TV In The Age Of Trump: Comedy (?) Edition
Why Our Cartoon President Was A Bigger Mess Than Reality
The universal complaint from so many late night comedians was just how difficult it was to find comedy in the last four years. Even the best talents at it — Seth Meyers & John Oliver among them — found it exhausting trying to make fun of the current administration. And if those experts had so much trouble, trying to go directly at it was even worse.
I should note that trying to satirize the Presidency in comedy settings has always been difficult. During George W. Bush’s administration, Comedy Central made two attempts to try and make fun of it: Trey Parker & Matt Stone’s sitcom send-up That’s My Bush which imagined the White House as an eighties laugh-track comedy, and Little Bush which imagined Bush and his inner circle as eight year olds, a la Muppet Babies. Neither worked for the simple reason that they weren’t particularly funny. The First Family, a syndicated comedy clearly satirizing The Obamas lasted longer, but was less ambitious and not exceptionally amusing.
So expectations should have been low when Showtime premiered Our Cartoon President, a more or less direct animated satire of The Trump administration. I can only imagine that they went for it so that they could finally have Donald Trump more or less the bright orange comedians have been saying he is for his entire candidacy and time in the White House. Unfortunately, that was pretty much the high point of the whole series.
Now, I should say up front that my entire viewing experience of the series — which inexplicably has lasted three seasons — has been limited to six episodes and bits and pieces over the years. However, I think my impression of it is fair — that it may be one of the greatest wastes of time and energy in the history of Showtime and remember, this is the network that not only brought us Californication, but tried to do a spin-off of it.
Admittedly, part of the problem that it’s very hard to satirize the Trump administration. I don’t just mean the President, I mean the entire group including his family, his cabinet and his advisors. Part of the problem with that was there has been so much turnover over his term that its really hard to get used to any single parody of one. But even if there was constancy, there has been no real effort made. James Mattis was shown in a military uniform all the time may have been the most inspired thing they did, which still isn’t amusing. The storylines were haphazard at best, barely making the effort to try and satirize policy or even try to make fun of politics. What you mostly have was people shouting at the top of their lungs or acting particular stupid. I know we live in an age where subtlety is a lost art, but Our Cartoon President didn’t even try.
And this didn’t even stop with the administration itself. Nancy Pelosi was played as a woman whose couldn’t move her face because it was permanently botoxed. Mitch McConnell sounded like a turtle. Ted Cruz’s entire character seemed to be based on his saying his name over and over again. This barely qualifies as nursery school humor.
What makes this harder to understand is that this came from the mind of Stephen Colbert, who for more than two decades has been one of the most astute political satirists in history. Even if you think he’s modified his personality too much in his transition from The Colbert Report to David Letterman’s replacement, one has to admit he still has a great quality for political comedy. But there’s none of his genius here. Every joke is played at a level that is so obvious a five year old couldn’t miss it. The plots of the episodes barely would qualify as plots anywhere else. He doesn’t even try for the subtlety that The Simpsons even past its peak still has. Hell, the closing theme is just ‘Donald Trump is the President’ played over and over for a minute. It’s like the writers don’t even want to make an effort.
And in a year where we needed to laugh more than effort, this season (where the title was adapted to Who Will Be Our Next Cartoon President?) made even less of effort. I grant you it would be hard to laugh at a pandemic and economic crash, but everything they did bordered on the banal. I wouldn’t have minded that actually gone darker — given the status of the world, I would’ve appreciated it. But Trump being trained to do a fake wrestling match against the Pandemic? Susan Collins flip-flopping leading to her jumping through windows? This wasn’t offensive, it was just plain stupid.
I don’t know what idiot on Showtime’s executive board greenlit this show or who decided we needed three full seasons. But I hope someone sees the light and cancels this stinker. We didn’t need it during the Trump administration, and there isn’t nearly enough comedy in Congress to sustain it now.