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'Lil' Bush' Downsizes the Presidency


Back now with DAY TO DAY. Tonight on TV's Comedy Central, a new series transforms the White House into a cartoon comedy. If "Lil' Bush" has a familiar ring to it, there's a reason for that. Here's TV critic Andrew Wallenstein.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: Just when you think you've seen every possible way to parody the presidency, "Lil' Bush" finds a new approach. The new Comedy Central series re-imagines the Bush administration as a group of elementary school kids. George Bush is portrayed as a tyke in short pants alongside miniaturized versions of Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld. In this scene, our title character reacts to a change in the menu at his school cafeteria.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Lil' Bush")

Unidentified Man #1 (Voice Talent): (As Lil' George) Come on, Lil' Rummy, Lil' Cheney, Lil' Condi, we can't just sit here while they take away our hotdogs. It's un-American.

Unidentified Woman (Voice Talent): (As Lil' Condi) We could petition the principal for an alternate menu.

Unidentified Man #2 (Voice Talent): (As Lil' Cheney) Or we could set the computer lab on fire.

(Soundbite of noise)

Unidentified Man #1: (As Lil' George) Wait. I've got it. It's a little unorthodox, but I think it could make them change their mind and could be kind of fun.

WALLENSTEIN: And if you're a fan of Comedy Central, you might be feeling a bit of deja vu about now. The network tried something similar. It launched the series called "That's My Bush," which skewered the White House with a different twist. Instead of a kiddie cartoon, "That's My Bush" rendered the administration as a sitcom. In this scene, the president, as played by Timothy Bottoms, has an exchange with his wife that brings to mind a classic "Honeymooners" line.

(Soundbite of TV show, "That's My Bush")

Ms. CARRIE QUINN DOLIN (Actress): (As Laura Bush) George, I know you're busy being president, but it's important to me that we finally have some intimate time alone.

Mr. TIMOTHY BOTTOMS (Actor): (As President George W. Bush) Oh, hey, now it's important to me too. We're going to have the best night since we came to D.C.

Ms. DOLIN: (As Laura Bush) Oh, thank you, George. You're the best, even if you are a clueless bastard sometimes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOTTOMS: (As President Bush) Oh, one of these days, Laura, I'm going to punch you in the face.

WALLENSTEIN: And that's why "Bush" was terrible, which was surprising because its creators were Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who know a thing or two about brilliant, socially conscious comedy, having come up with a little something called "South Park." But as I watched "Lil' Bush," which is created by former "Simpsons" writer Donick Cary, my thoughts drifted back to "That's my Bush." How could the "South Park" guys have gone so wrong?

Maybe Stone and Parker were a little too ahead of their time. You see, "That's My Bush" ran for just a few months before 9/11. Now, just think of the difference between how the administration was perceived then and now. As a result, "That's My Bush" felt more like a satire of the sitcom form than the people being depicted in that form. In contrast, "Lil' Bush" has two terms of history to feast on.

The series is teaming with references to every foible or failure of the past seven years. It's not that "Lil' Bush" is such a great show, but that there's just so much comic fodder it's hard for it to miss. If only the "South Park" guys had waited a little longer to take their shot, but it's like that old saw about the art of comedy: timing is everything.

COHEN: TV critic Andrew Wallenstein is an editor with the Hollywood Reporter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Wallenstein
Andrew Wallenstein is the television critic for NPR's Day to Day. He is also an editor at The Hollywood Reporter, where he covers television and digital media out of Los Angeles. Wallenstein is also the co-host of the weekly TV Guide Channel series Square Off. His essay on Holocaust films was published in Best Jewish Writing 2003 (Jossey-Bass), and he has also written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Business Week. He has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.
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