“Game of Thrones” isn’t the only HBO stalwart coming to an end this spring, as “Veep” begins its final campaign. The network has paired it with a worthy running mate in season two of “Barry,” the dark comedy about a hit man suddenly bitten by the acting bug.
The writers of “Veep” have joked that the current political climate has essentially lapped the three-time Emmy winner, which has been away for longer than usual as Julia Louis-Dreyfus has dealt with treatment for cancer. (HBO and CNN share parent company WarnerMedia.)
The timing, however, could hardly be better, as the show’s seventh season finds Louis-Dreyfus’ Selina Meyer embarking on a new presidential run, unleashing a comedy of errors as she begins by crisscrossing Iowa, attending events and meeting people for whom she privately harbors nothing but disdain.
Indeed, in “Veep” voters aren’t there to be served, but merely the means to an end. Similarly, mass shootings aren’t viewed as tragedies but rather political opportunities or impediments, depending on the details.
The wanton cynicism that permeates the series seems even funnier now, although its refusal to identify Selina’s party affiliation has always felt a bit strained. At this point, though, that’s easier to forgive, especially in exchange for lines like Selina talking about how disgusting America has become, to which aide Kent (Gary Cole) flatly replies, “That’s a demo we’re targeting mostly on Facebook.”
The overlap between the real-life campaign for 2020 and the fictional one within the show will surely add moments of art-imitates-life layers to this finishing run, but “Veep” should really be celebrated for its savvy writing and stellar cast, which starts with the much-adorned Louis-Dreyfus and extends through additions like Hugh Laurie as a political rival and Timothy Simons as Selina’s former aide turned congressman Jonah, an absolute imbecile who’s also in the race.
“Veep” might have outlived its time, to the extent reality has seemingly eclipsed its jaundiced form of satire. In terms of providing laughs when they’re sorely needed, though, it couldn’t have picked a better time to mount its last campaign.
“Barry,” meanwhile, ended its season on one of those major plot points that can potentially throw a show for a loop, and raises questions about where it goes from there.
The answer, almost immediately, involves dealing head-on with what happened, while establishing a new threat that has the potential to be teased out over the course of the season.
At its core, “Barry” involves its title character (Bill Hader) wrestling with whether he can truly change, after having left a trail of bodies in his wake. “Am I evil?” he asks at one point – unfortunately, of the low-life Chechen mob chief Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan), who, misunderstanding Barry’s intent, assures him that he is.
Barry explores a few recurring themes built around murder and Hollywood striving, while demonstrating that when it comes to the former, good help is hard to find. Mostly, the show deftly juggles a variety of tones, managing to be funny, quirky and intense all at once, while again showcasing Henry Winkler in his brilliant, Emmy-winning role as the acting teacher who keeps pressing Barry to tap into his dark side.
“Veep” and “Barry” aren’t exactly natural companions, but the two feel connected by the level of quality to which they not only aspire, but consistently reach. While going from a show about a politician to a hit man might not be a natural juxtaposition, in terms of the mantle of HBO’s best half-hour, the torch has been passed.
“Veep” and “Barry” premiere March 31 at 10 and 10:30 p.m. on HBO.