Veep review: To hell with the polls. Get back on the campaign trail, Meyer

A year ago, the scabrous comedy Veep seemed like a sour joke about chaotic US politics. Now it returns like an escapist parallel universe

Selina’s loyal “body man” Gary (the brilliant Tony Hale), her walking handbag, is  likely to be buried with her

Selina’s loyal “body man” Gary (the brilliant Tony Hale), her walking handbag, is likely to be buried with her

 

Just a year ago, when a female candidate for the US presidency had won the popular vote, but unfortunately not the electoral college, while a foreign power was suspected of conducting cyber attacks against the US, the scabrous political satire Veep (Sky Atlantic, Tuesday, 10.10pm) had come to seem more like a nervy fantasy.

Six months later, of course, it looked like a dire warning of what the future had in store: a pitch-black political farce with no laugh track.

Now that it returns for a sixth season, at a time when American politics have been rendered crude beyond parody, Veep seems more like an escapist parallel universe. Here, Selina Meyer (a beamingly insincere Julia Louis-Dreyfuss), the fictitious bumbling vice president who was briefly promoted to a scrabbling presidency, is now a barely remembered ex-president with no apparent legacy. That seems like an alternative universe, where moral shortcomings and political fiascos have actual consequences.

“You know what being an ex-president is like?” she asks, always ripe with grievance. “It’s like being a man’s nipple.” All political careers end in failure, but Veep’s wonderfully wry creator Armando Iannucci also imagined them beginning and progressing that way too, translating his brilliantly sour forerunners The Thick of It and In the Loop to an American context.

Since his departure, at the end of season four, the show has become slightly coarser, revelling in bad taste and the narrative trajectory of a professional prattfall, tilting towards a political afterlife that makes Meyer – like that nipple – surplus to requirements. “This is the worst place they’ve ever stuffed an ex-president,” Selina complains of her new offices, “and I’m including JFK’s coffin.”

The more poignant joke of the new series, though, is that neither Selina nor her staff are fit for anything else. Appearing on TV to promote memoirs of the Meyer years (“Year,” her ex-colleague Dan corrects her), Selina is always improvising a comeback, if only in her own mind. Meanwhile, the Beltway bluntness of her former staff makes her gruff chief of staff Ben, an anachronism in sterile Millennial offices, her press secretary Mike (only mildly less beleaguered and gaffe-prone than Sean Spicer), unable to hack domestic life, and, in the show’s most fascinatingly funny joke, her put-upon campaign manager Amy (Anna Chlumsky) is unable to talk dirty to her fiancé, although she co-ordinates his run for governor of Nevada with a fluently foul mouth. Selina’s loyal “body man” Gary (the brilliant Tony Hale), her walking handbag, is still by her side, likely to be buried with her.

Even the camera seems at a bit of a loss, prowling shakily through the new settings of TV studios and stand-up desks in New York, as though pining for the corridors of power, still peeping furtively through venetian blinds. The sustaining joke of the series has always been that old gag about US politics – where anyone can grow up to be vice president. Veep Meyer waged a constant, sneaky, failing battle for power without really seizing any; Prez Meyer only had it to lose; and the ex-prez is now sternly advised to break her addiction.

“There is no one who wants to see a Meyer comeback,” Selina is told. Compared to the real thing, though, for all its transparent mendacity and bumble, another Meyer campaign would be a tonic. Come back Meyers. All is forgiven.

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