Welcome to our new recap series for this season of the hit reality TV show American Political Theater.

This first episode starts very unevenly. The extra hired to read the Pledge of Allegiance was terrible. Really bad note to start on.

The branding is really strange. The announcers keep repeating the refrain “It’s about the voters.” Who else would it be for? The overseas market? Young children? This baffling choice is immediately followed by simply reciting a ridiculous list of sponsors. Is this the new thing we’re doing, just saying the names of the sponsors?

First, let’s go through the new characters this season:

Rick Perry, played by Adam Sandler, opens up with “Howdy”, which initiates my involuntary Howdy Reflex (found in all graduates of Texas A&M), causing me to spew the food I was chewing everywhere. I have some issues with costuming. Hipster glasses do not match the overall cowboy aesthetic, it’s a bizarre choice.

Bob Saget plays a convincing Santorum. Really had me thinking he was a flustered, tense, anxious senator who’s been faking his way through his entire political career.

Kasich, also played by Sandler in a different wig, rushes through his lines. I think he’ll be one of the first cut from the show.

Samuel L. Jackson, in excellent makeup, is perfectly cast as Lindsey Graham, an angry, emotional man of overwhelming self-assured aggressive masculinity.

Chris Christie, played by Ed Norton doing a method actor thing, appears to have run laps just before going on stage.

Ben Carson played by Owen Wilson in a relatively phoned-in performance. Seems disinterested (typical Owen Wilson). I don’t think we’ll be seeing this character in many later episodes.

Jeb Bush played by George Clooney. Convincingly portraying earnestness, Clooney seems to be improvising away from the script very skillfully. Clooney is so good you can see the middle-aged impostor swept up in a life he never chose under the surface.

Catherine O’Hara doesn’t seem to understand her character, Carly Fiorina. There were some major script problems here. It seemed like the moderator and the candidate characters were reading from different scripts. I’m not sure if this was a script mistake or an editing mistake or what.

Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, playing Bobby Jindal, the Presidential candidate. Seemed comfortable playing the character.

Scott Walker played by Jeff Goldblum. I love Goldblum but he doesn’t show a lot of range here. I much prefer over-the-top Goldblum to this version, but I suppose it’s a mismatch of actor-versus-character. This character is really wooden and uptight.

George Pataki played by Gene Hackman. Again a terribly misused actor, no passion. You can see Hackman trying to put some of that trademark piss and vinegar into the role but he keeps restraining it. It’s really a problem across the board. At this point I think the director is to blame, he must be giving them really unhelpful notes. Who directed this episode, George Lucas?

Three characters are greenscreened in, likely due to budgetary reasons:

Rand Paul, a muppet, voiced by Jim Cummings.

Ted Cruz, claymation, voiced by Denzel Washington. Washington brings his characteristic manic self-assuredness to the role.

Marco Rubio, CGI by Weta Digital. Voiced by Apple’s Siri.

The script has a lot of problems, primarily in its slow pacing and repetitiveness. The only character who gets any funny lines is Lindsey Graham, and most other attempts at humor fall pretty flat. Again, I’m not sure if this flaw should be laid at the feet of the director, the scriptwriter, or the actors themselves. The format of the show seems to be designed to simply overwhelm the viewer with strings of disconnected sentences (chunked in 30-second blocks) until the faculty of critical reasoning completely disengages and the brain simply starts making judgements entirely on the postural, facial and vocal poise of the actors. Since all of the characters are dressed and styled nearly identically, and mostly say the same things, only a truly dedicated viewer could hope to recall what was said by each character.

Plot-wise, it looks like they’re setting up an ISIS plot line, an Obamacare plot line, an immigration plot line and a vague economy/taxation plotline. Frankly this is too many threads to juggle in a 2-hour episode, and the dialog doesn’t go into any real depth. I hope this episode is just setting up these plotlines for the coming season, because these are promising hooks and I’d like to see the story take us somewhere. I’m sure the showrunners will carry us on a dramatic journey over the next several months.

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