Nixon and Kissinger in Harry Shearer's "Nixon's The One," in...

Nixon and Kissinger in Harry Shearer's "Nixon's The One," in which Shearer, playing Nixon, reenacts verbatim Oval Office conversations from the Watergate tapes. Credit:

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Prolific "Simpsons" voice Harry Shearer has staged and performed secret recordings made by Richard M. Nixon in the Oval Office during his presidency. Shearer -- with prosthetic nose and receding hairline -- plays Nixon, who's joined by H.R. "Bob" Haldeman (Demetri Goritsas), Henry Kissinger (Henry Goodman) and Rose Mary Woods (Nancy Crane). Shearer's guarantee: The dialogue is lifted, word for word, with slight changes made to auto-correct portions that were inaudible.

The last of this six-part series, which began last month, covers Nixon's denunciation of the TV networks and ends with his Aug. 9, 1974, resignation. His last words to members of his staff and camera crew as he left the Oval Office: "Merry Christmas to you."

MY SAY When Nixon died in 1994, Hunter S. Thompson, one of his many press nemeses, took the opportunity to explain in Rolling Stone how he really felt about the former president.

After Thompson stopped frothing, he offered this observation: "You had to get subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful."

Take that as a viewers' guide, should you choose to watch or browse all six episodes of "Nixon's the One." The shock of recognition here is indeed often painful, but also strange, fascinating and comical.

Looking perhaps a little more like Cyrano de Bergerac than the 37th president, Shearer nonetheless has captured him right down to the wave of his hand. The voice, the gestures, the smile -- or rictus: They're all here, and they often are flawless.

But after a while, this performance begins to leave the impression that Shearer isn't trying to parody Nixon as much as understand him, or understand what it was like to be him. The result is certainly a devastating portrait -- his paranoid ravings about "the Jews," and political enemies, and TV networks -- and a comical one, too.

Yet, at moments, it's a surprisingly human portrait as well. Perhaps that's unintentional, but Shearer's Nixon is often an isolated, lonely figure, surrounded (or beset) by sycophants and demagogues. He's typically lost or tangled in thoughts that he doesn't even seem to believe himself.

Thompson probably would hate this series -- it's too sympathetic.


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