Stephen Colbert has built a career by producing intelligent, biting satire about the absurdity of politics. Now more than ever, the cast of characters and events in Washington provide a constant source of material for satire, outrage and reflection. It is extremely surprising that someone with the pedigree of Colbert could produce a show that fulfills none of the three.
“Our Cartoon President” follows the life of the 45th president in a series of short animated vignettes, ranging from cabinet meetings to interactions with other politicians such as Ted Cruz (James Adomian, “Comedy Bang! Bang!”). Recurring characters also include his wife Melania (Cody Lindquist, “Improv Everywhere Originals”) as well as his sons Eric (Emily Lynne, “Friends From College”) and Donald Jr. (Gabriel Gundacker, “Sylvio”).
While there are a few funny moments dispersed throughout the show — there is an over-the-top depiction of “Fox & Friends” and an awkward encounter with John Kelly (William Sadler, “Biloxi Blues”) — “Our Cartoon President” more often feels like an overly ambitious high school project rather than a satire written by professionals. The jokes and gags, like Trump’s tendency to talk about “fake news,” are just not original anymore and serve little purpose considering that the environment around the real Trump is much more absurd. Jeff Bergman’s imitation of the president is somewhat accurate in terms of vocal inflection and tone, but in a show like this, somewhat accurate accomplishes nothing. His impression pales in comparison to Alec Baldwin’s in “Saturday Night Live,” one which is notably exaggerated yet perfectly captures the president’s uniquely ridiculous manner of speech.
Moreover, effective satire is subtle. “Our Cartoon President” has the subtlety of Mr. T’s jewelry. We get it: Ben Carson (Zach Cherry, “Spider Man: Homecoming”) looks sleepy, Jeff Sessions (William Sadler, “The Duel”) is from Ala., Melania Trump is originally from Slovenia. All of these topics have been satirized hundreds of times across various mediums, and “Our Cartoon President” simply has nothing extra to offer to each of these characterizations, especially that of Jeff Sessions.
It is frankly impossible to ascertain what the purpose of this show is. If it is actually supposed to be satirical, it tiptoes over a kiddie pool in terms of actually satirizing the administration. It simply hits the common stereotypes one after the other without doing any kind of dive into the impacts of the administration’s actions. It lacks any kind of edge brought so often by “The Colbert Report.” Possible paths to write about, including the president’s relationship with Democratic leaders, are touched upon briefly, but never actually explored. More often than not, the show doesn’t even feel like satire. The cartoon Trump is incompetent and out of his depth, but he is not actually malicious, nor is his White House, as chaos-filled as it seemingly is in real life. Ultimately, he is depicted at the least bumbling but harmless, at the most an uncomfortable “racist uncle.”
“Our Cartoon President” is not anywhere near the level of satire we are used to from figures such as Colbert and Jon Stewart. It is really just an cliché-laden, barely chuckle-inducing “goofy” family/office comedy, and if that’s what you’re in the mood for, just go watch “Family Guy.”