THE SERIES “The President Show”
WHEN | WHERE Thursdays, 11:30 on Comedy Central
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Anthony Atamanuik brings his Donald Trump impression to this weekly show, which premiered Thursday night, and will feature a “news conference,” guest interviews, and various comedy sketches. (Peter Grosz will play Mike Pence.)
MY SAY First things first. How to pronounce “Atamanuik.”
At. Ah. Man. Uck.
And second things second: Atamanuik is a veteran of improv group Upright Citizen’s Brigade, and a late night regular on “@Midnight with Chris Hardwick” over the last couple of years. Last year, his Trump impression got traction (and how -- over 7 million views) during a web-only “debate” with Bernie Sanders (played by fellow comedian James Adomian). A series of web-only sketches followed. Those also got traction. Rolling Stone called him the best Trump impersonator (Newsday’s TV critic called him a 2016 “breakout”). Then, a bizarre only-in-show-biz spat ensued. Alec Baldwin dismissed him (without naming him) during a late night talk interview.
At that point, Comedy Central knew it had a potential hit on its hands because only in show biz can a dismissal by such a prominent star as Baldwin be construed as an endorsement. In fact, Atamanuik’s Trump is remarkable, and superior to Baldwin’s in a handful of ways – chiefly the hands, which he uses to punch the air while simultaneously reaching for a word that won’t quite come. When words fail, he grabs his favorite one (“Unbelievable”). But words rarely do: Atamanuik’s Trump literally sprays them out, forming bizarre word clouds that dissipate instantly, only to be filled with new word clouds.
Plus this benefit: Atamanuik looks like Trump when in full costume. At times, it’s almost uncanny, scarily so.
“The President Show” reconfirmed all this, and reconfirmed another impression: A little bit of this impression can go an awfully long way. This opener was funny, but also a LOT – a series of jokes and sketches that would work better in a series of web shorts that fans could savor at leisure instead of all at once. Think of this another way: Would you want to see a half-hour show hosted by Doctor Evil every week? Probably not.
Opening with a news conference, Atamanuik instantly established the tone: “Wow, unbelievable. So incredible. The first show. Welcome to ‘The President’s Show.’ I’m the president and I’m also the show. That’s an incredible deal.” Later, he explains that he has turned the Oval Office into “a classic late night set ... I’ve even got a sidekick” -- pointing to Grosz. “He’s America’s answer to white rice with no salt. Mike Pence. Stand up, Mike. Sit down, Mike.”
He compared the first 100 days to the end of “Goodfellas,” when Karen (Lorraine Bracco) frantically flushes Henry’s (Ray Liotta) cocaine down a toilet: “Flush the toilet, Karen, flush the toilet, Karen.”
Pence/Grosz: “My wife’s name is Karen.”
That was followed by a segment called “Nice/Not Nice.”
Nice: “My daughter Ivanka...”
Not nice: “The German people, who booed her. Disgusting. This is the worst thing the Germans have ever done.”
He then went on a tour of “Trump’s New York,” bound by the ‘50s on the east and west side, but hesitated to go to Times Square. (“Named after the failing New York Times...”)
There was also an interview with Keith Olbermann. Why? Probably as a set up for maybe the best joke of the 21 minutes: When he asked Olbermann, formerly with ESPN (and long ago with Fox Sports) whether he missed covering sports, and keeping score, Atamanuik answered his own question:
“Isn’t it a danger we’ve turned politics into sports -- that we call it a horse race, and the problem is that we no longer have a discourse about how to elevate ourselves, but instead keep score on policies that won’t affect the common person?”
Good satire sometimes inverts audience expectations instead of reinforcing them. That was a clever, effective example of exactly that.
Like any series opener, what you see the first night is not necessarily what you’ll see the next. Shows evolve, personalities, too. This one needs to evolve into something less frantic, less packed with material -- some of it funny, some of it disposable. Atamanuik is a superb impersonator, and his Trump often trumps Baldwin’s. But he needs to take it down a notch. Then Baldwin will really have something to worry about.
BOTTOM LINE An excellent Trump impression, but a little too much of it.