[This is a review of the Veep season 5 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
While still widely regarded as one of television’s best comedies, HBO’s Emmy darling Veep doesn’t often draw negative criticism — and for good reason. Its sharp satire, impeccable writing, and brisk pacing make it a fun and breezy watch each and every week — not to mention a hilarious peek behind the curtain of the circus that is American politics. However, if we could pick just one thing that’s been slightly bothersome about series at times, it would have to be predictability. While the show continues to take interesting turns, we can almost always safely guess that Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her incompetent staff will somehow weasel their way out of serious trouble and ultimately get their way — even if that’s by throwing a colleague under the proverbial campaign bus.
Fortunately, season 5 has been big on surprises, most of which haven’t gone in Selina’s favor (like the Nevada recount). And that new trend continued last week, when Selina failed to collect enough House votes to retain the presidency. Then, this week, the series not only confirmed its new narrative direction with Selina out of the Oval Office, but it did so in shocking fashion, with Senator Laura Montez (Andrea Savage) winning the Senate vote to secure the presidency over Senator Tom James (Hugh Laurie) in the season 5 finale, ‘Inauguration’.
Of course, this development is yet another blow to Selina, who had just finished reluctantly accepting the Veep position from Tom. So, with no job in the White House, all she’s left with is the legacy of being the only president other than FDR to have peed sitting down, along with being ranked as the 43rd most effective president of 44 — which Kent (Gary Cole) points out is only ahead of James Buchanan, who is almost universally blamed for starting the Civil War. To add even more insult to injury, we later learn that President Montez will be getting credit for freeing Tibet after negotiations with the Chinese, an achievement Selina was hoping could get her a consolatory Nobel Peace Prize.
In typical Veep fashion, all of this bad news is still played to great comedic effect; and the laughs come naturally, partly due to the episode’s witty writing, but also due to the karmic justice of it all. Considering all of the people she stepped on to acquire the highest office in the land, it’s hard to feel sorry for Selina and it’s easy to laugh at her mistakes coming back to bite her — something the episode takes full advantage of.
But at the same time, the episode did a great job of illustrating just how devastating these recent events are on its main character, as we see Selina quietly reflecting on her sudden loss of power with the Washington Monument in the background and Montez supporters cheering in the distance. For a series that rarely slows down, it was a nice change of pace (literally) to take a moment to examine the emotional toll Selina has had to weather as season 5 came to a close.
And while the episode was certainly centered around Selina and her dismay at the situation she landed in, as Veep often does, it passed the comedic ball around, giving every cast member a chance to score. Some of the highlights included Jonah (Timothy Simons) learning to enjoy the company of his new all-male intern staff and Dan (Reid Scott) quietly confirming that he’s accepted a job at CBS, not CVS (a nice callback to an earlier episode in the season). But Gary (Tony Hale) might have had the biggest standout moment, as he lambasted Selina’s entire staff for failing her — a moment Ben (Kevin Dunn) fittingly says “made the whole year worth it.”
Of course, the year that was Selina’s short-lived presidency was exceptional for all the hilarious twists and turns it took. Then, in the end, it truly broke convention by not letting Selina have her way, giving her and her staff uncertain futures instead. In a way, the season 5 finale wiped the slate clean for a new approach in season 6. Will Selina run for another office seat? Or will the show see her take some time away from politics next season? There are a number of interesting directions the show could go from here, which is a pretty good spot for Veep to be in as the veteran series is clearly demonstrating a willingness to shake things up.
Veep will return with season 6 in 2017 on HBO.
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