This post contains minor spoilers through Season 6, Episode 1 of Veep.
Earlier this month, David Mandel, the current showrunner for Veep, along with several of his fellow political-TV showrunners, gave a group interview to the New York Times. The broad topic was “How to Write TV in the Age of Trump.” The conversation, soon enough, turned to the Teflonic tendencies of the current presidential administration. “Was there,” the Times columnist Jim Rutenberg asked the assembled experts, “anything that you scripted to be horrible for a character—like a huge, supposedly career-ending political bungle—that now wouldn’t be much of a problem?”
Sort of, Mandel replied. “Veep,” he said, “was based on five years of screw-ups that constantly, for lack of a better word, whacked her back down.” He was talking about the show’s protagonist, Selina Meyer, the fictional vice president, and then, briefly, the fictional president, of the United States. And the screw-ups in question were many, so many—failures of morality, often, and of professional competence of the most basic forms. Meyer’s problem wasn’t so much a single huge bungle as it was a series of them.
Mandel was being precise, though, when he said that she gets whacked back down: The ongoing joke of Veep, from its first season to its fifth, has been how thoroughly disentangled Meyer and those in her orbit have been from moral “consequences” as most people think of them. They have been whacked down, yes, but they have sprung up again. Meyer, too, has been coated in Teflon, making the experience of Veep, for the viewer, less akin to riding a roller coaster than to playing an ongoing game of Whac-a-Mole: Down-up, down-up, down-up, frenetically and ceaselessly. It’s a framing that has made Veep, despite its classification as a comedy, much more deeply cynical than Scandal or House of Cards or other tales of Washington evil ever could be: Veep’s schemers aren’t even any good at scheming—and, yet, they have ascended nonetheless, rising with blithe impunity, failing up all the way to the Oval Office. It’s a very particular kind of pessimism. Call it highilism.