By the year 2000, Matt Stone and Trey Parker could do no wrong. South Park was entering its fourth season with no signs of slowing down, and one year earlier, their hit movie version of the cartoon earned them an Oscar nomination. But the greatest sign of their hold over Comedy Central and pop culture came about when they went after the leader of the free world week-to-week.
That’s My Bush, a sitcom about the political and personal shortcomings of George W. Bush, took Stone and Parker’s trust in the viewer further than anything they had done on before. They staged a sitcom that seemed to promise scathing political satire, but really just spoofed sitcoms as a whole. While “Not Without My Anus” enraged fans waiting to hear that Cartman’s mother was *spoiler alerts* transgendered, That’s My Bush hoped to subvert expectations every week, riffing on the tropes and conventions of 70s television.
The weirdest part of all: it kind of works.
“He’s the President resident, he’s kind of in charge” began the theme to That’s My Bush, a perfect representation of the show’s tone and interests. That’s My Bush melded the President’s political agenda with his personal life as an oafish family man. Parker and Stone provided George with a political and personal obligation and left it to Bush to sort out how to do both.
Unlike South Park, the show was much lighter on the surface with characters staying true to their archetypes. George, a klutzy and dim-witted leading man whose demeanor and catchphrase (“One of these days, Laura, I’m gonna punch you in the face!”) lives somewhere between Ralph Kramden and Homer Simpson, was stupid but not mean spirited. His wife, Laura, provides a rational anchor for his hijinks, gauging his schemes and generally catching him in them. Wacky neighbor Larry drops in regularly for a bad joke, not unlike Urkel or Lenny and Squiggy. The sassy know-it-all housekeeper, Maggie, plays the role you’d expect, namely Sophia from the Golden Girls, offering a snarky punch to whatever George has planned. Finally, lackey Karl Rove, surprisingly, remains true to life as a devil-worshiping monster, who in one episode sucks the dying breath from a man’s mouth.
That’s My Bush really doesn’t play like too many other shows now or then, committing fully to the parody. The jokes are laughably cheesy, and the cast gives it their all with big performances that don’t wink at the camera. In many ways, That’s My Bush feels like an extended SNL parody. Though, as far as half-hour sitcoms go, Bush resembles Brilliantly Canceled-alum Heil, Honey, I’m Home more than anything else. Like Heil, Honey, That’s My Bush hopes to turn a controversial figure into the everyman. On each show, politics turn into weightless and familiar plots that no politician can manage.
As a parody of sitcoms, That’s My Bush nails its targets. Everything from the soundtrack, character models, and sets to the laughtrack, acting, and writing understands situation comedy like the back of its hand. The jokes may be contrived, but in this context, the show gets some pretty fresh and funny laughs out of some touchy subjects.
That’s My Bush isn’t without its problems. The show’s tone has a strange effect on the viewer. Things get very dark, very quickly on That’s My Bush, and coupled with the low-stakes performances of the cast, acts of violence come off as very harsh, particularly when riffing on things like the death penalty. Bush injecting drain cleaner into a prisoner’s arm so soon after the hilarious improvisational humor of Gutbusters is a particularly hard transition.
That’s My Bush took a big dip in the ratings after the premiere and was canceled eight episodes later, because of its large budget. Though, it’s hard to imagine this show lasting very long; it was pretty funny in its short existence, even if the conceit grew tired after a few episodes. This was TV for another time, one before binge watching. And while the show did pretty well with the critics, a comedy trivializing the President in a post-9/11 world, especially with two wars on the way, would not have gone far with viewers. Still, That’s My Bush offered an interesting glimpse at how the world first saw President Bush and the laugh-a-minute presidency that could’ve been.
Matt Schimkowitz is a writer and TV watcher from New Jersey. Read more from reviews at tvsfault.wordpress.com. Follow him on the Road to the White House @borntoslug