Picks and Pans Review: Spitting Image: Down and Out in the White House
NBC (Sat., Aug. 30 & Sept. 6, 9:30 p.m. ET)
Not since the first days of Saturday Night Live and not since the last week of That Was The Week That Was have we seen biting, brutal, bloody, kick-'em-while-they're-down satire on American TV. But thank goodness there's an import from Britain: Spitting Image. Last year, Cinemax showed two Spittings. Now NBC has commissioned a special two-part Americanized version. Bless 'em. Spitting Image is a puppet show for us grownups. The puppets—magnificent, life-size caricatures of the famous—are funny enough as is. But the words stuffed into their mouths make them hilarious. Ronald Reagan rides a toy train around the Oval Office going "beddy-bye" as Nancy says, "My heavens, is it the middle of the afternoon already?" Reagan is portrayed as an addled idiot who watches the air conditioner and thinks it's TV, who sips from the goldfish bowl and thinks it's soup. But in the interest of (un)fairness, Spitting Image is just as vicious about Ted Kennedy, savaging him with a drunk-driving joke. Nothing's sacred, nothing's safe. Spitting Image even bites the network that feeds it onto the airwaves, mocking Tom Brokaw's speech impediment. Everybody gets twitted: Dustin Hoffman for being a Serious Actor, Leonard Nimoy for thinking he's a Serious Actor. But there's more here than mere meanness. There's a plot. At the center of that plot is the Famous Corporation, a sinister organization that decides who's well known and who's obscure. In the words of host David Frost: "The government, the Pentagon, the church, show business, everything is under their control...except perhaps Sean Penn." The Famous Corp., led by "the Great Mentioner," Ed Mc-Mahon, decides to run Sylvester Stallone for President, then to run Reagan a third time, then to have Richard Nixon kidnap Reagan. Not every gag works—some are silly, some slightly gross—but there are still more good jokes in these two half-hours of Spitting Image than there were in the last two sad seasons of SNL. I love Spitting Image. So I was ready to twit NBC myself for not having the courage to run the series every week. But then the show's executive producer, Jon Blair, told me that NBC had considered making it a series. Blair turned NBC down because producing Spitting Image as a weekly show is just too much work: It took 14 days in the studio and five weeks afterward for these specials, plus the weeks two British writers spent locked in a New York hotel room watching American TV. But NBC does have the option to get more specials like these. And I can't wait until they do.
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