Review: Our Cartoon President “Trump Tower Moscow”

I wonder if this thing is going to outlast Lil’ Bush.

Overview (Spoilers Below)

After the midterms, both United States political parties have different priorities on their respective agendas. The Republicans, spearheaded by their orange figurehead, are interested in getting Trump Tower Moscow built despite the Mueller report. Don. Jr. wants his father to follow his heart and continue the quixotic quest for his tower no matter the cost, but some of Trump’s staff think that the edifice will only bring more trouble. Trump considers their council, but—predictably—does whatever he wants anyway, revealing a romantic love for the tower (not to mention its ‘fancy restaurant’).

Meanwhile, the Democratic leadership (Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi), fresh off of their midterm victories, are bewildered to find out that they are not universally beloved leaders of the nation. The country is focused on freshman Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and her meme-heavy, socially progressive agenda. Chuck and Nancy are baffled by her tactics and find themselves caught between the two poles of pleasing their donors and actually governing. The pair decide to meet with AOC in order to find out just what makes her so special.

Trump is furious that his tower isn’t going to plan, a feeling that worsens when he finds out that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has been promised the land earmarked for the tower by Russian president Vladimir Putin. Trump calls Putin to complain, but Putin tells Trump that he has to pull the United States out of NATO if he wants the land. Trump considers this, but his cabinet advises him against it because the tower is polling incredibly poorly with the American people. Trump decides to give up on the tower altogether, but Don Jr. counsels the president to never give up, no matter what.

Around the same time, Chuck and Nancy go to a rally with Alexandria and say some actually progressive things. This causes their donors to lose faith in them, giving them a crisis of conscience. The two eventually do decide to be proper Democrats, and AOC eventually comes to respect them for it. Back at the White House, Trump takes a plane to Moscow to make his final case for the tower. He doesn’t get the land, but he does learn to take better care of himself… until Kim Jong Un calls with a tower offer of his own, and Trump is off to the races yet again.

Our Take

Viewers who keep up with American politics should have no trouble picking this one up after only a few minutes. Additionally, the series has yet to create such wacky alternate version of any one of its numerous characters that I was unable to recognize them (Think The Onion’s Diamond Joe Biden). My only trouble was occasionally forgetting some of the minor players in Trump’s cabinet, but I don’t think that much mattered. This is a good omen for the accessibility of the show to newcomers, but I am a little disappointed that the whole thing was played straight enough for me to be able to jump right in with next to no difficulty.

The series is pretty simple, Trump is a buffoon in the style of a Peter Griffin or a late-game Homer Simpson. He’s obstinate and foolish, childish and capricious, but the story frames him as someone who is—if not sympathetic—just pathetic enough to not be completely unlikable. His rotating supporting cast only seems good for whatever one-off jokes the Late Show writing staff who work on the show have in the tank.

I’m not terribly impressed with the Republican part of the show, but luckily, it seems like the writers aren’t either. The Democrat-centric B-plot is better written and more incisive than anything about their counterparts. This might just be because it’s easier to mock what you know, but I think it has more to do with the inability of satirists as a group to quite get a handle on a president who seems as if he’s already satire. They called Ronald Reagan the Teflon Don, but when it comes to good a skewering, he doesn’t hold a candle to his successor.

The main plot of this episode didn’t even make much sense. Trump is in a romantic comedy with Trump Tower Moscow, and it seems as if Jeff Bezos is the ‘other man’, as it were. But, then, who is Putin? Many of Trump’s advisers talk about the Russian dictator as if he were the other man, but Donald is firmly an object-o-phile in this portrayal. The inexactitude of the attraction (in addition to at times using homophobia to distance the audience from Trump) keeps the whole thing from coming together at the climax when Trump goes to declare his love for the Tower.

As a contrast, the AOC vs establishment Dems stuff gave me basically all of my genuine laughs for the episode. It was pretty even-handed, mocking young leftists for their lack of experience while giving it to old liberals just as hard for their lack of adherence to their purported values. While I still think much of the satire itself was very benign, on the joke level, this is obviously where the writer’s hearts are firmly located. While I am much more of an AOC fan myself, the criticisms of her and the new Congress were fair while still managing to say something.

I can see why you would want to do a Trump satire show. It must feel like it would write itself. Especially during the first year of the current administration, it feels like new headlines popped up daily. By season two, though, you do have to actually write the show. It doesn’t feel like the writers have done a lot of character work so far, at least not on the GOP side of things, and that is going to have to change if they want people to keep tuning in. That said, they seem capable of doing so, and if you don’t think this show shouldn’t exist in the first place (which I totally understand), you probably won’t turn this one off in anger.

Zach

Cartoon Philosopher

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