Presidents, they’re just like us. Rather, they’re just like us when we pretend to like or watch things that we’re supposed to like or watch in order to sound cool or cultured in front of our friends. Or, in President Obama’s case, the nation.
Every year, more or less, the president reveals what he’s been watching on TV in a humanizing end-of-the-year interview. Rather, the president reveals what he’s been told by smart advisors, political friends, and other people who, you know, run in the kind of circle where they have the president’s ear, what he should be watching on TV. It’s not like the commander-in-chief is sitting in his Barcalounger channel surfing, or sampling a buffet of series before discerning that he does, indeed, prefer watching Homeland to The Vampire Diaries.
Yet every year we feign pleasant surprise when the president reveals that his current pop-culture obsessions don’t come in the Real Housewives or General Hospital variety, and wax on about how impressed we are that his taste instead hews pretty much exclusively to high-brow, high-pedigree, high-culture cable drama. If an entire country—no, an entire world—was staring at you waiting to hear, and then judge, what you like to watch on TV, would you not also blurt out the most generally accepted Great Show you could think of? Whether or not it was true? (Of course, this is not to say that Obama’s TV picks aren’t genuine…)
His big twilight-of-2013 confession was a particularly inspired one, presuming the intention was to reaffirm that our fearless leader still has a pulse on pop culture. Proudly claiming that he’s in the midst of binge-watching Breaking Bad is Obama’s equivalent of screaming “I DON’T LIVE UNDER A ROCK.” The biggest buzzword in pop culture this past year undoubtedly was “binge” and the biggest show of the year was undoubtedly Breaking Bad. Frankly, no show of the year was embarrassing to not watch as Breaking Bad, so Obama’s praise of the AMC drama is more a reassurance than anything else. “Don’t worry, citizens of America. I will not disappoint you as your Pop-Culture President.”
Obama’s also pretty clever in the way he talks about these shows, seizing a few broad strokes about the series that aren’t so detailed that he’d get caught in a web of lies trying to talk about them but indicate that it’s possibly true that he has seen them. Sort of like saying, “I love Homeland because Claire Danes is just so good. But that ugly cryface, amirite???” Take the president’s quippy, entirely nondescript analysis of House of Cards, another series he says he’s enjoyed this past year: “I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient. This guy’s getting a lot of stuff done.” Translation: “I know there’s a politician on that show! And he’s into hijinx!’
If you look at the different dramas that Obama has professed love for over the years, it’s almost as if he’s taken a look at the Best Drama Series nominees at the Emmys race and said, “I like these shows!” He’s raved about Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and Downton Abbey, and talked about being a fan of Mad Men. It’s really fun to read everyone’s analysis of why Obama likes all these series, as if there needs to be a psychological reason that any of us tune into a TV show other than “this is show is good and I like to watch good things.”
The New York Times ventures that Obama’s love of Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire could be because they’re “the kind of heavy, darkly rendered television that echoes that sadness and strife that make up so much of his workday.” Sure. Or maybe he just likes seeing Emilia Clarke naked. His devotion of Homeland, too, must be because the Showtime drama’s plot “offers an eerily familiar mirror to the president’s own foreign policy adventures: terrorism, Iranian, nuclear negotiations, drone strikes, and an intelligence agency struggling for legitimacy with Congress and the American policy.” C’mon. As if there’s any way the president watches the imbecilic way Carrie Matheson and the CIA handles just about everything and doesn’t LOL.
Even Obama’s crème de la crème pop-culture revelation, we all will never forget because our hearts exploded Grinch-style after he made the announcement, was that he considers The Wire to be the greatest TV show of all time. When it comes to loving TV, it doesn’t come any cooler than loving The Wire. You never miss an episode of Hot in Cleveland? It’s OK, as long as you still think The Wire was criminally underrated and might be the best thing ever put on screen. It’s actually pretty believable that Obama is a Wire fan, especially because of his convincing assertion that Omar Little is the show’s best character. Because Omar Little is the show’s best character.
But the whole Wire love fest started the poor president down a slippery slope. How does one ever top the coolness of the revelation? Apparently, by just-so-happening to love the coolest shows on TV at the time (while still running the country). It also set off that insufferable trend of psychoanalyzing the president based on his pop-culture tastes. Even David Simon, The Wire’s creator, pontificated that Obama’s love of his series stems from the way it examines social and economic struggle and injustice. Actually, David, it’s probably just because your show is so freaking good.
We may all be just tickled pink by the fact that Obama claims to be binge-watching Breaking Bad—our president likes a show about meth!—or amused at the thought of him watching Peter Dinklage in a Game of Thrones orgy. We may think it has to do with some moody pall over his administration right now. But, really, guys, it’s all kind of boring. The president probably has 20 minutes a year to watch TV. He asks one of his rich, fancy friends, “What should I watch?” Rich, fancy friend says, “Breaking Bad,” because that’s the kind of thing rich, fancy people watch. So the president likes dark cable dramas. And has since he took office.
We’re just calling bull on his insistence no one spoil Breaking Bad’s ending for him. C’mon. The spoiler-alert statute of limitations has already passed on that one, even if you are the President of the United States.