THAT’S ALL, FOLKS
Stephen Colbert’s ‘Our Cartoon President’ Nails Trump’s Alt-Reality
By turning the president and those around him into cartoons, the new Showtime series does anything but ‘humanize’ them. Plus, watch an exclusive clip from the premiere.
The cartoon version of Donald Trump first sat down with Stephen Colbert nearly two years ago, before the real Donald Trump had even secured the Republican presidential nomination.
Combining live action with animation made for an inventive late-night segment, one the Late Show has returned to several times since, but it was hardly the funniest Trump satire Colbert had ever done. And it was difficult to imagine this animated Trump getting his own standalone series. Yet, somehow, the Colbert-produced Our Cartoon President is about to premiere on Showtime.
The biggest surprise is how hilarious it is.
On Sunday, Showtime will make the premiere episode available to stream online ahead of its official February debut, just in time for Trump’s first official State of the Union address. The pilot introduces viewers to a dizzying array of characters, with whom anyone who obsessively follows the Trump White House will already be intimately familiar.
Like any great animated show, Our Cartoon President is remarkably adept at boiling down characters to their core traits, from Trump and his family to members of his Cabinet and Congress to the Fox News personalities he spends most of his day watching.
Don Jr. and Eric are incompetent frat boys eager to please their father. Chuck and Nancy are doting parents, able to manipulate the president by dropping casual references to New York landmarks like the Staten Island Ferry and Katz’s Deli. Ted Cruz is an unhinged maniac who has never heard of toothpaste for some reason.
And at the center of it all is President Trump himself, who opens the premiere from behind his Resolute Desk with an important disclaimer. “Some people are worried that this show might humanize me,” he says. “Well, too late, folks. After my recent physical, Dr. Ronny assured me that I am a human being and there’s no cure for that.”
Those concerns about satire inadvertently “humanizing” the president have also been expressed by the country’s most visible Trump impersonator, Alec Baldwin. “Do you think we’re making him kind of too cuddly and too funny and we’re taking people’s mind off something really, really serious?” the Saturday Night Live star wondered aloud on his podcast last fall.
In the case of Baldwin, who often seems to simply parrot Trump’s latest outrage on SNL, this is a legitimate fear. Comedian Anthony Atamanuik, who plays Trump on Comedy Central’s The President Show, is far more successful at adding new insights to the president through his impression.
As voiced by veteran animation actor Jeff Bergman, who took over Bugs Bunny after the death of Mel Blanc, Our Cartoon President’s Trump falls somewhere between those two on the satirical spectrum. Instead of focusing on Trump’s public appearances, the show gives us a glimpse into the private life of the president, as illuminated by Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury.
“I think Michael Wolff stole all 10 of our episodes,” Colbert told TV critics earlier this month. “There is nothing in that book that’s not in our show and we just guessed.”
It’s true that the animated Trump we see on screen in the first episode looks a lot like the one Wolff described in his book.
We see Trump in bed with the first lady, Diet Coke in hand. “Why are you looking at me? There’s a TV in the room,” he tells her.
We see Ivanka Trump trying to convince her mother-in-law to stay in town for the State of the Union. “I know you didn’t want to come here, none of us did,” she says. “But, Hillary didn’t go to Wisconsin, so here we are.”
We even go inside Trump’s worst nightmares where the Democrats reveal Trump’s tax returns, Colin Kaepernick gets down on one knee to propose to Melania and, for some reason, Ted Cruz uses the president’s toothbrush.
But rather than only depicting Trump as his critics see him, it often feels like Our Cartoon President is showing us the world through Trump’s eyes. This is especially true when we get to watch clips of Fox & Friends or Hannity from the president’s perspective.
In the exclusive clip below, Trump is watching his favorite morning show when the hosts inform him that he will be delivering the State of the Union address. Later, they share their scores for his first year in office. Steve Doocy and Ainsley Earhardt each dutifully deliver him 10 out of 10. Breaking from the pack, however, Brian Kilmeade gives Trump a nine, “because part of my brain is telling me that all of this is wrong.”
That scene reflects the rare real-life moments when Kilmeade has dared to criticize something the president has said. Trump’s reaction is expectedly overheated: “My god, I’ve lost Kilmeade.”
Later, the cartoon Sean Hannity welcomes “the greatest sons of the greatest president in history” onto his show. “First, let me just say it’s an honor to be in the presence of what used to be Donald Trump’s sperm,” the host tells them. “Let’s start with the first question your dad told me to ask you: Why are you good?”
Again, as in real life, even with questions like those, Trump’s sons are unable to avoid incriminating themselves in relation to the Russia investigation.
By the end of the episode, we are treated to the State of the Union address of Trump’s wildest dreams. Speaking from inside the cab of a fire truck, he receives stadium-level applause as he promises to “take all the Time’s Up pins and melt them into guns,” threatens to nuke the world, and names Melania “national bird.”
The next morning, Trump tells his wife, “I won the State of the Union and I couldn’t have done it without you staying quiet about the porn star I paid off.”
Turning Trump and everyone around him into cartoon caricatures of themselves could easily serve to trivialize the damage they are inflicting on the country. But it is to the show’s credit that it mostly avoids that pitfall, at least in its first episode.
Instead, we are treated to one of the more damning views of Trump’s White House that we’ve seen over the past year—even if it doesn’t always rise to the satirical highs of Colbert’s best monologues.