Admire Veep. Adore it, even. But let's agree: No show in the history of HBO, America, or the world has ever done so little with so much. It's a show about the ruling class of the wealthiest nation in the most developed period of human existence in the entire span of recorded history. So reach out your left hand and tick off your fingers—1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Now, there. You've just counted up every important decision ever made on Veep's three seasons. The verbal wit (its scaber and sabreteeth) is somehow inverse to the quality of the storytelling. Isn't it fun to be so honest, finally? To stop pretending that any of this means anything? I mean of course the Iranians don't feel that way; neither do the financial markets tethered to them. And that sweet Syrian couple, what were their names? God can you imagine? Syria? In 2014?
I do not know what watching Veep has done to me, exactly, but I think its dominant aesthetic mode is transformational, even kaleidoscopic. Characters of many different genders and ethnicities and ages convene on a central point, which turns out to be a tunnel, and then everyone comes out the other end looking like a clown. The trick, the show argues, is that not all clowns are alike. Some infinities are bigger than others. But every clown is kind of alike, when you group enough of them together and teach them how to curse.
Selina Meyer, having run a mediocre campaign prone to spontaneous combustion that could, askance, look like flashes of brilliance, is now the president of the United States following her predecessor's surprise resignation. She is still only the third-most popular presidential candidate running for the office; and it's possible her administration will be remembered as the "Snapchat presidency."
But until then! Until then she has her, UMMMM, team.
The season 3 finale is so serious in so many ways and so very, very unimportant. The juxtaposition was wildly unearned (Selina is President now!), which was fun and even daring and then kind of motion-sickening, as in the sped-up blur of everyone going to the White House you caught glimpses of all the crap that came with them. (Ugh, Jonah, who keeps growing taller and taller as more dysfunction and repulsion is stuffed into his shoulders and shoes.)
It made so much more sense when Selina was just losing, instead of this losing-but-I'm-the-President business, which is a narrative inspiration I don't think the producers are actually inspired by. They could be! This could reap wonders. But so far the only thing that's changing is the scenery. Stasis makes for better abstraction ("You have to understand that the process of governing is fundamentally mundane, too close to the enormous levers of power to have any real sense of their scale") than it does as a TV show.
Sometimes, maybe three or four times truly in Veep's run, it's been possible to think that the characters could matter to the story while still being totally worthless. I don't think now that has ever been true. None of that should be a problem—we tune in for the teeth, the appetite. But that's the show's only movement. No one goes anywhere. They just stand around taking bites out of each other.
Better to experience the hour (in two halves, "Crate" and "New Hampshire"), which had its delicious strangenesses, as carnivale, as when the Veep sat laughing in a hospice bathroom next to her bloody-faced body man, both of their heads ringing from the sudden political ascension.
Or the latest installment in the series' ongoing "Women Sadly Laughing Alone with Lightbulbs":
All of this bafflement is to say, from an entirely other perspective, that Veep will probably only crank up to 7 out of 11. Wanting it to do more, and realizing the essential weaknesses that prevent that, are not the same as not appreciating it. HBO could have scheduled something sad instead. Something with a white man. Something with frowns.
I probably would have voted for Selina Meyer in real life, I think. I do not know what I will do now.
[Images via HBO]