Veep Season 7: David Mandel Discusses the Show’s Final Campaign
The final season of Veep is here, so we chat with the show's showrunner, David Mandel, about what's in store for the Selina campaign.
The White House may presently be a beacon of anxiety, but HBO’s Veep is at least still making sure that we can laugh at national politics. For the better part of the last decade, Veep has been a cornerstone of comedy for HBO as Selina Meyer and her beleaguered party try to finagle their way into the government. The series has told an engaging story that’s evolved in exciting ways over the course of its six seasons.
Now, as the series prepares for its swan song of a farewell season, Selina Meyer returns to make one last bid for the presidency and the results make this quite possibly the funniest season yet. With Veep Season 7 (the show’s final go-around) now upon us, we touch base with the show’s showrunner, David Mandel, about the direction for the show’s final year, how Tim Simons is akin to Jason Alexander, and what it means to say goodbye to Selina Meyer.
DEN OF GEEK: Was it always the plan to have Selina return to running for president again for the final year?
DAVID MANDEL: Yes, I can’t say that every single element of this season was planned out, but the overall notion when you look at my run of the show—she loses the election and the show shifts gears into this whole former President of the United States thing, her making peace with that, and then her blowing it all up in order to run again—that was definitely all sort of a master plan that goes all the way back to when I first started to sit down with HBO and Julia as I was taking over the series.
When I go into a season I always like to know what the first scene is and in some ways what the final scene or scenes are. So last year, even going into that, I knew that at the end of the season she’d do this surprise reveal where she blows up her library, she throws away the man that she may have had true happiness with, and she’s running again. Plus, Jonah’s also running. See ya in season seven.
A few years back, you were given the option of two more seasons, or one and a movie. Did you ever think about what that movie might have looked like if you had gone down that road?
What I will say there is that nobody ever said those explicit things or forced us to make choices. It was always, “Do what you want.” What they wanted us to do as we were going into season seven is that HBO just wanted to know what our plan for the rest of the show was, and they would have been good with anything, whether that was two seasons, one season, a season and an abbreviated second season, a movie…They just wanted to be able to announce the master plan, which I think makes sense.
Selina on the campaign trail is something that the series has gone through before, so was there any concern about that or to make sure that it felt different this time?
Definitely some reservations there and I’ll admit that there were one or two cases where I thought we would do something, got deeper into it, and then were like, “Actually, we’ve done too much of this kind of thing already on the show.” We had a big idea for a debate episode where it wasn’t going to be the real debate, but rather the rehearsal for the debate. And that would be the entire episode and it would have been other people playing the people. We looked back, and while we had never done that as a whole episode, we had done it enough where I was like, “Nope, not an episode.” You’ll see some debate stuff, and the information is still the same, but it’s presented quite differently.
The thing is, so much about running for President and the presidency itself has changed in the last, dare I say twelve years, but especially so in the past two years. It felt like all of the rules were different now and that it’d be interesting to deal with that. So yes, we’ve gone done this path before, but I wouldn’t have done it again if I didn’t think there was enough new material and a reason to do it.
I mean, in that respect, I love that the premiere is just Selina looking back on her past mistakes and how to not repeat history or have it come back to haunt her in this election. I love when final seasons can connect back to a show’s beginnings.
I definitely took a moment to go back and look at everything from the beginning one last time. Obviously I wasn’t there at the beginning and it was Armando [Iannucci]’s show then, but even still there was this connection there. So it was important to me as it we get closer to the end of this season to feature even more of that reflective quality of looking back. The old show informs the new show. It always has and it always will. But even when Hilary [Clinton] was running there was this whole idea about learning from the past. So even though that does apply to Selina we just take a bit of everything from what’s going on and throw it into the stew.
There are some hints here about where Selina’s love life may end up by the end of the series, but do you even think that she cares about that, especially after what she gives up in the sixth season?
I think she’s more cavalier about it. I think she’s aware of what she did. I definitely do. It’s interesting though because I think unfortunately, fundamentally, she’s an unhappy person. I think part of the reason that she’s unhappy is that she had a terrible relationship with her mother and a pretty fucked up relationship with her father. Her daughter Catherine is obviously around, but I’d argue that any other person would have fired Amy or Dan years ago and the reason that she probably doesn’t is because they’re the closest thing that she has to a family, in a weird way. Now, she would never admit that, or say that, or even think it, but on a psychological level that’s my explanation. She’s almost as codependent on them as they are on her, in an interesting way.
On some level down there I think that Selina would like to be loved, but her makeup—what makes her tic—is this desire for power, and I think she knows that. But as she goes forward and is haunted by the past, there is this sense that she’s pushed all of her chips into the middle this time.
This season sees Selina and a lot of characters thinking about the future and “growing up” in some respects, which gets to push them to compelling places.
I’m not sure if it’s growing up, but as Selina tries to make this move to the White House, people don’t know if they should be going with her and it makes them think about where they’re going with their own lives. And I think that’s natural and indicative of real life. That was important to me to get in there and I think it speaks to Armando’s vision, too.
One of the greatest things that he did was when he made the decision to bump her up to President. So now you have a show called Veep where a woman is accidentally President. That allowed me to then make her not President and to have a show called Veep about a former President of the United States. You could pick any phase of the show and you could have done eight years of that, easily. All of that was possible, but the quest is always how to keep it interesting and fresh. That doesn’t just mean to keep knocking the tables over, but it’s figuring out who these characters are and what do they want. Selina had to run again. She couldn’t not. And that speaks to the other characters, too.
This is actually a show where characters’ roles are constantly in flux and changing, which keeps it fresh.
It also just helps that that’s how the world of politics works now. There’s such a fine line between people being in politics, then on CNN, then back in politics. We’re not specifically doing a joke about those things, but it’s just a fact of life now.
As you were approaching the end of the show, did you have like a certain Selina checklist for this final season for things that you wanted to see happen to her before the end?
I didn’t necessarily have a checklist, but I definitely had odds and ends of jokes and story bits written down that I always wanted to get around to. We fit a lot of them in.
For example, one that’s coming up in episode four is that Gary Walsh, Selina’s bagman, gets the courage to ask for a bit more of a role and to be able to help out in a greater capacity. So for him, it comes from a desire to want to help her win because that’s what he wants more than anything. But that gave us the opportunity to fulfill this idea that I wanted to do for forever where Marjorie has to be Selina’s bodyperson for a day. So once we had Gary be able to go off and do this thing, she could step in and do that. This year we finally got this joke in that I love where someone asks why TIME Magazine does so many stories on if angels are real? I finally got that one in, but there are others that just didn’t happen or got taken out through final edits.
further reading: Veep Season 7 Episode 1 Review
There also has to be purpose to everything that’s done, rather than just indulging. Like we have some familiar faces return, but there are even more that we don’t bring back because we couldn’t find the right purpose. You can’t just bring people back for a goodbye. It’s got to work for story.
That’s comforting to hear because you see the alternative so often.
My lord, and not to single out any shows in particular, but when it comes to me and to Veep, it’s always: story, story, story. Character, character. Outline, outline. I don’t know what else to say.
A lot of Jonah’s material this year with his new family is so ridiculous, especially his tone-deaf obliviousness towards it all. Did you just want to put him in the biggest PR nightmare possible?
Tim [Simons] is just so good. The audience enjoys him, but I don’t think they understand how not that character Tim is in real life. I lived through this once before with Jason Alexander and how people thought he was George. I don’t think people ever properly acknowledged him in the way that they should have because he’s so not George. He’s a Broadway song and dance guy that’s playing George. Tim is the sweetest, nicest guy in the world who plays this awful man-creature. But he’s so fun to write for and it gives us a chance to make him be the worst of a certain kind of politician, but this screwed up storyline with his family does show progress for him, too. He’s in a relationship now. It’s plot and it’s silly, but it still speaks to character, which is why I think that it works.
On the topic of Jonah, do you have a favorite Jonah insult from over the years?
One that keeps coming up for me, even though it’s not exactly an insult, is when he’s caught on the phone in the “Kissing Your Sister” documentary and says, “I’ve been eating so much pussy I’m shitting clits.” It was written by Erik Kenward and it kills me to this day. But what can I tell you? I love them all.
I was initially a little disappointed when I saw that the season was only seven episodes, but you guys cram so much into them.
And as the season goes on you’ll see that the episodes are more and more of a full 30 minutes. They start to get longer, but I’m just jamming in as much as I can.
You guys have such a good relationship with HBO that I’m sure you’d be allowed few minutes of leeway.
DWe definitely will, but the speed helps, too. Back in the Seinfeld days we did a really great one-hour Keith Hernandez episode, but we did two other one-hour episodes and they aren’t as good. That’s the fear.
On the topic of Seinfeld and Larry David, with Veep now over, do you see yourself returning to Curb?
I’ll always be a friend to Curb. I even popped in for a day over there to look at the first outline or two. If it could work out I would happily do another season again. I’ve always jokingly said that Larry just on and off keeps coming back to it and just dies as a 200-year old man in a wheelchair who’s making an episode of Curb. You know what I mean? But yeah, I would like to pop back over there, one way or another, even if it wasn’t full time. I love working with them.
I’ve seen jokes about potential spin-offs for the show, but are there any ideas that you could actually see working?
I’m thinking of possibly taking one of the unused Game of Thrones spin-offs and just putting Richard and Jonah into one of those. That could work. Listen, all of these are such great characters that you could see it working, but you don’t want to be After M*A*S*H.
Always a relevant thing to say.
Put that on my gravestone. “Does not want to be After M*A*S*H.
Veep’s final season airs Sundays at 10:30pm (ET) on HBO
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.