Although last season “Veep” closed — more like slammed — a door in Selina’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Seinfeld”) face, it opened another one to the possibilities following her rejection by “both the people of America and Congress.” The acclaimed comedy returns for its sixth season after Selina’s bid for the presidency took a comedically unfortunate and unintentionally realistic turn — something her character is quite familiar with. Though now she’s free to explore who she is outside of the White House, it seems that the show’s writers are still figuring out what this looks like.
While Selina’s loss unknowingly foresaw the turn the real-world election would take following its finale, this season draws on the events marking the life of a former president, taking its story away from the White House into uncharted territory for the series. Not many shows can leave audiences on the note of uncertainty that the series did in the previous season finale. “Veep” did so with the understanding that the inherent humor central to the show is Selina’s inability to get what she wants. But this left the show in a tricky spot, fragmenting its ensemble cast whose hilarity is rooted in their dynamic, and disassociating almost entirely from the political sphere in which most of its comedic action took place.
However, the season premiere does a beautiful job reintroducing its cast, newly situated in their careers following their ejection from the White House. The premiere opens on a CBS Morning interview between Selina and Dan Egan (Reid Scott, “Dean”), in which she describes the past year following her loss and her reacquaintance with herself. As she and Dan awkwardly banter, we glimpse Amy (Anna Chlumsky, “The End of the Tour”) watching from her new fiancé’s congressional campaign headquarters, before cutting to Ben (Kevin Dunn, “Code Black”) watching from the Uber office where he’s clearly the oldest and most out-of-touch employee. And from Mike’s (Matt Walsh, “Ted”) TV, we see children’s programming, marking his new life as a stay-at-home dad — though his ambition to return to work is soon revealed.
Following last season, it was unclear where Selina’s staffers would end up, but we now find them in scenarios in which their personalities are least likely to gel smoothly. Amy’s crass language is found offensive by the small-town campaign staff and Ben’s lack of a social conscience is found distasteful by the other Uber employees. Though their fundamental humor as characters is well-maintained, the desire to see them reunite is not lost.
Rather than focusing on the team’s former proximity, the new season taps into the unexplored potential of Selina’s relationships with some of the other characters — among which are her ex-husband Andrew (David Pasquesi, “Groundhog Day”), former bodyguard and new daughter-in-law Marjorie (Clea DuVall, “Argo”) and most importantly, her devoted body man Gary (Tony Hale, “Arrested Development”). Gary and Selina’s relationship, though intertwined from the start, has taken a turn into new territory, as he grows even more protective of her and becomes hilariously clingy, especially making his dislike of Andrew known.
While Gary overcompensates in his efforts to make his importance to Selina known, Selina’s own quest for relevance, something that has evaded her throughout her career, is met with just as many obstacles. Seeing Selina fall in the previous season finale was heartbreaking, but watching her try to climb back up is made even more painful by her desperation to return to her former office. At times it’s funny, like when she sits behind the desk of the Oval Office replica in President Hugh’s new presidential library in the second episode, but at others it feels like a tired joke — especially as the stakes are much lower now (what’s left to pursue after losing the highest office in the nation?).
Outside of the White House, Selina’s relentless ambition feels more like unbridled desperation, and her comeback plot feels unfocused as the series quickly diffuses her efforts to start a foundation then shuts down the possibility of her presidential library.
While she tries to secure her legacy as president, Selina is relegated to an office in the South Bronx, where her new headquarters embody her sense of being discarded from the sphere of political influence. There, she argues with Catherine (Sarah Sutherland, “Shut Up and Drive”) over her late mother’s endowment and attempts to retain what little control she has by refusing to let Marjorie call her “mom.”
Though it’s all still funny, especially in the events following the season premiere — including Jonah’s failed attempt to woo his dates into the possibility of a relationship and the revelation of Andrew’s infidelity — there’s a touch of more despairing humor, possibly mirroring the dissatisfaction characterizing our nation currently.
Despite the season’s initial struggle and lack of clear direction for Selina, it’s sharply written dialogue, well of Kennedy jokes and references to Selina’s constant failure find themselves right at home again in the new season.
The sixth season of “Veep” premieres on HBO April 16th.