The various presidential hopefuls might want to take a break Sunday and watch the fifth season premiere of "Veep" – not for laughs or even campaign tips, but for a gut check on whether the race for the White House is worth the heartache.
Foul-mouthed President Selina Meyer is bound for another rough ride amid an Electoral College tie that puts her smooth-talking running mate in prime position to snatch the Oval Office out from under her.
"Ma'am up," Meyer's former aide, Amy, told the weeping president during last season's election-night-set finale. "You're still the leader of the free world."
The biggest challenge for "Veep" isn't stopping the tears, but extending an impressive record of getting both funnier and more complex from season to season. Being TV's best situation comedy is a lot like being president: Somebody's always looking to take you down a peg.
The HBO Emmy-winning show, starring “Seinfeld” great Julia Louis-Dreyfus, returns with added and at least partially unexpected relevance. Hillary Clinton appears poised, like Meyer, to become the first woman to head a major party presidential ticket. The "Veep" Electoral College uncertainty doesn't seem all that far-fetched with the GOP potentially headed to an anything-can-happen convention this summer.
During her April 16 “Saturday Night Live” monologue, Louis-Dreyfus offered a mock apology as she suggested “Veep” might be responsible for the political rise of another recent host, Donald Trump: “When we started doing our show, the idea of a presidential candidate being a cursing, narcissistic buffoon was supposed to be a joke.”
"Veep,” meanwhile, keeps chugging on a strangely parallel pop-culture track with Netflix’ intrigue-engine "House of Cards," which also features a vice president, thrust into the top job after the chief executive resigns, waging a fierce election fight amid constant twists. The comedy is more realistic than the drama (we hope), but both carry a similar feeling that everything could come crashing down at any moment.
As with "House of Cards" and the real-life campaign at times, "Veep" isn't about politics as much as personalities.
Meyer's dysfunctional staff mirror and often amplify her insecurities – a dynamic that plays out most hilariously and oddly with her lackey, Gary (actor Tony Hale), of whom she said last season: “Gary has a very limited set of skills. Mainly, I would say they are picking objects up and then putting objects back down.” Louis-Dreyfus and Hale's expert comedy interplay offers a frequent source of humor driven by awkwardness (they offered a bonus performance on “SNL,” when Hale showed up in character as Gary).
Also awkward is Meyer's campaign slogan, "Continuity with Change." But it's a great goal for "Veep" as the show vies to deliver on its promise of consistently producing standout TV comedy, which everyone could use during a chaotic election season.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.