Picks and Pans Review: Tanner '88 Marathon

updated 06/06/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/06/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

HBO (Sat., June 4, 5 p.m. ET)

A

Yes, Jack Tanner is fictional. He is the creation of writer Garry (Doonesbury) Trudeau and director Robert (The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial) Altman for their series about a man who is running for the White House. But then, aren't a lot of candidates just the figments of somebody else's imagination? So yes, Jack Tanner does look and act like a real presidential candidate in a lot of ways: He has a good smile; he's just smart enough to pass; he spews slogans more than substance...and he is an acquired taste. When Tanner's campaign and series started in February, I shrugged because—is it just me?—I was unusually bored with the real presidential race this year. But I watched the series and kept watching because I soon discovered that Tanner is trying to show us what makes the race so tedious. Tanner gives us a frighteningly authentic picture of how a race is run. Michael Murphy as Tanner does a perfect imitation of a candidate: a guy with more sincerity than sense and more teeth than ideas. But what's even more perfect is the scene around the candidate: the manic, bright, self-important, workaholic aides who mold and manipulate their man—led by Pamela Reed as campaign manager T.J. Cavanaugh—and the grousing, aggressively cynical reporters, led by Kevin J. O'Connor as Hayes Taggerty. We watch the candidate's decisions, blunders and commercials being made as Tanner takes us through all the primaries, often letting fiction cross paths with reality: Bob Dole and Bruce Babbitt both appeared here as themselves. The series is savvy, sassy, intentionally unslick, often depressing and occasionally enlightening. It is, I have come to see, a pretty amazing show. So if you too missed the Tanner bandwagon, you can jump on for this marathon presentation of the first five episodes. A new, sixth show starts on June 6 (at 10 p.m.), and the series continues through August.

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