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That's My Sitcom!

Watching the first episode of That's My Bush! is a weird experience. The show is being billed as, and would appear to be, political satire; but in fact it's much more subversive. Bush! isn't satirizing politics, it's satirizing television itself. But it's doing so by being a very bad sitcom -- with a straight face. If such a thing seems impossible to you, well, you haven't seen this show.

There's also the talking fetus.

The premise could only come from the minds of the guys who brought us South Park and "Orgazmo." It is so outrageous, so bizarre, so obvious, so dumb -- in short, so unlikely to be found on television -- that it could only be birthed by midwives who also brought into the world a super-overacheiver like South Park. Apparently Trey Parker and Matt Stone have no intention of becoming faded has-beens continuing to churn out variations on their previously successful formula; they brought South Park into the world, and now they're looking for even more twisted mutants they can usher into our living rooms.

So, the premise: That's My Bush! stars Timothy Bottoms as President George W. Bush, living in the White House with his wife, Laura, played by Carrie Quinn Dolin. They have hilarious misadvantures along with their wisecracking housekeeper, Maggie (Marcia Wallace, in full Mrs. Garrett mode); Karl Rove, George's Chief Strategist (it's wonderful to see Kurt Fuller still working); Princess, George's personal secretary (a marvelously well-balanced Kristen Miller); and Larry (John D'Aquino), the Bush's wacky neighbor.

You will note an interesting mix of real people and stock sitcom characters in this description. That's what might make you think this is political satire: George W. Bush really is president, he really lives in the White House with his wife Laura, and Karl Rove really is something like his Chief Strategist (although what Karl's actual title is, I am not sure). Bottoms has been made to look rather strikingly like President Bush the Younger, Dolin resembles Laura, and Kurt -- well, he's a balding pudgy white guy with glasses, and that's about right.

And that is just about right where the political satire ends. The entire show is run on this one half-empty gas tank of a joke: Imagine if someone made a sitcom starring the President of the United States! Beyond that, there is no relation between the characters of the show and the real world. They have the same names, they look similar, and that's all.

This is where the real subversion begins. On top of this premise is layered every sitcom trope, every touchstone, every nuance you've come to expect from a poor half-hour of television. And then some. Do sitcoms have laugh tracks? Oh boy, does Bush! have a laugh track. Do audiences whistle and hoot when hot chick characters enter the scene? It sounds like feeding time at the nearest Delta Tau Delta house when Bush!'s Princess comes onstage. And sitcoms always have wacky neighbors who arrive according to the demands of the plot and help themselves to food -- even if one wonders how far away the nearest neighbor of the White House lives, and why the White House would stock beer in a fridge by the door. And sitcoms always have witty acerbic domestic help to make snide remarks undercutting the main characters.

What Parker and Stone have managed to do is find a perfect way to highlight the immense stupidity of the average sitcom as designed and built for the last thirty years or so. By slathering standard kneejerk piss-poor sitcom conventions over the thoroughly ridiculous concept of President-as-Tim Allen, they have stripped -- deconstructed and demolished -- the structure of the sitcom and shown in very bare terms just how truly impoverished and pathetic it has become. Probably no other character or real world figure could so admirably perform this function. It's the application of the Standard Sitcom Toolkit to the sitting President which is so ridiculous, and which shows, by extension, how ridiculous the Toolkit is even when used sincerely.

So watching the first episode of That's My Bush! is a weird experience, because while you are thinking, "Lordy, this is a bad show," you are also thinking, "But you know, this isn't much worse than a lot of shows I've seen which were seriously produced," and furthermore you're thinking, "How long are they going to get away with this?"

And then, as I wrote earlier, there's the talking fetus.

The talking fetus arrives like an alien from an alternate sitcom universe, like something from -- well, South Park. He's even voiced by Trey Parker and sounds a lot like Cartman. The talking fetus is Felix Harris, "anti-abortion leader," and is supposed to be literally a failed abortion, a nasty little blind fetus-like puppet with a comb-over. The puppet looks nasty and says nasty things you wouldn't expect anyone on TV to say, which is the point. The talking fetus is also the only sharp spike of true satire in the whole show, a painful and bizarre and hilarious little creature, and entirely wrong but in a good way, if you like that sort of thing.

Somehow the invasion from the planet of satire meshes perfectly with the surrounding stupidity, as if the mere Noh play conventions of a sitcom can swallow any indignity, any offense no matter how horrific; as if anything can be sanitized with canned laughter and a doubletake from a loveable protagonist.

That makes the point of the show even more strongly. I believe it was Henry Miller who wrote that one gets used to Hell, and in a way that's what makes it Hell. Likewise, I think we can say that one can get used to the sitcom form, and be lulled by it, and that's what makes it Hell.

All in all, I don't think the show can or will survive very long. I also think that's beside the point: With a show like this, I think Parker and Stone just want to get it on the record that they were able to create this show, and get it on the air, and get some people to watch it, no matter how incredibly weird it was, and tasteless, and inane. It's a one-line joke whose point is not the joke itself, but that the joke was told at all.


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