President Donald J Trump. While the controversial US leader is very much alive, he’s like a ghost hovering over TV writing rooms everywhere. But how do you remain current and creatively astute at the same time?
American TV is experiencing mixed success in its effort to reflect the conversation and mood of Trump's America. Among the more interesting series to tackle Trump:
'The Good Fight'
In season two, The Good Fight tackles Trump and his administration in some surprising ways, including a plotline that sees the show’s protagonists in peril as Chicago lawyers are being picked off by disgruntled clients. It’s a pointed reference, say series creators Michelle and Robert King, to the Trump administration’s attack on the legal profession.
Meanwhile, the very elegant and normally very sensible Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) is so disconcerted with the way Trump is affecting her life, she resorts to microdosing on psychedelics.
This season, the writers have also upped the Trump satire, poking fun at his bizarre tweeting (Trump says he talks to mermaids), “Golden Shower Gate” and the Democrats’ push to impeach Trump. There’s also a laugh-out-loud gag about voice manipulation with a steamy (and bizarre) three-way phone sex session between Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Maia Rindell’s (Rose Leslie) fugitive father, Henry (Paul Guilfoyle).
So far, it’s a winningly creative approach that injects some much-needed humour into tackling the Trump era.
'Our Cartoon President'
Late-night troublemaker Stephen Colbert has spun his animated Trump skits from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert into a full-blown Showtime series of 30-minute episodes lampooning the rusty-thatched one (voiced by Jeff Bergman, Family Guy), his family and administration.
Reviews from some of America’s biggest media outlets haven’t exactly been kind. Vulture headlined its review with: “Our Cartoon President should probably be impeached.”
“You have to bring something especially smart and inventive to the table to excel in the overcrowded, increasingly stale world of Trump humour, and Our Cartoon President isn’t either one of those things,” wrote reviewer Jen Chaney.
Indeed, Colbert’s show is more silly curiosity than the type of send-up that Showtime promises will have us laughing “bigly”.
The groundbreaking sitcom has made a point of tackling social issues head-on in an insightful, entertaining way, dealing with the likes of police brutality, postpartum depression and the N-word. And it did the same with Trump’s win as the African-American Johnson family came to terms with the result, the episode airing one week before Trump’s inauguration.
In an emotionally charged monologue, father Dre (Anthony Anderson) addresses his work colleagues when one questions his loyalty to his country when he stays quiet on Trump’s victory.
“Black people wake up everyday believing our lives are gonna change even though everything around us says it’s not,” he says. “Truth be told, you ask most black people and they tell you no matter who won the election, they don’t expect the 'hood to get better.”
Particularly for a sitcom, it was a powerful moment giving a primetime voice to a marginalised one.
'Saturday Night Live'
Alec Baldwin only expected to play Donald Trump on SNL a handful of times during the 2016 election – he didn’t expect him to win. Since then, he’s been a regular fixture on the show, mercilessly taking the piss out of the president, imitating his ticks and mannerisms with pinpoint accuracy.
But Baldwin’s schtick has become stale, and in a recent appearance addressing the Parkland, Florida shootings and potential gun reform, it turned, frankly, offensive. The cold open crossed the line from satire to extremely bad taste as Baldwin made fun (yet again) of Trump’s delusions of grandeur, but at the expense of the student victims and survivors.
"The youth of America deserve to feel safe and secure in their schools because, folks, I can only run into so many schools and save everybody," said Baldwin as Trump. "If I could, I would run into all of them, even without a weapon, I'd burst through the doors and I'd be running so fast – I'm actually a very fast runner, people don't know that – I'd be running so fast, the guy with the gun wouldn't even know what hit him."
Hey SNL, Baldwin’s Trump has long jumped the shark, it’s time to retire him.
'Full Frontal with Samantha Bee'
“I honestly feel that he [Trump] has been such a disgrace to the office that I actually have no reticence whatsoever to speak truthfully about it,” Full Frontal host Samantha Bee told CBC News earlier this year.
That’s something of an understatement for a razor-sharp satirist who has not only eviscerated Trump and his administration, but also melded that with powerful political commentary and a profoundly humanist approach.
Bee recently railed against Trump and his Republican party for blaming the Parkland mass shootings on mental illness.
"If we keep screaming that he's [shooter Nikolas Cruz] crazy, everyone will forget that he did this with a gun that no one should have in the first place!" said Bee. "But most mass murderers aren't mentally ill; only about 22 percent of them are. That means the other 78 percent are just hateful a**holes."
Meanwhile, Full Frontal (airing Thursdays at 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND) will continue its “The Apology Race” (a satirical take on The Amazing Race), a global tour to apologise for Trump, by returning to Puerto Rico with an upcoming one-hour special that will canvas the effect of Hurricane Maria. In the show’s first visit earlier this year, one Puerto Rican said Trump “hasn’t done anything for us besides throwing paper towel”.
Full Frontal continues to successfully pull off a potentially uneasy mix of political satire with a sobering look at the effect of Trump’s administration, not only on Americans but the world at large.
It’s an example of how to hold viewers’ attention and combat fatigue in a Trump-drenched news cycle.
Season two of The Good Fight airs Wednesday nights at 9:40pm on SBS and can also be streamed anytime at SBS On Demand: