Where can a show called “Veep” go if the main character is not only not the vice president anymore, but has already been president as well? If the series had ended with the season five finale, “Inauguration,” it would have been an unbelievably fitting close despite the sense of utter failure, and that’s because “Veep” is about failure. But what better way to continue on a story centered around that theme than by examining the aftermath of the ensemble’s biggest failure yet: not only the failure to win the presidency, but also the failure to even remain vice president after the absurd Senate vote went to rival vice presidential candidate Laura Montez (Andrea Savage) a year ago.
In the first three episodes of the sixth season that HBO offered for review, “Veep” picks up with the old crew now separated. Ex-president Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) heads the “Selina Meyer Foundation for Adult Literacy … and Aids … and the Advancement of Global Democracy” (each part aimlessly added on in succession to pad her image). Gary (Tony Hale) stands by her side, still the neglected dog who just wants love (where else could he ever be?), and Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) acts as an assistant at the foundation. Ben (Kevin Dunn) works at Uber, his crude humor combatted by the millennials in charge. Dan (Reid Scott) reports for CBS in a role not as ideal as he thought might be, and Amy (Anna Chlumsky) runs now-fiancé Buddy Calhoun’s (Matt Oberg) campaign for governor of Nevada.
And in gut-punching ironic fashion, Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) is the most politically powerful of the bunch, still serving as a New Hampshire congressman even after battling cancer. But wait, he’s recovered completely and is now faking it to maintain his influence. That’s better — every single character is still as despicable and foul-mouthed as before.
The glaring challenge that the series had to tackle as soon as a sixth season was announced was the complete change of setting and context. Without Washington D.C. as a backdrop, “Veep” is, quite honestly, a different kind of show. Instead of constantly failing, but still somehow falling into success regardless, Selina Meyer is dealing with repercussions for once. Understandably, the first episode stumbles a bit with how it handles its low stakes — why should we care about what she does after?
But that’s about all the series struggles with. Even during low stakes moments, the show’s trademark irreverent humor is on full display. Timothy Simons executes Jonah’s contradictory abrasive arrogance and teddybear innocence to perfection, especially during moments of the now classic rivalry between Dan and Jonah. Sam Richardson is a standout in the first three episodes, offering an expert comedic timing to Richard Splett’s commentary as the ignored moral center. And Tony Hale’s chemistry with Julia Louis-Dreyfus is at its continued peak.
“Veep” really kicks off toward the middle of the second episode when it becomes clear where the drive behind this season lies. The first episode plants the idea of legacy but is bogged down in setup after the drastic shift. The second then introduces an avenue for Selina to secure that legacy — building a presidential library in her aftermath — and thus ensues a slew of familiar failure, absurd circumstance and concerningly engaging ethical questionability. With her hopes in finding a college for her library and interested donors to fund its construction, Meyer encounters the immense doubt of her worthiness in this aftermath, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus fiercely and hysterically delivers her character’s fed-up anger and bewilderment. It’s a completely different narrative examination, but it somehow still falls upon the same vile humor we love.
Although the episodes aren’t quite the best the series has had to offer — those came last season — it’s extremely gratifying that the showrunners took the chance to mix up the formula, and held the command on their direction to pull it off. If the show builds upon this start throughout the rest of the season, “Veep” may find success with the American people where Selina Meyer couldn’t.
Season six of “Veep” premieres this Sunday on HBO.