Both the worlds of television and the world of politics have changed a lot in the two years since “Veep” was last airing on HBO. For its seventh and final season, showrunner David Mandel says he wanted to take advantage of that change in politics to inform the storytelling.
“If you look back at the previous six seasons, so much of the show was, ‘Oh my God, this is what a politician is like behind closed doors’ — but those closed doors are gone,” he tells Variety. “So often, it was shocking how incompetent her staff is. Well, turn the TV on and you can see that. So much of the show was often her messing up and then paying a very public price for something, and I’m not sure that exists either anymore. So a lot of our bread and butter, if you will, changed.”
Heading into the final, shortened run (Season 7 consists of only an apt seven episodes), Mandel says he and his writing staff really thought of the show in modern times, not about “Oh Trump said this” but “how history will judge these years some day.”
“I definitely felt like we needed to address the fact that politics have gotten darker and that we’re living in a very pessimistic world, and in some ways the voters are to blame,” Mandel says. “Every day of my life I bump into people who are like, ‘Selina should be president,’ and I say, ‘I think you mean Julia should be president’ — and I don’t disagree — but they’re very different things.”
In the premiere episode, the former vice president-turned-brief president who is toying with running again Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) comments about being the leader of “real Americans,” which Mandel admits is a “horrific statement.” Although the comment is very much speaking to “where we are” in the country, he believes, it is also not a new idea. “It’s something that unfortunately existed in the history of American. You can go back and see it in McCarthyism, the War of 1812,” he cites, “but it’s having it’s day again.”
Despite “Veep” re-entering a landscape that is very different from the one it launched in in 2012, Mandel notes that the show can “traffic in bad behavior [and] bad candidacy” because the characters and the actors who portray them are likable. Without that key factor, he doesn’t think the show would have made it past the pilot stage.
“It does allow us to explore the dark in a really wonderful way,” Mandel says, adding that this season sees characters “pandering to the anti-vax crowd and basically being heartless about a shooting.”
In crafting the final season, Mandel admits to having a “wish list” of moments to include, including some specific story ideas, some combinations of characters not often seen with each other, some familiar faces to bring back and some jokes to get in. He also wanted to make sure to still spend time on characters’ relationships, even if they were off the campaign trail.
“There’s no perfect formula, but at the same time I’m always happy when we can find the time to see Mike’s family, and there’s more of that this season,” Mandel says. “Marjorie and Catherine, I love that relationship and I love how it’s grown, and it’s going to go through some rocky patches this year but it’s very real. Richard Splett is maybe the actual one genuinely decent character. So it allows us to have a lot of different shades and colors to the season.”
When it comes to sending off Selina, Mandel notes that sometimes what a character “thinks is a win isn’t a win” and there is ample story to mine there. But he also wanted to make sure to dig deep with her, too. “Her mom wasn’t great [and she] loved her dad but then found out her dad wasn’t such a good guy, and it’s sort of haunting her and why did she throw away so much to run for the presidency?” he points out. “Well, this is what drives her. She was made by these people; this is what they turned her into.”
Although the show has taken some dramatic turns, such as with Selina learning the truth about her father or Gary (Tony Hale) having a heart attack, the most important thing to Mandel was to end the series in a way that put the comedy first.
“What can we do to her that you’re not expecting that will make you laugh?” he says. “When we read it amongst ourselves the first time out-loud, we just knew it was it. It’s hard to explain why. It just felt like it clicked in the right way.”
The final season of “Veep” premieres March 31 on HBO.