Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 24, 2006)
How do you top the outrageousness of South Park? With a sitcom about the new president, of course! Trey Parker and Matt Stone launched That’s My Bush! not long after President Bush’s early 2001 inauguration, and the series stirred up a lot of controversy.
Perhaps that’s why it only lasted eight episodes. Bush debuted in April 2001 and was finished by the end of May. I guess the American public didn’t want to see a spoof of the brand-new president. Those who voted for Bush would avoid a series they assumed would attack the President, while liberals who saw the show probably came away somewhat disappointed since Bush didn’t really attack W.
Indeed, Bush lacked much partisan political content. Instead, it lampooned sitcoms, not the president. It could have worked for any leader, not just Bush.
That allowed the show to work better than expected, though I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll look at all eight of the series’ shows in the order broadcast. The synopses come straight from the DVD’s packaging.
An Aborted Dinner Date (aired 4/4/01): “The President (Timothy Bottoms) is scheduled to unite the leaders of the pro-life and pro-choice movements over dinner at the White House. Unfortunately, George realizes he’s double booked, as he has a date with his wife (Carrie Quinn Dolin) that can’t be postponed.”
Bush starts on a high note with “Date”. I never saw the series when originally aired, so this was my initial encounter. I went into it with some trepidation, as I wasn’t sure Bush could overcome its goofy premise; I wondered if the show would rely simply on its main idea and go nowhere beyond that.
Maybe subsequent episodes will falter, but I really like “Date”. It lampoons many sitcom clichés – the sassy maid, the swinging neighbor, the clueless hottie – and has a great deal of fun with them. I like the fact Bush treats the series like it’s a hit already in progress. It already has a “popular” catchphrase – “I’m gonna punch you in the face!” – and the audience reacts to the characters like they’re old pals. That’s a clever way to view the new series as an established hit.
Those elements might not be enough for a good show, but there’s enough strangeness on display to allow this episode to soar. I absolutely loved Felix the anti-abortion leader. We learn that he was aborted himself 30 years ago but he survived. Of course, he remains in his fetal state. We see a puppet as Felix with a Cartman-esque voice, and those elements are hilarious. There’s plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in this strong series debut.
A Poorly Executed Plan (aired 4/11/01): “George’s old Beta Delt fraternity brothers pay him a visit at the White House the same week he is to preside over a death penalty execution. The President wants to prove to the guys that he hasn’t gone soft since their college days and invites them to join him at the execution.”
“Plan” doesn’t have anything quite as bizarrely funny as Felix the fetus, but it comes close. Bush’s goofball behavior at the “fake” execution is a hoot, and the jabs at the lame comedy improv group also add great laughs. I hate that improv crap as much as the folks behind the series, so the show’s efforts to depict the inanity of “Gut Busters” is satisfying. Add to that the moronic frat brothers and “Plan” is a solid program. It may not have anything as great as Felix, but it’s more consistent.
Eenie Meenie Miney Murder (aired 4/18/01): “The President turns to a telephone psychic for advice and is told someone he trusts has it in for him. To ensure his own safety, George outlaws guns.”
Perhaps because it doesn’t include any memorable guest characters, “Murder” turns into an average episode. Sure, we get an amusing Charlton Heston impersonation from Robert Legionaire, but there’s nothing as hilarious as Felix or the Gut Busters. The murder mystery spoof at the end amuses, but this show’s a disappointment after the terrific first pair of programs.
SDI-Aye-Aye! (aired 4/25/01): “George is frustrated because he can’t get cable in the White House. When his neighbor Larry (John D’Aquino) offers to help him install an illegal hook-up, they accidentally get the wires crossed with the anti-missile SDI system.”
“SDI” works best when it treats an assault from Austria as a goofy caper. I love the fact all their dialogue appears in German, and the silliness of that side works well. The rest of the show isn’t as good, but this still turns into a fun episode.
The First Lady’s Persqueeter (aired 5/2/01): “Laura’s 24-year-old Pum’kin is old and smelly. George realizes it’s time to put the cat to sleep but he’s afraid to talk to Laura about it. Laura notices that George isn’t as amorous as he used to be and is afraid she’s the one that’s old and smelly. While Laura tries to solve her feminine hygiene problems, George breaks Jack Kevorkian out of prison to help kill the cat.”
For the first time since the premiere episode, we get another hilariously disgusting puppet. Pum’kin the cat creates many of the show’s laughs since she’s so damned skanky. Otherwise the episode relies on that old sitcom standby: the misunderstood dialogue. Since the show uses this in a knowing way, the elements create amusement. It’s not a great program but it’s pretty fun.
Mom “E” DEA Arrest (aired 5/9/01): “George decides to get tough on drugs. The plan is to make an example of the 100-millionth drug offender by arresting him on national television. Former First Lady Barbara Bush is on hand to participate in the event and make her daughter-in-law’s life miserable. Looking to escape the tension between the two women in his life, George drops Ecstasy, mistaking it for aspirin, and the anti-drug event turns into a rave.”
“DEA” also capitalizes on another sitcom cliché: the nagging mother-in-law. Those parts amuse, largely due to the surly performance from Marte Boyle Slout as Barbara. It’s also tough not to be entertained by the sight of W tripping on E. Throw in a hilarious turn by David Norona as the arrested druggie and the show works.
Trapped in a Small Environment (aired 5/16/01): “Laura sets Karl up on a blind date – too bad he never mentioned he was married. George has enough on his plate when environmentalists show up to protest his decision to drill for oil in Alaska. Now Karl’s wife is accusing the first couple of ruining her marriage.”
Is it just me, or does is seem odd that all of the Bush actors are noticeably more attractive than their real-life counterparts? Actually, Bottoms and Dolin aren’t significantly better-looking than the actual W and Laura, but Kurt Fuller’s Karl Rove is a definite step up from the rear thing. Not that Fuller is a stud – he’s pretty average – but since the real Rove is a morbidly obese toad, Fuller comes across as Brad Pitt by comparison.
The titular concept of sticking two people in a tight spot to revolve problems isn’t quite as hoary as the clichés seen in other episodes; if it were, I don’t think the program would need to explain the concept so thoroughly. It’s still tired enough to work here, especially since “Trapped” uses it in multiple situations.
Fare Thee Welfare (aired 5/23/01): “George is forced to resign and leaves the White House for a trashy apartment and a series of dead-end jobs. Will this be the end of the line for the Bush administration, or a foundation for a spin-off?”
Bush comes to an end here. “Welfare” certainly acts as an unusual twist to conclude the series, at least given the subject matter. Of course, the story offers more of the expected sitcom clichés, though the involvement of the President makes the moves more amusing.
This just means that Bush then gets to spoof different kinds of sitcom. It goes for Jeffersons, Welcome Back Kotter, Cheers and others. It achieves its goals well, as “Welfare” offers a very entertaining conclusion to Bush.