option. All that’s left for Selina is a search for relevancy, which has remained largely elusive for even the powerful presidents. What hope does an unelected, part-termer have?

There are a lot of great comedies that entail watching terrible people fail repeatedly, who begin and end each episode back at square one (see It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia for the best example), but Veep has created a new kind of sitcom, one that mines the comedy of pointlessness. Seinfeld was infamously a show about nothing; Veep has descended from a show about something to a show about nothing. Selina Meyer has reached the top, but now there’s nothing left for her but empty moral victories and a lifetime left to eat her just desserts.

It might work, and if there’s any show that can pull it off, it’s Veep, but the degree of difficulty here is high. Television audiences are conditioned to root for protagonists, no matter how despicable they are. Knowing about the incompetence, the disregard for humanity, and the depths which the Meyer Administration was willing to stoop last year to win an election, most of us still found ourselves rooting for her electoral victory and were weirdly heartbroken to see her lose, deserved or not. Future victory has now been foreclosed. Selina Meyer’s narrative arc as a politician is over.

Now we’re left watching the epilogue.

It’s not that the epilogue cannot continue to be consistently hilarious — Veep could churn out brilliant stand-alone episodes for five years — but I do wonder if viewers will be able to continue watching Selina Meyer spin her wheels beyond a sixth season without finding a new way to incorporate some meaningful stakes. Can a serialized sitcom succeed when there are no worthwhile rooting interests?

That remains to be seen.

In an effort to find parallels between this season of Veep and the real world, a few outlets have drawn imperfect comparisons between Meyer and the post-election life of Hillary Clinton. I doubt there will be much traction in that comparison over the course of the season — Clinton has a list of accomplishments and an actual legacy to shore up in spite of losing the 2016 election, while Meyer does not despite inhabiting the White House for a year — but where the comparison does work is in the relative lack of interest America has for Clinton’s post-election life. Sure, there have been a few brief moments of excitement when Hillary was spotted walking in the woods, and she’s been able to generate a few back-page headlines with remarks that stand in contrast to the current administration. But with no power to affect change or shape policy, our interests in Clinton will continue to wane unless, like Meyer, she flirts with the idea of running again.

Ultimately, it seems to me that that’s where the show eventually has to go if it expects to continue beyond this season — it has not yet been renewed for a seventh, and showrunner David Mandel may have written this as the final season — because while I can imagine laughing at Jonah-looks-like-a-penis jokes for years to come, Veep will need to formulate meaningful goals for its characters if the show expects to keep the audience invested.

The 10 Best Lines of the Night

10. Jonah on the dangers of green beans and healthy school lunches: “The only green thing I ate was a green jelly bean and I grew up to be so tall my stupid mom had to get a different car.”

9. Selina, on the anniversary of her reelection defeat: “I feel like we’re celebrating my frat-house gang rape, only I didn’t even get a candlelight vigil.” Gary: “I love candles.”

8. Ben: “Schlomo Tanz is radioactive. He can read the newspaper on the toilet by the light of his own shit.”

7. Dan to Jonah: “You look like you should be underground worshiping an atomic bomb, you human f—king pap smear.”

6. Marjorie: “We can’t do anything about AIDS.” Selina: “Who are you, Ronald Reagan?”

5. Selina: “Kennedy was also a part-termer.”

4. Amy: “My guess is, if you gave her a rail to snort off your dick, she’d let you fuck the hole in her septum.”

3. Selina: “Being an ex-president is like being a man’s nipple. People go right by it to jerk off a dick.”

2. Jonah: “He’s already got a job better than sponging up jizz, right Kent?” Kent: (silence)

1. Ben on Uber: “A bunch of dumbass millennials. You know, too lazy to learn how to drive drunk.”

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.