While steadily entertaining television series American Politics always enjoys a sizable audience, its spin off series American Election is what really captures the hearts and minds of the viewing public every four years. Many exciting details from the 2008 season of the show still live in my memory; Barack Obama’s inspiring speech in the episode about the Democratic Convention, the subdued sadness and disappointment immaculately portrayed by the actor who played John McCain in the season finale, and most importantly, the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin—an episode I still consider to contain some of the finest comedy writing in the English language.
But all the reminiscing I’ve done about the American Election 2008 has only served to highlight how badly American Election 2012 is lacking. First of all, the character of Barack Obama was a much more effective protagonist as a plucky underdog. After four years of exposure this character has lost a lot of the sparkle that really made him leap out of the screen and into our hearts. I feel like the writers wrote themselves into a corner with how they portrayed him in the 2008 season and had to spend the next four years back-pedaling. They made the mistake of over-hyping what the next four years seasons were going to hold—like an immediate recovery from the recession, a quick, clean wrap up to the overused Iraq War sub-plot, and the end of unemployment by making playing World of Warcraft a paid profession—but then the writers realized that there was no realistic way they could have accomplished all that and still keep the show believable. And so they set about having Barack Obama actually deal with the country’s more humdrum problems (healthcare reform, repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” improving fuel efficiency standards) in terms that don’t exactly make for explosive television. Even the Iraq war ended with a whimper… I was hoping it would go out with a bang—literally. Like ending with a slow pan of a charred and radioactive wasteland that finally rests on this ambling mutated zombie-freak and you know that next season is going to be a big one. But it was not to be.
Not that they didn’t try to produce some interesting twists. There was the mid-season ratings push with the episode about finally catching Osama Bin Laden—but even that felt forced and poorly handled. Where was the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner? Where were the fighter jets? Remember how thrilling the 2001 season was? Attack on America, invasion of Afghanistan, invasion of Iraq—nonstop drama. I don’t know what they were on, but the writing staff was firing on all cylinders from the election night drama of 2001 right up until the unnerving recession sub-plot in early 2008. Those eight years made for some of the best television of all time.
Then the 2008 season pulled the whole series up to even greater heights… and I supposed one can’t resent the writers for not being able to live up to it. All I know is that American Election 2008 was water cooler fodder for months, and that American Election 2012 is hardly ever brought up. There are a few die-hard fans, but they’re the same people who got pissed when that Friends spinoff Joey got cancelled—they’re unreasonably loyal. I don’t even know who this Mitt Romney guy is, and I don’t understand why the writers expect me to care. The writer who came up with him is probably the same guy who thought up John Kerry in the 2004 season—whoever it is needs to get fired from the writing staff. Not that the stuff they’re writing for Barack Obama this season is much better. Joe Biden is always good for a laugh, but they haven’t paired him up with a good enough foil to really bring out his comedic potential.
What I’m holding out hope for is this Paul Ryan guy. I feel like the writers are being deliberately evasive about him… It’s like they’re going to have a huge reveal about him after he and Romney get elected—like he’s really a Taliban operative—or he’s the bastard son of Lee Harvey Oswald—or, and this seems most likely, he’s going to be at the head of a big fascist take-over next season and American Politics is finally going to be worth watching again.
And so I’m optimistic for the future of my favorite television program, American Politics. First of all, thanks to all my entitlements of healthcare, housing, and food, me and the rest of my fellow takers in the 47% have nothing but time to enjoy the show. But more importantly, I’ve accepted that this season of American Election is going to be more low-key than last time. However, that very subdued-ness is what is going to lead to a Romney/Ryan victory—and what will surely be at least four seasons worth of zany twists, turns, and mayhem that bring the show back to the golden age that was the George W. Bush era.