The Donald Trump presidency was a disgraceful disaster, what with all the grifting and colluding and treason and insurrection. Yet it was also an embarrassment of comedic riches, most of it due to Trump and company’s preternatural ability to say and do the dumbest and most ludicrous things imaginable. Sitting at a tiny desk. Complaining about toilets. Promoting bleach as a COVID cure. Remarking that George Washington “took over airports” during the Revolutionary War. Suggesting we nuke hurricanes. Drinking a bottle of water with two hands. Being laughed at by the UN General Assembly. Claiming the moon was part of Mars. Blaming windmills for causing cancer. Hugging and kissing the American flag. Wearing orange clown make-up. “Very stable genius.” “Yo-semite.” “Person, Woman, Man, Camera, TV.”
Yet of all the inane moments of Trump’s Oval Office tenure, perhaps none was more humiliating—and thus encapsulated his administration better—than the press conference held by his team on Nov. 7, 2020, four days after the presidential election. At that infamous affair, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani spoke to the media in front of a garage door at Four Seasons Total Landscaping. Since the company had zero connection to the Trump campaign, it made no sense that it would be the venue for this get-together, which was designed to give Giuliani a platform from which to spout nonsense about non-existent election fraud and the legal challenges he and his cohorts would be mounting. Nonetheless, Giuliani took to a podium in the parking lot of this seeding, irrigation, and lawn maintenance outfit and rambled on about his delusions of corruption, culminating with him raising his arms to the sky and bizarrely bellowing, “Oh, the networks!” after word spread that national TV news stations had declared Joe Biden the election’s victor.
MSNBC’s Four Seasons Total Documentary (Nov. 7) is a humorous one-year anniversary look-back at that absurd fiasco, when a nondescript company temporarily became the center of the political universe. Those in search of hard-hitting investigative journalism shouldn’t get their hopes up; director Christopher Stoudt’s half-hour documentary doesn’t ultimately get to the bottom of precisely why this press conference took place at northeast Philadelphia’s Four Seasons Total Landscaping. Yet it remains a lively portrait of the business’s brief, shining fifteen minutes of fame, and its shrewd response to being thrust into the global spotlight—the latter of which helped it become a minor, amusing 21st century American success story.
Four Seasons Total Landscaping is owned by 65-year-old Marie Siravo, who runs it alongside the youngest of her three sons, Mike, as well as Mike’s friend Sean Middleton. They’re typical working-class Philadelphians who, on camera, come across as driven, dedicated, loyal people trying to make a living at their chosen trade. Their world was turned upside down by a phone call from a Trump staffer, asking if their premises could be used for a presser; apparently, the president’s team coveted a more out-of-the-way, Republican-friendly area and audience for Giuliani in the wake of a prior incident in which spokespeople Corey Lewandowski and Pam Bondi were drowned out by disruptive downtown-Philly protesters blaring Beyoncé songs. Sensing an opportunity, they agreed, not realizing the crazy attention they were unwittingly attracting.
Four Seasons Total Documentary retraces the events of that fateful day with plentiful commentary from Marie, Mike and Sean, all of whom found it surreal to see Giuliani sitting at their desks and standing outside their facility before hordes of reporters. Some of those journalists, such as The Washington Post’s Karen Heller and The Independent’s Richard Hall, admit to having been completely baffled by the scenario, while New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi opines about the possible reasons Trump chose this establishment, which he publicized via multiple tweets. Her best guess? Either the Trump campaign thought they could get the Four Seasons hotel and, once Trump tweeted about it and the plan then fell through, they went with the next best thing name-wise, or it was a “perfect storm” of screw-ups that accidentally landed them at the place.
Regardless, no explanation is necessary in order to enjoy the hilarity of watching Giuliani make an ass of himself by semi-incoherently blathering on about fraud fantasies in front of a landscaping company’s garage—a sight so perfectly ridiculous, it’s like Veep come to real life. Four Seasons Total Documentary takes a jovial approach to this material, including the fallout from the gathering. Almost immediately afterwards, the business was inundated with emails and voicemails from angry callers (“I understand that there’s a special on bullshit this week;” “Hi, do you provide services like dismantling our democracy?”). Rather than accepting its ignominious fate, however, Four Seasons embraced its newfound celebrity, with Sean and Mike flooding social media with tongue-in-cheek memes that proved they were in on the joke, and producing merchandising that, to date, has earned them $1.5 million in sales.
None of this makes the Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference more than a marginal, if humorous, footnote in the grander tale of the insane 2020 presidential election. Fortunately, Four Seasons Total Documentary understands that, tackling its subject matter with swift lightheartedness. So too does Marie, who after briefly chatting about her backstory as an entrepreneur, asks the director, “So, is this what people want to hear about in this documentary?”