The Kansas City Chiefs’ playoff loss to the New England Patriots on Saturday ended our scant interest in the National Football League, and the Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ blow-out win over Indiana State University’s Sycamores satisfied our ongoing taste for college basketball by Sunday afternoon, so with nothing else to do on a cold winter night we sat down to watch the latest episode of the Democratic presidential race. Although it doesn’t get the ratings of the Republicans’ mini-series, for some reason, it’s an entertaining reality show in its own right.
Better to describe it as an alternate reality show, or perhaps as a surreality show. The tale takes place in an America where President Barack Obama is the much beloved leader of the land, his proudly eponymous Obamacare is universally regarded as a smashing success but there’s still some discussion of a more outright socialist system, the only problems with the economy are caused by a handful of top hat-wearing and moustache-twirling billionaires and Wall Street bankers who can be easily guillotined and whose vast plunder can be spread in all sorts of socially just ways, the past seven years of foreign policy have been so successful that terrorism and national security don’t merit much discussion, and a D- from the National Rifle Association is considered a scandalously good grade. The main characters are former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who plays the wicked witch with role with a gusto not seen since Margaret Hamilton was flying over Oz, and self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who plays the lovably cranky and kooky old coot next door so well he’s suddenly become the main character. There’s also former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, but not that you’d notice.
Tuesday’s night episode was set in South Carolina, which is an important plot detail. If you’ve been following the story through all it’s twists and turns you know that the lovably cranky and kooky old coot has lately been threatening to beat the wicked witch in both the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, which would seriously complicate the long foreshadowed storyline about the wicked witch’s eventual coronation, and therefore a win in the next-up state of South Carolina is all-important to her chances. There’s always a subtle racial undertone to these Democratic storylines, and those who are hip to the nuances will note that Iowa and New Hampshire are mostly comprised of white people, who seem to especially love the lovably cranky and kooky old coot, and that South Carolina is largely comprised of black people, with its Democratic primary mostly comprised of them, and that the wicked witch is assumed to be more popular with black people. The backstory for this peculiar preference is that the wicked witch once worked for the much beloved Obama, who even in reality is still much beloved by the black people of the land as the First Black President, and her husband was once the much beloved leader of the land, and was especially beloved by the black people of the land as the first First Black President, for reasons that no one can any longer recall, so they’re willing to give her a pass on wicked witchiness, and they’re no so crazy about even the most lovably cranky and kooky old coots from states comprised almost entirely of white people.
The wicked witch wasn’t taking any chances, however, and took every opportunity to ingratiate herself to the black people of her audience by associating herself with the beloved Obama. She even took umbrage that lovably cranky and kooky old coot had once dare speak ill of the First Black President, and was downright indignant that he should be so arrogant as to think he could improve on such a perfect creation as Obamacare. She also ventured from her theme to note that any attempt to do so would re-open a debate about health care, and suggested that even in the fantasy world of Democrat-land no one should want to get into all that again, which we thought a nicely subtle allusion to the reality exists just outside the show’s fourth wall. When they finally got around to talking about that terrorism and national security stuff the wicked witch heaped more praise on Obama, almost daring the lovably cranky and kooky old coot to find any fault with the past seven years of foreign policy, but he was of course able to blame it all on the hated George W. Bush, whose evil reign still lingers after seven as a bitter memory in Democrat-land. There was some talk about how many more black people go to prison than white people, a disparity which all the characters found upsetting, although we’re not sure if they intend to remedy this by letting more black people out of prison or sending more white people, especially billionaires and Wall Street bankers, into prison, and our guess is the wicked witch’s pandering on the issue probably prevailed. She also chided the lovably cranky and kooky old cot about that embarrassing D- he got from the NRA, when no self-respecting citizen of Democrat-land would ever settle for any less than a solid F, although we guess that was intended mostly for the white people of the audience.
The lovably cranky and kooky old coot got his digs in, though. It turns out the wicked witch has given speeches to and accepted large amounts of filthy lucre from many of those villainous billionaires and Wall Street bankers, and the lovably cranky and kooky old coot was just cranky enough make an issue of it. The wicked witch shot back that he had also been so sacrilegious as to criticize the much-beloved First Black President over the same sorts of arrangements, and assured the audience she would continue to wield same might sword that her beloved leader has already used to slay billionaires and Wall Street bankers with such successful “regulatory-schemes” as the Dodd-Frank law. As we say, it’s an alternate reality show, and you have to suspend disbelief to embrace its own internal logic, which we admit we haven’t fully grasped yet. The wicked witch was shrewd to use the magical Obama shield, but the loveably cranky and kooky old coot has a good point that she’s wealthy trading favors with the billionaires and Wall Street bankers who so desperately need guillotining to bring about social justice, and by now the audience is probably thinking that of the two only he is pure of heart enough to pull the lever and let the blade come down.
There was even a brief, tantalizing moment of sex scandal that couldn’t have helped the wicked witch. Probably because he realized his network’s broadcast was being routed in the ratings by whatever post-game football shows or “ultimate fighting” cage matches or other manly and somewhat realistic sporting programs were airing elsewhere on your television dial, one of the moderators strayed from the respectful script and asked about the lovably cranky and kooky old coot’s recent statement about the fact that the wicked witch’s beloved former leader and First Black President husband is a serial philanderer and predatory perv. This part of the backstory had gone unmentioned in the previous debate-format episodes, and indeed had gone largely unmentioned in the tales of Democrat-land all along, but lately the wicked witch has been trying to pander to the women people of the realm by vowing to slay all the serial philanderers and predatory pervs who still persist in the land, probably because of those billionaires and Wall Street bankers, so it can’t help sinking into the current plot. The lovably cranky and kooky old coot confessed that he had expressed a negative opinion about the wicked witch’s husband’s past behavior, but only because he had been asked, and felt obliged to respond frankly, but didn’t want to make an issue of it, what with him being more concerned about those billionaires and Wall Street bankers and social justice and all that jazz. He didn’t have make it an issue of it, of course, and we’re sure he’ll be pleased if anyone else wants to mention the matter, as we do, but he’s probably smart to act so lovably gallant about it even if it doesn’t help the ratings. Neither did he mention an ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into possible felonies committed by the wicked witch, having already said he’s damned sick and tired of hearing about potentially felonious e-mails, but the question keeps coming up in the show the wicked witch is clearly displeased to have answer and it’s a potential ratings-boosting plot twist somewhere along the line. At one point the wicked witch said that no bank should be “too big to fail” and somehow also blurted out “and no individual should be to jail,” which got an audible gasp from the audience and had us laughing loudly.
That O’Malley guy dropped in from time to time during the episode, but not that you’d notice. He’s a bit out of touch with the surreality of the showing, and even sounds downright sensible at times, too boring even for a show that won’t even exploit its obvious sex scandal angle, and his major accomplishment in office lowering crime rates in Baltimore and Maryland is somehow offensive to the black people of Democrat-Land, so we don’t see him getting much more air time.
Another off-screen villain that figured in the episode was billionaire real estate mogul and reality show star Donald Trump, formerly of “The Apprentice” but now starring on the Republicans’ presidential race, last seen tying a virginal young lass with adorable ringlets to a railroad track, whom all the characters seem eager to face in next season’s general election race show. Such a storyline would go further into surreality than the combined imaginations of Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali fortified by two tabs apiece of Owsley acid could ever reach, but given the sorry state of over-the-air network broadcasting these days that might well be what we wind up with. For those of us who prefer a more realistic and high-toned sort of drama, and especially one with a happy ending, the prospects for this show are not at all heartening.
— Bud Norman