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“Veep” ended its Emmy-winning run on HBO May 12. Throughout the past seven seasons, pretty much everyone on the political comedy has taken aim at the idiotic and power-hungry Jonah, played by Timothy Simons. However, Selina Meyer’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) attack in the last episode takes the cake, according to Simons.
“[It’s] the worst insult she’s ever thrown my way, which was that she was ‘giving me an opportunity to be remembered for something other than the syndrome they name after me, once they cut me open to figure out what the f— you were,'” Simons said on a new edition of Variety‘s “TV Take podcast.
In the finale (spoiler alert), the morally bankrupt Selina finally gets the political position she’s always wanted — the presidency of the United States. And she asks Jonah, her incompetent and widely despised competition, to be her vice president. When he rejects the offer, she berates and slaps him into complying. As Simons reveals, Louis-Dreyfus actually hit him throughout each take.
When the show first debuted in 2012, the idea of Jonah in the VP seat would have been ludicrous, Simons said, but the political climate has changed so much now that there are no “political consequences for an action anymore.”
“If you had told me then that he would have anything close to a successful presidential run in that first or second season, I would’ve been like, ‘That’s a little bit too far,'” he says. “Since the show’s started, what counts as a career-ending gaffe has completely changed. And so that was the misdirect that I would tell people was that at the beginning of this thing, you’d have a hard time imagining he could even do it, and now, you’re going to have to convince me he’s not the frontrunner.”
When talking about the 2016 election and President Trump’s influence on the series, Simons said he certainly made it “much more cynical” and darker.
Additionally, Simons referenced a point his co-star Anna Chlumsky mentioned previously, that Trump made the show look outward, when before it was more contained in its own world.
“It was mostly navel-gazey about politicians and how self absorbed they are,” he says. “But one thing that Dave Mandel and the writers did that was smart, was if you want to keep it away from just Trump s—, then you look at the people who would be dumb enough to elect somebody like that. And so you then start aiming the camera outward a little bit and those moments come up.”
Because of that, “Veep” sometimes had to take viewers out of the show and into reality and Trump World, thereby “making the subtext very much the text.” In one episode, someone yells “kill them” when Jonah is talking about immigrants at his rally. Six hours after it aired, when Trump mentioned immigrants at an event, “somebody yells, ‘Shoot them,'” Simons says.
With reality mirroring the show so closely, Simons says it was hard coming up with ideas that wouldn’t hit too close to home.
“It was supposed to be a blown-up version that would never happen that proves an underlying point, and what would we do if we were doing an eighth season?” he says.
“Veep” has been one of the most lauded comedy series throughout its run, scoring six consecutive Emmy nominations and winning for three seasons, along with Louis-Dreyfus’ six consecutive Emmy Awards. And ultimately, Simons says the show will stand out in political depictions for its willingness to pull back the curtains and show a grimmer — but perhaps more realistic — version of politics.
“With American politics, there was always going to be a reverence for it, at any level. It was just going to be like, ‘They might make mistakes, but they are good people doing the right things for the American citizens,'” he says. “And that reverence is very much there in ‘The West Wing,’ and this was a show that had absolutely no reverence for any of it. It attached to no emotion to their narcissism or their ambitions, it was just as cynical as it could have possibly been.”
Later in the episode, critics Daniel D’Addario and Caroline Framke discuss “Game of Thrones,” and Variety’s TV team recaps the upfronts.