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Columns
'That's My Bush!' sends up television

Wednesday, April 04, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, heartless fascist or bleeding heart, viewers of every political stripe will be offended by Comedy Central's "That's My Bush!"

Created by the guys who did "South Park" (Trey Parker and Matt Stone), "That's My Bush!" gleefully sends up sitcom conventions along with political issues of the day. It's raunchy, dumb and often hilarious, but only those with an appreciation for the absurd and politically incorrect will laugh at the joke.

"Wow, look at you, Mrs. Bush, you look like a hooker," a housekeeper tells Laura Bush in the show's first scene, "an expensive high-class hooker."

 
 
"That's My Bush!"
When: 10:30 tonight on Comedy Central.

Starring: Timothy Bottoms, Carrie Quinn Dolin.

   
 

That gag is likely to tick off conservatives. Later, when a pro-choice leader is depicted as an overweight, butch woman, liberals will scream foul. Viewers with a sense of humor who can't stand extremists at either end of the political spectrum will have a good time throughout.

Timothy Bottoms excels in his role as George W. Bush, portrayed here as the well-meaning but bumbling leader of the free world. As in prefab sitcoms of the past, George has a long-suffering and much wiser wife, Laura (Carrie Quinn Dolin). Kurt Fuller plays the only other character with the name of a real-life person in the administration, Bush adviser Karl Rove.

The Bush daughters are nowhere to be seen, but the president's ditzy blond scheduling assistant, Princess (Kristen Miller), fills the void. Marcia Wallace (Carol on "The Bob Newhart Show") plays the White House's sassy maid. There's even a nosy neighbor, Larry (John D'Aquino).

In tonight's premiere, "An Aborted Dinner Date," George mistakenly schedules an intimate evening with his lonely wife at the same time as a dinner designed to unite pro-choice and anti-abortion leaders.

George runs back and forth between the dinner with Laura -- where a mariachi band plays their song, the theme from "Sanford & Son" -- and the abortion dinner where the butch pro-choice leader spars with the anti-abortion leader, a 30-year-old aborted fetus that managed to survive. The fetus puppet looks like a miniature Chucky from the "Child's Play" films and occasionally sounds like Cartman from "South Park."

Despite their success with the animated "South Park," Parker and Stone haven't fared as well with their live-action projects ("Orgazmo" and "Baseketball"). With its spot-on spoof of sitcoms -- complete with cheesy theme song and hooting audience reactions -- "That's My Bush!" helps erase the memory of their past failures.

But will it hold up? It's one thing to make a couple of intentionally bad sitcom episodes, but will "That's My Bush!" still be funny after a dozen installments?

Next week's episode -- George juggles an execution with a visit from his college fraternity buddies -- gets off to a slow start but later whips itself into a funny frenzy that involves another ill-conceived plan to do two things at once, and an improv comedy team.

Some viewers might cringe at the notion of any president being portrayed in a sitcom, fearing it would demean the presidency, but I'm not sure it's possible to damage the office any more than the last guy who occupied it did.

Parker and Stone have said they're more interested in skewering sitcom conventions than political ideology, which is apparent with the introduction of a George W. Bush catch phrase. The audience echoes George's refrain, "One of these days Laura, I'm gonna punch you in the face," which is sure to horrify those who don't understand it's a goof on the old "Honeymooners" lines, "To the moon, Alice!" and "Pow, right in the kisser!"

Parker, who wrote the first episode, sends up many political stereotypes but in the end doesn't take either side. In a "moral of the story" moment, Laura tells George, "Maybe you can't unite pro-life and pro-choice activists, because in a way, they're both right."

Zealots from either camp will charge the show with wishy-washiness for not taking a stand, but that's not the point. In making an intentionally bad sitcom, Parker and Stone have created a superb satire of the television genre.

'American High'

Thank you, PBS, for giving this deserving series a second chance.

When "American High" debuted on Fox last summer, it proved to be a remarkably astute docudrama about the lives of seniors at a suburban Chicago high school. But it didn't catch on in the ratings, and Fox pulled the plug after two weeks.

 
 
"American High"
When: 10 tonight on WQED.
   
 

Then stodgy PBS did the unexpected and picked up the show, adding behind-the-scenes footage. PBS will air all 13 half-hour episodes, two every Wednesday at 10 p.m. in a cycle that has the second episode from one week repeated as the first episode the next week. With the acquisition of "American High," fueled by the show's pop-punk theme song by the Bouncing Souls, PBS is considerably less doddering, thanks to the efforts of new president Pat Mitchell.

Though some PBS viewers will undoubtedly be turned off by a series about high school kids -- and shame on them -- it's truly worthwhile viewing. Not unlike a lot of adults, some of the kids are obnoxious, some are thoughtful, some are reckless, some are insecure.

Watching the first two episodes of "American High" again, as well as two episodes from later in the series, reminded me of what's most eye opening about the show: In general, the kids who seem the most screwed up have parents who are divorced.

"I'm at a loss, because I feel like I'm kind of what's left of the marriage," says Allie, crying when talking about being torn between divorcing parents.

Pablo, an intelligent kid whose mother is about to divorce her third husband, is so desperate for security he considers joining the Marines, even though he's a self-described pacifist who says he wouldn't fire a gun in wartime.

Sarah's mother spends a lot of her time with a boyfriend in the city, often leaving her home alone. No wonder Sarah is so needy when it comes to her boyfriend, Robby.

Not every kid fits this mold. Rebellious Morgan seems like he actually needs the Ritalin he's on, although he shows signs of unexpected maturity when he starts teaching gymnastics to mentally disabled teens.

"American High" is no "Dawson's Creek." It's an all-too-real look at the lives of today's teens, and it shows that head-shaking about "kids today" may be misplaced. An exasperated "Parents today!" might be more warranted.


You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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