The stinging one-liners flew from the get-go of Veep’s seventh season premiere episode, “Iowa.”
The last time audiences saw Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), the once vice president turned president turned ex-president was ditching plans for a presidential library and gearing up for another run for the oval office. Fast-forward two years since season six’s conclusion (production was on hiatus as Louis-Dreyfus underwent treatment for cancer) and the Meyer team is once again scrambling to put together a meaningful campaign announcement. On a plane to Iowa for what she believes will be here official announcement, Selina is trying to pinpoint why exactly she wants to become president again, a struggle that permeates the entire episode. Selina’s new campaign slogan is also revealed on the plane: “New. Selina. Now.” Of course, the tagline becomes a running joke in every instance that she claims she’s trying to be the “New Selina.” (Gary, Selina’s bag man played by Tony Hale, supportively adds the “Now” after a mishap with the plane arriving in Cedar Falls, Iowa, rather than Cedar Rapids—where her announcement is supposed to take place.)
Along with jaded political strategist Ken (Gary Cole) and campaign manager Ben (Kevin Dunn), the team is essentially back together. Well, with the exception of Mike (Matt Walsh), Selina’s former press secretary who is now a trail reporter with a painful quota of writing 10 news stories each day. Chief of staff, Amy (Anna Chlumsky), is dealing with an unexpected pregnancy after a one-night stand with communication director, Dan (Reid Scott), and is leaning toward keeping the child.
Following the no-go on Selina’s original announcement in Cedar Rapids, the team regroups at the campaign headquarters in Des Moines. There, they gather to discuss a 500-page report Amy put together identifying problems within organization. Amy begins to list the most “egregious flaws” of the last campaign, and begins listing off complaint after complaint circling back to Selina’s leadership. A reluctance on the part of the candidate to take responsibility for mistakes, a culture of blame, and an unwillingness to discuss strategies with staff were just a few of the top findings. “What dumb asshole said that?” remarked Selina before entirely shutting down the discussion. Of course, these complaints are characteristic of the verbal abuse and gaslighting that exist at the foundation of Selina’s campaign, and more broadly, the show in its entirety.
Elsewhere in the country, former White House staffer and U.S. Representative from New Hampshire, Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons), holds a rally in Portsmouth, NH, for his presidential run. Jonah’s campaign is already filled with mishaps and disasters that would seemingly disqualify any other candidate—things like marrying his former stepsister and incorrectly announcing his “789 tax plan” due to his “dyslexia for numbers”—though it is precisely these things that give him a boost in the polls. The insincerity and lack of shame that catapults his campaign further into the limelight hits close to home for those viewers who essentially watched the same thing happen in the 2016 election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Once again, Veep is able to read the temperature of the country and seamlessly ingrain these frustrations into its plot.
The show continues to highlight the cynicism and apathy of Washington politics through one of its darker episode storylines. Beginning with the Meyer team’s meeting in Des Moines and culminating in Selina’s official statement at the Susan B. Anthony house (where she made her first presidential run announcement years ago), two mass shootings occur within a 24-hour period. The first is a school shooting in Spokane, Washington, to which Selina asks her new press secretary Leon (Brian Huskey) to come up with a statement. “Standard thoughts and prayers?” he expectantly asks. “Bullseye,” Selina inappropriately responds. Later in the episode, amid an organizational disaster before the announcement at the Anthony House, the team finds out there was a shooting at a mall in Phoenix that killed 27 people. “This could work for us?” wonders Selina. “Yes,” responds Dan. “We couldn’t possibly announce now out of the respect for victims.”
It is this kind of callous playmaking that lies at the very real center of political playmaking, and Veep delivers on its effort to reveal this very ugly side of both inaction and exploitation. Showrunner David Mandel has commented on the use of school shootings as a storyline in the season opener, saying, “What I love about the storyline is that it doesn’t judge the shootings in any way, shape or form; in some ways, quite the opposite. But it does use the shootings. [The episode's writer] Lew Morton and I made it darker and more perverse, because that’s how we were feeling. That’s what that extra year allowed us, a little bit of perspective. We're in a pessimistic time in our country right now and I think Veep needs to reflect that a little bit.”
Despite these darker threads in the episode, moments of outright hilarity persist and remind viewers why they are still tuning in even after seven years. Selina’s reference to her daughter Catherine’s child as “Little Richard” never fails to earn a laugh, nor do the endless zingers and banter shared from one character to the next (“Selina: This entire country is getting more disgusting by the second!” Kent: “That's a demo we're targeting, mostly on Facebook.”)
As the final season of Veep moves forward, the laughs will surely keep us on our toes, as will the distinctive ways in which the show uses humor to uncover the truths we must confront.
Watch Veep on HBO on Sundays at 10:30 p.m. EST.