Picks and Pans Review: Hail to the Chief
Hail to the Chief is not shockingly tasteless, colossally offensive and downright rude just because it's set in the White House. Politics—including and especially Presidents—are fair game for humor. No, what makes this sitcom so retch-worthy is that it brings together a bigger collection of bigots than the one Ted Koppel and Nightline found in South Africa. Patty ("Cousins, identical cousins") Duke plays America's first woman President; she's a decent sort but her aides make Richard Nixon's crew look like choirboys. Her foreign-policy adviser, played by Herschel Bernardi, calls Iran's Ayatollah "a raghead." Okay, we've all called him worse. But then John (Animal House) Vernon as a general calls Bernardi "a hymie." And then the two of them make jokes about a black colleague's white teeth. The general rhapsodizes about nuclear weapons—"Push the button! What the hell!"—and dreams of aiming them at the Third World to "purify" the Earth. Which side was he on in World War II? Worse than any of them is Ted (That Girl) Bessell as Duke's philandering ex-astronaut husband. When he finds out that his son and an Arab boy are fighting at school, Papa Bessell says: "You let an Arab talk to you like that? Jews beat up Arabs. If they can, you can." More wisdom from the First Man: "There shouldn't be a Third World, just one world—ours." The show should have been called Fun With the Fourth Reich. The people who created Chief came, surprisingly, from work on All in the Family, Soap, Benson and Maude. But they forgot one vital element from those shows: perspective. When Archie Bunker made a bigoted crack, the people around him and the audience knew that the joke was really on him. We all knew he was a bigot; the humor was in seeing how stupid he could be about it. In just its first episode, Chief manages to lynch Jews, blacks, gays, Arabs, Indians, Russians, the Chinese, even the French. The one person who should scold these hate-mongers, putting their cracks into perspective, is Duke, but her character is too weak and wimpy; and after all, she's the one who hired or married them. So add women to the lynch list. On top of all that, here's a show that makes punch lines of first-and second-strike nuclear attacks, that has Dick Shawn as the Soviet premier vow, "I'll melt your entire country!" For the good of the country, Hail to the Chief should be nuked.
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