Some people may argue to the contrary, but a great deal of television programming has been lackluster and greatly uninspired over the last several of years. Sure, there are some bright exceptions – ranging from the Jack Bauer’s day-long adrenaline rushes to the now-retired Tony Soprano – but by and large, originality continues to dodge those looking for it. Televised sports coverage is now officially inspired by video gaming; commercials ranging from Quizno’s Subs pitchman “Baby Bob” to the Geico caveman characters are gaped and aped for potential TV greatness. And certainly, YouTube is ripe for the next round of potential “Sweeps” pillaging.
Any idea and medium, it seems, that floats to the surface is up for grabs.
Occasionally, one of these ideas stands poised to actually bare fruit. Case in point: cable juggernaut Comedy Central’s new animated series Lil Bush, which launches tonight, Wednesday, June 13 at 10:30 PM, after South Park. The show follows the rowdy doings and mischievous shenanigans of child-versions of politicos Lil’ George W. Bush and his pals Lil’ Cheney, Lil’ Condi and Lil’ Rummy (voiced by punk icon Iggy Pop). And it’s the first viral cell phone video work to make its way to TV as a regular series.
This summer, viewers will see a total of six half hour episodes, each one featuring two stories a piece. And in each interstitial, the Lil’ animated politicos kick out the jams with their Lil' band – delivering a range of classic cover tunes that are part-Archies, part-Monkees, part-Banana Splits and all completely inspired by the White House of the last six-plus years.
If the commercials are any indication, Lil’ Bush promises to be one of the campiest political satires on TV since Chevy Chase fell off a Christmas tree mocking former President Gerald Ford on Saturday Night Live. Can Lil’ Bush takes viral video to the big leagues? Both Pop and creator Donick Cary have high hopes that viewers will come away from the show thinking so.
“What I liked was there was something really human about reducing all these powerful figures to little people,” said Pop of the concept in a recent media conference call. The leader of the Stooges, who has done voiceover work for another animated show with a political bent (American Dad) says politics is not something he relishes or claims to aspire to. It’s more of that can’t-look-away-from-a-car-accident vibe for him, as it is for many Americans.
“You know, I mean if somebody puts on [Real Time with] Bill Maher,’ I’ll generally sit and watch it to the end. But I’m not flipping through the TV Guide to find out when it’s on, either. It’s something, you know, I’m in the middle somewhere. It’s kind of take it or leave it with me,” Pop said.
The appeal was a little stronger to Cary when he initiated Lil’ Bush for cell phone provider Amp’d Mobile – ironically around the same time he worked on The Naked Trucker & T-Bones Show for Comedy Central. When the network showed some interest, his foot was already in the door and the political climate was perfect.
“Think about what this administration is. They like to break stuff up, they dive head first into things, they refuse to follow anybody’s rules,” Cary told reporters on the media call. “They’re kind of… the first punk rock administration in a weird way. You know, you can literally – the vice president tells people to go F yourself and the president himself cuts himself up and smears himself with peanut butter whenever he tries to have lunch, you know?”
What separates Lil’ Bush from other Bush Administration political satire, Cary offered, is the use of animation blended with that Muppet Babies je ne sais quois. It’s also a much different political environment than when Comedy Central’s short-lived That’s My Bush (from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone) debuted their contemptuous political lampoon.
“Cartoon characters are… [they] feel a lot more harmless than live action. I mean it's always been the things that you see on The Simpsons [that] you could never do on Everybody Loves Raymond or whatever,” said Cary. “I also think that there’s so much the, you know, the tide has turned a little bit. [Bush has] 32% approval ratings… a lot of people have kind of gone ‘You know what? This guy may not be the smartest apple in the fruit basket.’ ”
Cary cited Comedy Central’s gutsiness for him not shopping the Lil’ Bush concept to other networks on the cable box — along with a surge in popularity of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report – as for why the show was perfect for the network's wheelhouse. Both were helpful when negotiating what might stay or go in an episode, should such imperial entanglements take place in the management hierarchy.
“They’re known for doing stuff that’s edgy and… taking those few risks and, you know, they do a lot of political stuff. There’s things in this that they’ve gone like, ‘Wait a minute that seems a little too edgy,’ and I can easily point out [they’ve] done something like that on South Park or The Colbert Report.” Cary added that the notes for minor changes in the writing and presentation for the show have “not been bad.”
With another six episodes in development and a cranium full of other hysterical ideas, Cary suggested that viewers should expect loads of topical commentary – everything from campaign reform, Walter Reed and Hurricane Katrina, to the War in Iraq and George W. Bush’s growing tender years are prime for a send-up. And to Cary, there are plenty of political characters to focus on when the current administration comes to an end.
Could there be a new Lil’ President show after this one? Perhaps.
“You know, all of [the candidates] appear in the show,” Cary told the throng of reporters. “This all takes place in Washington in the White House and they all go to Beltway Elementary School, where Lil’ Hillary, Lil’ John Kerry, Lil’ Barack, you know, Lil’ Al Gore… I mean, everybody’s there. They get in rivalries, they fight over stuff, they have school elections, and, you know, compete for tables in the lunchroom.”
Odds are that Cary, Pop and the animated Lil’ Bush cast won’t be stuck at the same table with “Baby Bob” and the Geico Caveman. And if they are, you can bet the Lil’ Decider will ask them to fund a war effort on lunch line Falafels and build a wall to protect the other Beltway Elementary kids from the Taco Bar.Powered by Sidelines