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'Veep' review: In its final season, it's still TV's greatest comedy

Tony Hale, Sam Richardson, Reid Scott, Julia Louis-Dreyfus,

Tony Hale, Sam Richardson, Reid Scott, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gary Cole from HBO's "Veep."  Photo Credit: HBO/Colleen Hayes

SERIES "Veep"

WHEN|WHERE Season 7 premieres Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on HBO

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Helloooo Iowa, as Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) finally hits the campaign trail, with loyal lap dog Gary Walsh (Tony Hale) closely — very closely — by her side. Selina's campaign entourage includes Dan Egan (Reid Scott), who was fired off "CBS This Morning" last season; Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn), her dyspeptic campaign manager; Kent Davison (Gary Cole), her well-coiffed, eerily unflappable pollster and analyst, and Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky), still pregnant with Dan's baby. Here's a little spoiler: Leon West (Brian Huskey), that pit bull of a Washington Post reporter who tormented Selina last season, is now her press secretary. And speaking of that particular revolving door, Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh), her last spokesman, and the bumbling Boswell who ghostwrote her autobiography, is now a reporter with … wait for it … BuzzFeed.

 Meanwhile, Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) has declared his intention to run for president, too. He appears to have married since the sixth season, while his campaign staff is comprised of Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) who is also, improbably, working for Selina's campaign. Jonah also has a couple of hardened pros on his team, including Teddy Sykes (Patton Oswalt).

And another minor spoiler: Tom James (Hugh Laurie) — former senator, vice presidential nominee and Selina lover/rival is back too for this seventh -- and final -- season. 

MY SAY The plot of seventh season launch, "Iowa," pivots around two mass shootings. Not one, but two, with obviously the second (26 killed) just to plant a solid right uppercut to our collective jaw in the event that the first (6 killed) was a glancing blow.

Too soon? From-now-until-eternity too soon?

 A reminder, if needed: This is "Veep's" final season. This is "Veep." It eats words like "too soon" for breakfast, then spits 'em up and re-eats them again for lunch. This is, always was, comedy as blowtorch. Compromise, pullbacks and softened blows are for … are, well, insert a choice word or two here that Selina herself might deploy. 

But two mass shootings? For any other TV comedy, this wouldn't even rise to level of a plot question, much less plot consideration. Back in the last century, most TV comedy was engineered to anesthetize the viewer. "Veep" is, always was, the 21st century extreme opposite reaction to that — laugh at the horrors, then in the next bitter invariably hilarious instance, force us to see that we are complicit in those horrors, or specifically the political process that yields so many of them. Comedy as blowtorch, sure, and comedy as catharsis too — but more often than not, comedy as colonoscopy.

Still two? Another reminder (if needed): If "Veep" wants to secure its rightful claim as TV's greatest comedy in this, its final season, it can't pretend there's a world where such shootings don't take place, nor politicians who don't workshop craven, empty responses to them, like Selina's. "Is the shooter a Muslim or a white guy?" she asks of no one in particular. "What is better for me? White guy? OK, fingers crossed."

"Veep's" indignation has always been savage, but there's an especially brutal edge to that this season. "Veep" is out for blood — ours.

 But even great sitcoms like this run the risk of staring into the abyss too long, lest the abyss stares back, and over the next two episodes "Veep" pulls back to terra firma. Those shootings notwithstanding, all three episodes are a joyful sprint through the inanities of a presidential campaign squashed within the four borders of Iowa, where towns elect "novelty mayors" (in one of them, a dog), and where county fairs are both photo-ops and gauntlets to be run. "Guess your age and weight?" some hapless carny barks at Selina who recoils in horror while she wonders where her Secret Service detail is when she really needs it.

 "Veep" remains, as ever, a funhouse mirror distortion of the real world of political sausage-making, even though much has happened in — or to — the country over its nearly two-year absence. Have that Real World and "Veep" World drawn closer in the intervening period? Or, has the former surpassed the latter — as some fans feared it might, negating both the satire and whole point of this show?

Those might be valid concerns if "Veep" paid any attention to the Real World — or at least the real politicians in it — but it doesn't and never has. "Veep" doesn't want you to see Donald Trump in either Selina Meyer or Jonah Ryan but instead see the system that yields Donald Trump — the system of handlers, and sycophants, and turncoats, and TV vultures who swoop in for the kill or what's left of it. No one is spared, neither Democrat nor Republican."Veep's" offense — or bile — is spread evenly, widely, deeply. 

But brilliant as these three episodes are, and as hilarious as they are — subjects as diverse as minotaurs and the Major Deegan Expressway are the basis for quick one-offs in the opener that will knock you right out of your chair — what you really want to know about is Louis-Dreyfus. These intervening years have been challenging ones for her too — the death of her half-sister and a battle with breast cancer. How has her real world intruded on her performance? Not at all, if these three are indicative. As Gary would breathlessly concur — or say — she looks fabulous. Time has stood still for Louis-Dreyfus. And for Selina too: She's learned absolutely nothing over these past six seasons, and remains as vapid, vainglorious and profane as she was in her first misbegotten days as vice president.

Selina is also a comic icon for the ages. So is the comic genius who plays her.

BOTTOM LINE A joyful, wild, hilarious, insane — and darker — romp through the debasement of running for political office, as only "Veep" could imagine.

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