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Julia Louis-Dreyfus is as good as ever in the role of Selina in Veep. (HBO)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is as good as ever in the role of Selina in Veep. (HBO)

John Doyle: Still good, Veep is now less outlandish than real U.S. politics Add to ...

On Sunday’s new episode of Veep (HBO Canada, 10:30 p.m.), former U.S. president Selina Meyer says to her daughter, “I want you to tell your whore of a father that I fired the art skank.”

The context isn’t complicated. Selina has once again hooked up with her ex-husband, Andrew. It’s against her better judgment, but she likes the sex. Thing is, Andrew also likes sex with any woman in the vicinity. While Selina is having her portrait painted by a comely lady artist, Andrew gets busy seducing the artist. The revelation comes in a hilarious scene in which Andrew can’t stop Siri from reading out the artist’s erotic e-mails to him on his smartphone. So Selina dumps him again.

The new season of Veep has some excellent bits of funny business and acid commentary, but there’s no point in pulling punches about the much-loved, much-admired show – it has been overtaken by real events in Washington and is now much less hilarious.

In the fictional world of Veep, now in its sixth season, Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as good as ever in the role) is doing what ex-presidents do. Or trying to do, since her brief elevation to the presidency was accidental. That is, she wants a Selina Meyer Library and a centre for the study of something or other. This means traipsing around talking to various institutions and trying to raise money. She’s offered outrageous sums in support, but there are always nefarious strings attached.

Also, she goes abroad to inspect elections in foreign countries. In next week’s episode, this takes her to Georgia, where she greets the ruling autocrat with, “Have you jailed any good novelists lately?”

That’s a good, funny line, but Veep is now so scattered and careening between various characters that it lacks focus.

Selina’s nemesis, Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons), is now in Congress and also looking for a date. This leads to some good bits as Jonah tries, in his usual abrasive manner, to impress several women, to utterly no avail.

But it all amounts to very little satiric meat in the arena of real American politics these days. Nightly, chat-show hosts and satirists are presented with enough material about the Trump administration to fuel an entire season of Veep.

Take the case of one Don Benton, a notoriously grating former member of the assembly in the state of Washington. He ran the Trump campaign in the Pacific Northwest. By his own account, he and Donald Trump bonded when they had lunch at McDonald’s. He had the Filet-O-Fish sandwich while Trump had a Big Mac. (This is all widely reported, just look it up.) So impressed was Trump that he brought Benton to Washington and gave him a senior position at the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to a column in The Seattle Times, “What’s shocking about this isn’t Benton’s anti-green views. It’s that he has an almost perfect track record of failure and interpersonal conflict, often resulting in legal or disciplinary action, at every public position he’s held.”

When Trump eventually put Scott Pruitt in charge of the EPA, it was unclear who, exactly, was Trump’s man at the agency. Benton thought it was him.

According to The Washington Post, Pruitt stopped allowing Benton to attend meetings, “because he has piped up so frequently during policy discussions, with remarks so weird, weird, weird, they are actually humorous.” This situation, one anonymous official said, could be “likened to an episode of Veep, the HBO comedy series about a dysfunctional administration.”

There you go – American politics is now, officially, more weird and absurd than the satire offered on Veep. That’s why the series, as wonderfully crafted as it is, has become diminished by reality.

Armando Iannucci created Veep for HBO as a savage satire of ego and incompetence inside the White House. And it worked. When David Mandel then took over as showrunner for last year’s season, he built on Iannucci’s original model and added to it by making the language more breezily coarse and taking profanity to breathtaking new levels. It worked.

Now, with the core characters scattered and working in so many separate fields – Dan (Reid Scott) is working for CBS and hating the shallowness of TV – the workplace comedy set in the White House has evaporated.

There are still magnificent moments of comedy, especially with Gary (Tony Hale) staying on as Selina’s eye-rolling, twitchy sidekick. But the comic possibilities are lessened and, as even the show’s writers must know, the real, non-fictional world of U.S. presidential politics is so bizarre it beggars satire. Still good, Veep is now like a documentary that’s pulling its punches.

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