The following contains spoilers about the April 21 episode of “Veep.”
“Veep” has provided a broadly satiric look at politics through its six seasons, in a knowing fashion that has more than a few times caused life to imitate art. Yet as the show heads into its final flurry of episodes, the HBO series has incorporated what appear to be a few rather overt art-imitates-life flourishes.
After the writers have lamented that they’re hard-pressed to match the absurdity of the current news cycle, they seem to have wryly adopted the strategy that if you can’t beat them, join them.
In a plot that could hardly be better timed with the release of the redacted Mueller report, Sunday’s campaign-themed fourth episode featured past and possibly future president Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, brilliant as always) engaging in back-channel negotiations with the Chinese government, who approach her campaign through a dimwitted if pliant surrogate.
The Chinese then proceed to assist her in a key primary, which includes employing shadowy tactics designed to suppress African-American voter turnout in South Carolina.
Granted, as is common in the world of “Veep,” even conspiring with a foreign power is complicated by rampant incompetence, feeding Selina’s frequent lament that good help is hard to find.
A separate development hinges on another presidential candidate, the manic Jonah (Timothy Simons), becoming increasingly over the top in his speeches, which actually yields benefits to his struggling campaign. That includes prodding Selina to release her birth certificate, alleging that she’s lying about her age, while his aide Amy (Anna Chlumsky) seems to be channeling the combative tactics of Trump representative Kellyanne Conway during a TV interview.
Of course, “Veep” continues to occupy its own lane as the most gleefully crude show on television in terms of the dialogue, having elevated the creative insult to a kind of crass poetry. The latest episode also contains the usual broadly acerbic commentary about modern politics, with someone suggesting that America is “still a nation of laws,” to which Selina’s chief of staff Ben (Kevin Dunn) adds, “Ish.”
“Veep” has always offered a slightly exaggerated view of political expediency, where the guiding ethos has as much to do with avoiding embarrassment – and thus living to fight another day – as winning.
The lion’s share of attention directed at HBO, not surprisingly, is being devoted to the final flurry of “Game of Thrones,” which attracts roughly 10 times the audience that “Veep” delivers, even as the Emmy-winning comedy nears its finish as well. (Like CNN, HBO is a unit of WarnerMedia.)
In a Vanity Fair interview, showrunner Dave Mandel described “Veep” as a “Trump-free zone,” noting that the show was trying to get at “bigger-picture things,” instead of chasing the humor found in what just happened in the way that late-night monologues and “Saturday Night Live” do.
Still, the smaller picture, in this case, likely proved irresistible, and viewers are to be forgiven for seeing parallels between “Veep’s” latest episode and the most absurd tics of the present moment. Ish.