More than two years ago, prior to “Veep” Season 6, much was made about the effect Donald Trump would have on HBO’s political satire. How could such an enormous, unexpected shift in America go unremarked upon by TV’s most prescient comedy on American government? But the season was already written. The Trump effect was relatively moot in the alternate reality established within the series, even if showrunner David Mandel and his award-winning writing staff still proved their Nostradamus-esque abilities to predict future political foibles more than a few times over.
Now, “Veep” has adjusted. Deliberately or instinctively, its searing viewpoint on the system and its players has widened to include those formerly outside the bubble. Season 7 — the series’ last — takes aim not only the power-hungry politicians, but also at the willfully ignorant American people who stubbornly support them. That includes the viewers at home; those who carelessly laughed at the phenomenal insults might sit up during the first three episodes and think, “Hey, are they talking about me?” It’s this kind of parting twist that makes the “Veep” swan song an even more uncomfortable, even more biting, and an even better series overall.
That’s no easy feat. “Veep” begins the end by starting a familiar story in unfamiliar fashion: Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is running again. The former vice president and brief ex-POTUS has set up an exploratory committee for an election run and is touring Iowa to prepare for the caucuses. Her campaign posters read “New. Selina. Now.”, though the premiere episode makes a point of showing just how clumsy the campaign remains, thanks in no small part to the fact that most of her longstanding team remains by her side.
Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky) and Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn) run the show, with Dan Egan (Reid Scott) and Kent Davison (Gary Cole) pitching in with support. Lovable yet inept communications chief Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh) has finally been ousted in favor of his frequent rival and ex-Washington Post reporter Leon West (Brian Huskey), while the ebullient charms of Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) are split between two presidential candidates.
That’s right, the rumors are true: Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) is running for president. Oft-utilized as the living embodiment of all things wrong with American politics — nay, America in its entirety — Jonah fittingly continues to prosper because of his selfish, immature, and caustic behavior. He’s back with his former sexual harasser, Teddy Sykes (Patton Oswalt), and the Meyer campaign’s scapegoat Bill Ericsson (Diedrich Bader), who are trying their darnedest to steady their candidate’s fluctuating popularity in his bid for higher office.
“Veep” regularly highlights improbable team-ups such as these to emphasize not only the cyclical nature of D.C.’s boys’ club, but also the desperation of the politicos involved. They’re always willing to accept help, even if they despise the person offering — for reasons like, say, they used to grab them by the balls as a casual greeting. Season 7 keeps their feet to the fire: A trip to a wealthy donor’s weekend retreat brings together multiple politicians ready to go to the dark side for an early lead in the race, while one returning character is cast in a darker, more Machiavellian light than before. The politicians are still nasty, fire-breathing monsters, but “Veep’s” sharp satire manages to expand the fire pit without dulling the flames.
Before, Selina and her team would spend their time worrying how public fuck-ups would affect their relationship with the people, and, more importantly, their own jobs. Now, they’re being rewarded for airing their dirty laundry. Call it a reaction to Trump’s America, and the continued perseverance of politicians who should be unelectable by people who should know better — “Veep” is expertly, believably arguing the wretched people in power are merely an extension of the careless dumbasses who fall for their schtick.
Selina is definitely headed toward a defining moment, and Louis-Dreyfus presses all the more firmly on the gas. It’s like Selina’s institutionalization — which came in the form of a “spa” vacation when she lost the election in Season 5 — is at the back of her mind the whole time; she’s on edge even when she’s at her calmest, and select outbursts show just how close Selina is to going off the rails. Louis-Dreyfus, meanwhile, is in complete control, and her absence from our screens these past few years now reminds us how precise, commanding, and hilarious she is in every second of her performance. We need to appreciate her last episodes of “Veep” as much as she’s reveling in them.
This final alteration to the satire’s targets only helps. In its seven-episode final run, Mandel’s series didn’t need to make adjustments, only a punctuation mark for its supporting cast and a telling goodbye for its central figure. Yet by stretching even further to illustrate who’s at fault for our country’s ongoing struggles, “Veep” solidifies it legacy. Ever resonant, ever timely, and always smart about who’s on the receiving end of its sharp-tongued wrath, the bracing comedy is eye-opening to the bitter end. At a time when America needs to take a hard look in the mirror, “Veep” offers the bulletproof glass.
“Veep” Season 7 premieres Sunday, March 31 at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.