Review: ‘Our Cartoon President’ Misses a Huuuge Target

Posted February 9, 2018 4:58 p.m. EST

In the second episode of Showtime’s “Our Cartoon President,” Donald Trump (Jeff Bergman) hatches a scheme to get out of disaster-relief appearances: He hires an army of impersonators. He gets the idea while flipping channels on TV and seeing one comedian after another imitate him. His wife, Melania (Cody Lindquist), marvels, “It’s like everyone is you!”

And therein lies a problem. Who, at this point, does not have a Donald Trump? “Saturday Night Live” does, and Comedy Central does, and talk shows do, and Johnny Depp does. There are more Trump-branded spoofs, parodies and sendups than there are Trump-branded hotels.

If you’re going to enter this hall of mirrors, you’d better have a distinct, original idea about your subject. “Our Cartoon President,” an animated sitcom, seems to have none besides being a cartoon about the president.

The first two episodes, airing Sunday (the premiere is on YouTube), are grab bags of limp late-night riffs — Trump exaggerates, Trump watches TV in bed — and resistance fan fiction. Jared Kushner (Griffin Newman) ends a conversation with Ivanka (Emily Lynne) with, “We can chitchat when we’re all in prison.”

The buck stops, however, with the protagonist. There are many potential angles of imitation — Anthony Atamanuik’s Trump on Comedy Central’s “The President Show,” for instance, is a raging appetite. “Our Cartoon President” somehow manages to capture none of them.

Instead, its Trump is an oafish Peter Griffin type: a First Family Guy. In the premiere, he struggles to find an anniversary present for Melania and is harassed by his wacky neighbor Ted Cruz (James Adomian). It’s not flattering, yet the scripted one-liners, like a teleprompter speech, also give the fictional Trump a coherence that doesn’t quite ring with the real, improv Trump.

The 2001 “That’s My Bush!,” from Trey Parker and Matt Stone of “South Park,” also had a sitcom format, but its clichés had a point, drawing pre-9/11 George W. Bush as a cheerful, overmatched goofball.

The Trump of “Our Cartoon President” is a collection of animated-buffoon types. He’s hapless but harmless. He whines about presidential duties like Fred Flintstone being asked to take out the saber-toothed cat. In national security meetings, he dives for the nuclear football like the Trix rabbit.

The series does have sharp moments around the edges, including a running gag about the president’s symbiosis with “Fox & Friends.” (“Mr. President, rise and shine and I love you”) and the portrayal of Don Jr. (Gabe Gundacker) and Eric (Lynne) as eager Katzenjammer bros. Its Stephen Miller (Gundacker), an S-and-M creeper who invokes demons to help polish his speech drafts, might be the show’s one true satirical invention.

More often, “Our Cartoon President” manages to be mean and toothless at the same time. It takes vicious digs at the likes of Karen Pence (Lynne) — “like talking to a human shower curtain,” Trump says — but it’s shallow on the politics. Endeavor Content recently bought the rights to adapt Michael Wolff’s White House tell-all, “Fire and Fury,” into a TV series, but this may already be that series.

Another problem may be unavoidable: The show is just timely enough to be outdated. References to Stormy Daniels and the State of the Union seem ages old. The news can barely keep up with the news these days; how can a sitcom?

The comedy is based on a recurring “Late Show” segment in which Stephen Colbert, one of the executive producers, interviews Trump’s 2-D doppelgänger. It’s not one of his strongest bits. But it makes a visual point: Having a longtime pop-culture figure become president is surreal — a fictional drawing jumping off the screen and walking among us, as if America had elected Cap’n Crunch.

In full-on cartoon format, everyone just exists on the same flat plane. The one part of the sitcom that hints at the “Late Show” segment’s absurdism is the synth-rock closing theme, with variations on the lyric, “Is Donald Trump the president?/Yes he is/We had a vote and elected him president” — as if the singer is trying to convince himself that this is real life.

But it is real life. “Our Cartoon President” just can’t keep up with it.

— Event info:

‘Our Cartoon President’

Sundays on Showtime