The show's inconsistency in terms of comedy—or lack thereof—is understandably a problem of morality...
When Stephen Colbert's "Our Cartoon President" (Showtime) isn't entirely revolting, it's only mildly funny. Aside from Jeff Bergman's Donald Trump—a decent, if not admirable impression—there's little to no comedic relief strong enough to pacify the reality that there's a Cheeto-in-Chief in the White House.
As much as we all love Colbert's brand of satire and political commentary, how many Americans want to watch a Colbert-led writers' room lampoon the president and his wife? It's a sad state of affairs when watching an animation of America's president engenders melancholy (and slight disgust) more than it does entertainment. Watching "Our Cartoon President" is like being in a fever dream where everything and everyone is soaking in radioactive waste; it's a weird funhouse mirror held in front of Trump's current presidency, and it's grueling to watch simply because the real thing isn't funny at all.
It would be another story if Colbert wrote an essay or short story titled "Our Cartoon President" with illustrations—for those who desire the visual emasculation of Trump, as Colbert's cartoon anatomically does—something that critically bemoans Trump's presidency without exacerbating all the qualities that make him so vile in the first place. The thing is, watching Trump in real life is, well, unpleasant. This man, after all, represents our country, what we stand for as Americans; the very fact that he stands as our leader is absurd.
Colbert, unfortunately, doesn't nail the absurdity of his fictional universe. The jokes and puns are stale like the last piece of bread in a bag, squished to the very back of your cupboard; like stale 10-year-old saltine crackers you eat anyway because you're out of ramen; it's like any unappetizing food ever. "Our Cartoon President" is a 30-minute stomach ache, 1) on account of the intellectual labor gone into scrutinizing the very things that allowed Trump to win and, 2) because HOLY CRAP, watching Melania in bed with Trump is the saddest thing ever. Too many things are at play all at once: Melania's disgust for Trump is even more apparent in the cartoon; Trump's sons are embarrassingly infantile (seriously, it's almost cruel); Fox News offers additional exposition, in case the other jokes about Trump being awful don't land; and Ted Cruz and Mike Pence rival each other in the Creepy Olympics.
The show's inconsistency in terms of comedy—or lack thereof—is understandably a problem of morality: If you humanize Trump, you legitimize his divisive, racist, sexist, and overall, ignorant rhetoric. If you hyperbolize Trump, you essentially lessen the real-world terror of his ACTUAL presidency. Animating him and his family is the artistic equivalent of giving Chucky a soul.
Again, this project feels like revenge porn, a feverish cartoon trying to make a comedy of the man who supports militarizing American schools. Colbert wants to grab (or perhaps wring) Trump by the…umm…ears, shouting "You suck!" and instead, settles for tickling his all-American gut. The Trumpisms you've come to expect in reality are formulaic in the show: How many times can the joke be, simply, that Trump is a slouching oaf with sons who follow suit? You want to be in support of Colbert's satire, wishing this show could make you hold your sides in laughter; instead, you find yourself in the fetal position, holding your sides after a joke about Ted Cruz refusing to brush his teeth is made for the fifth time. (Folks can belabor the president in the privacy of their own homes without the assistance of a cartoon, right?)
Critically challenging the president, his team of limp benefactors, and Russia (his favorite country in the whole wide world!) should not mean ironically using Trump's trademark antagonism to subvert his presidency and emasculate him as a man. "Our Cartoon President" undeniably understands why Trump is no victor to many Americans but fails to scrutinize his cartoon supporters and the cartoon world that put him in office. If there's anything President Donald Trump has taught us as Americans—you can be gross, you can be incompetent, you can be ignorant, and you can still win.
POP⚡ DUST Score: ⚡⚡
Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.
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