Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a first ballot Hall of Famer.
From her invaluable work as Elaine Benes on “Seinfeld” to the underrated “The New Adventures of Old Christine” to six straight Emmy wins for playing Selina Meyer on “Veep,” Louis-Dreyfus is one of the most popular and honored TV performers of this or any other generation.
You could argue she’s as good as any comedic actress in television history.
I would disagree.
I would argue against making any kind of gender distinction and say Louis-Dreyfus is one of the all-time greats, period.
In the seventh and final season of HBO’s pitch-black, wickedly funny, parallel-world political satire “Veep” (which kicks off Sunday), the cynical, cruel, needy, shallow, fantastically floundering, star-crossed, groundbreaking, scandalized, marginalized, irrepressible, unstoppable but actually quite stoppable human train wreck Selina Meyer is on the campaign trail one last time, traipsing all over Iowa in a seemingly quixotic attempt to regain the presidency she once held, if ever so briefly.
No surprise, Louis-Dreyfus and one of the best ensemble casts of the 21st century are as sharp and fast and flat-out hilarious as they’ve ever been.
This show makes me laugh out loud — even when I’m equal parts in awe and appalled by a 2019 television show with the, um, brass to feature running jokes about mass shootings and abortion.
Not that “Veep” is mocking the victims of real-life mass shootings or their loved ones, nor is it making light of abortion. You’d have to be dense to see it as such.
The humor here is pointed at certain entertainingly horrible (or is it horribly entertaining) characters on this show, including a candidate and her operatives who view tragic violence through the prism of, “How does this affect the campaign and what’s the most advantageous way to publicly react?,” and an obscenely vile womanizer who takes zero responsibility when his sexual partner(s) are pregnant and has an offensively casual attitude about the entire process of getting an abortion — to the point where he’s actually familiar with surgical equipment and comments about it as if he’s checking out power tools at a hardware store.
Throughout its run, “Veep” has existed in an entirely fictional vacuum. No references to Barack Obama or Donald Trump, no stiff cameos by Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi or Lindsey Graham playing themselves. A wise choice from the start. Even as real-world politics have become increasingly bizarre, “Veep” has always been free to travel its own wacky path without the writers having to worry about how to incorporate references to the madness on CNN et al.
Based on a British sitcom (like seemingly every other great comedic show of this century), “Veep” is the ongoing chronicle of the rollercoaster life and career of Selina Meyer, a former senator from Maryland who has been vice-president, president, former president and presidential candidate; a cast of deeply dysfunctional characters, including disastrous romantic partners; a fragile and needy daughter, and various political operatives.
Just about all of these people share certain traits with Selina:
Narcissism. Selfishness. Cynicism. Opportunism. A deeply pessimistic worldview. Giant bowls full of self-loathing.
And somehow, this is the stuff of consistently brilliant, incongruously breezy, perfectly executed comedy.
The final season begins with Selina and her world-weary team on an underwhelming campaign tour in Iowa, which includes such mishaps as Selina accidentally poisoning the dog who is the mayor of a small town famous for, well, having dogs as mayors.
When there’s a rash of shootings in public places Selina fumbles to come up with a statement more profound than the obligatory “thoughts and prayers.” When going over a speech, Selina says to her staffers, “Do I really want to say I want to be president for ALL Americans?,” her expression making it clear she has nothing but disdain for a good percentage of Americans. She is relentlessly terrible to her whiny daughter Catherine (Sarah Sutherland) and her long-suffering whipping girl Amy (Anna Chlumsky).
Even as we loathe these people, we love these characters.
Timothy Simons as the impossibly stupid congressman/presidential candidate Jonah Ryan and Matt Walsh as the pathetic Mike, Selina’s former campaign manager who’s now working for Buzzfeed (“the print edition”), go for — and get — outsized laughs with broad comedic strokes.
Meanwhile, Kevin Dunn and Gary Cole as dryly cynical political veterans and Hugh Laurie as the rascally Tom James are operating in much more subtle comedic territory — but equally effective.
At the center of it all is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who remains an absolute master at the top of her game. Every line reading, every little bit of physical business, every little expression, is pure comedic gold, to be treasured and savored.