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COMMENTARY

Jeff Simon: The final seven satiric blasts from 'Veep'

Jeff Simon

Selina Meyer is working on her announcement speech. She's running for president again, you see. She actually became America's first woman as vice president and, briefly, president, but that's another story.

Right now, she's addressing her heroically faithful staff, about a typically Selinesque and knotty problem right at the beginning of the announcement speech she's been given to deliver. "I'm not sure about this part where it says I want to be 'president of all the people.' I mean ... do I?"

Of course, not. She's Selina Meyer, the meanest, snottiest overgrown high-school mean girl ever, the nastiest and most superficial vapidity to afflict American presidential politics.

What you have to understand is that HBO's "Veep" was invented by Armando Ianucci in 2012 when Barack Obama was president. Even then, Ianucci was inventing the show out of his previous British TV triumph "The Thick of It." It never really occurred to anyone that "Veep's" early days as a satiric nightmare on HBO, might almost seem cute to people who never imagined they'd ever actually think of the American presidency as a radioactive dumpster.

Which is to say, of course, that she is lovable in 2019. Sort of. It's just that she's played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the most honored American TV sitcom actress since Lucille Ball. (Six, count 'em, Emmys.) So when the former Veep and president hears of a new school shooting, her first thought is to wonder whether the assailant is "Muslim or white guy? ... Which is better for me?"

Consider that line. Black comedy doesn't get any blacker than that. Which is why so many will find it devastatingly funny and why "Veep" has been one of the most honored shows in TV history. Its satire goes for broke and almost always gets away with it.

That's because there was a kind of accidental career genius in Julia Louis-Dreyfus -- the former SNL star who followed up her years portraying Elaine on "Seinfeld" as an endearing klutz who was 100 percent female and "one of the guys" -- with her portrayal of Selina Meyer, the perfect political monster from the depths of superficiality, narcissism and neurosis.

So here it finally is on HBO this Sunday, one of the major TV events of 2019 -- "Veep" returns for the beginning of its seven-episode finale of its seventh season. There will be seven episodes and then "goodbye," new "Veeps" will be no more.

The reruns will, undoubtedly, be available for viewing when Malia Obama is president.

Here is not only a show that -- incredibly -- gets away with a school shooting joke ("We have to send that shooter a thank you card," she says in her gratitude to have a usable campaign issue), but in its third episode back, gets away with gentle, but very knowing jokes about abortion.

The jokes, you understand, see nothing remotely funny about the most sensitive of subjects. What they're making funny is the monstrously self-absorbed reactions of some monumentally insensitive and superficial people.

Just how dark and cynical is this new seven-episode season of "Veep?" Well, how about Kevin Dunn, playing Selina's new campaign manager in her new run, tossing off, as a comparative, that a certain candidate is "deader than democracy, man."

That presidential campaign announcement speech in the opening episode of "Veep's" return really bedevils poor Selina. "Why do I want to tell people why I want to be president?" she whines. "I don't want to hear about their jobs." She really believes, deep inside, that "America owes me an eight-year stand in the White House."

I laughed a lot watching the first three episodes of "Veep's" goodbye season, but right about here, I must confess that while I've always admired "Veep," I've never been a devotee -- certainly not like many people I know. How could I not admire a series that numbers among its creators Frank Rich, political columnist and former New York Times drama critic (a good one at that).

As always happens with the great sitcoms, "Veep's" cast turned into a perfectly tuned engine capable of prodigious comic speed and torque. Tony Hale has already won two Emmys as Selina's pathologically loyal "body man" Gary. Anna Chlumsky plays Amy, her assistant; Dunn is her campaign manager now, and Gary Cole is her analyst.

Cheektowaga's William Fichtner continues his hot streak as a sitcom guest (he was Allison Janney's boyfriend on "Mom") by playing a potential campaign investor from Colorado, a closeted former record producer.

In all truth, I have never been a TV sitcom fan. That's been true right from TV's Jurassic era. I've regularly watched a few, but never seemed to feel the way most people did. I always liked Desi, Fred and Ethel more than Lucy whom, in truth, I never loved at all. I marveled at "All in the Family" -- especially at Jean Stapleton, who, in my view, made the show work -- and I actually liked "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Cheers."  There was even a brief period when, in our new young marriage, my wife and I found ourselves watching "Hazel" re-runs because the picture came in so well. (Shirley Booth was a ham, but a virtuosic one.)

It was just about every other kind of prime time TV that I preferred to sitcoms, with their incomparably detestable laugh tracks. I always admired many of the actors, though.

Nothing is going to stop me from joining the full lamenting celebration of "Veep's" final seven episodes. After all, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has become, in her way, the ultimate queen of TV comedy as a modern era profession. Few TV stars ever become that popular and that respected at the same time.

I'm not nearly as devoted to "Veep's" final seven as many people are that I know, but I'll DVR them all to make sure I don't miss a single one. I find myself being far more grateful for it, as a series, than I ever expected to be.

How ironic that our new era proved to the world that satirists who thought they were being consummately wicked with every word and flipped eyebrow couldn't begin to keep up with Washington reality.

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