Selina Meyer is out of office, and she’s not going back. Well, not at this time, anyway. As simple as it sounds, the new premise for “Veep’s” sixth season is as unprecedented as how Selina lost the presidency. After all, why track an ex-president? Her time to make a difference was when she was in office, not after she’s left it. Showrunner David Mandel, his team of writers, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ ever-present producing voice take what we’ve been trained to see as an epilogue — the life of a president out of power — and turn it into a new chapter rife with possibility. The results through three episodes are creatively enthralling, purposefully offbeat, and, as always, tied together by ferocious profanity.
“Veep,” at its core, has always studied the repudiation of desire. For three seasons, Selina remained at the precipice of her ultimate goal, as we watched her viciously fight to make the leap from vice president to president. And when she finally made it, it wasn’t earned. Many saw her presidency as illegitimate because she never won an election at the top of the ticket, and, in the following two seasons, people threw so much dirt on her she couldn’t feel at home in the White House. She never got what she wanted, even when she did.
The end of Season 5 saw an exciting extension of that idea: After losing her bid for the presidency, a circumstance presented itself where Selina could have become VP again. Instead, she found herself literally and figuratively on the outskirts of D.C., with no evident way back into the political arena. Her career looked to be over, and what came next for a lifelong politician was anyone’s guess. By pushing her to this point, the writers were adopting the narrative’s mantra, as “Veep” moved away from what felt comfortable and instead chose the more difficult route to success.
Season 6 doubles down on that decree. The team has disbanded, along with the urgent buzz of their former professions, but fresh arcs are quickly established for characters now outside of Selina’s purview. Without spoiling where we find the Meyer staff a year after the historic House vote that cost her the presidency, I can say the tight-knit clan is spread far, far apart. Each member has moved on to an alternative job, with varying degrees of similarity to their old ones. A few hubs remain, as Selina holds onto two key players for her reduced staff (as if Tony Hale’s Gary would ever leave her) and Congressman (gulp) Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) recruits ex-Veeple for his own agenda.
With Jonah and Amy, now running a gubernatorial bid, connecting “Veep” directly to the inside politics of Washington D.C., it would have been tempting for Mandel & Co. to increase their roles and keep plots focused on campaigns, lobbying, and more concerns relevant to working politicians. But Season 6 is committed to taking “Veep” into the future rather than reinventing the past. Selina still wants to be president, of course, but that only means she can’t have it. Moreover, the writers won’t let her go back, since technically she already was president, meaning all arrows point away from her return to the oval.
Given the current state of politics, this direction is for the better anyway. Mandel and the team had already formed Season 6 before President Trump became a reality, but even if they could satirize the outlandish activities of the current administration, “Veep” isn’t an “SNL” sketch. Selina is no Donald, Mike (Matt Walsh) isn’t Sean Spicer, and Ben (Kevin Dunn), Dan (Reid Scott) and Amy aren’t Bannon, Kushner, or Priebus. Jonah is the closest person the show has to an, “Oh dear Lord, how did he ever get into office?” type of politician, and Simons has pointed out repeatedly on Twitter why even this loose connection doesn’t justify comparing Veeple to these people.
“Veep” is a satirization of all power-hungry politicians, neutral to their party, past, or principles. But most importantly, it’s telling its own story. This is a serialized narrative that refuses to rewrite history in order to mock it. Doing so wouldn’t only be gratuitous — there’s plenty of relevance to the new season without the writers bending over backwards to skewer old headlines — it would discredit the show’s inherent creativity.
“Veep” has always gravitated toward the unexpected, most obviously with its astonishing influx of insults, and one barb from the premiere serves as both an apt descriptor of Season 6’s focus and its commitment to unexplored terrain: “You know what being an ex-president is like?” Selina says. “It’s like being a man’s nipple: People go right by it and jerk off a dick.”
If this season is the man’s nipple of “Veep,” consider us tweaked.
“Veep” Season 6 debuts Sunday, April 16 at 10:30 p.m. on HBO, HBO NOW, and HBO Go.