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Fictional Presidents You May Not Remember

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Here in the final weekend before the 2012 presidential election, figuring out who will occupy the Oval Office seems all too real. Perhaps a brief respite is in order. To that end, here is a selection of fictional presidents for your politically-overloaded pleasure.

JAMES EARL JONES IN “THE MAN”

In 1972, the idea of a black president made for gripping drama. Here’s the premise for this TV movie that was released as a feature film: the President and Speaker of the House are killed, and the Vice President is in ill health and declines the job. Suddenly, the president pro tempore of the Senate – the great James Earl Jones – is president. What follows is a morality play about racial fears, idealism and political hardball. Guess who wrote the screenplay? Rod Serling.

JEFF BRIDGES IN “THE CONTENDER”

Speaking of political hardball, I greatly enjoyed this 2000 movie that had Jeff Bridges as a wily Commander in Chief. The film was primarily about Joan Allen as a senator being considered for vice president, but Bridges also stood out. Partly it had to do with his cutthroat deal making; partly it was his strange obsession with sandwiches.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN IN “STAR TREK”

Oh yeah – fictionalized versions of real presidents are still fiction, in my book. Now some of you may prefer “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” or even “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” but to me nothing beats seeing Honest Abe (Lee Bergere) battle bad guys with Kirk and Spock on an alien planet. If you need to know the rationale for this scenario, then you clearly don’t understand the crazy vibe of “Star Trek,” season 3, 1969.

MARTIN SHEEN IN “THE DEAD ZONE”

Please, you didn’t think I was going to use “The West Wing,” did you? This is The Jimbo List, not The Obvious List. Here’s a different sort of Sheen presidency. In 1983’s “The Dead Zone,” based on the Stephen King novel, Sheen is a nutjob Senate candidate. When the movie’s main character, a psychic, touches Sheen’s hand, he sees a vision of a future in which Sheen is president. Let’s just say it isn’t pretty.

FREDRIC MARCH IN “SEVEN DAYS IN MAY”

March had just the right formality and gravitas to ground this 1964 political thriller. He played a U.S. president who dared to negotiate a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets during the Cold War. This, in turn, leads to a potential overthrow of the U.S. government by a mad general. It’s a little melodramatic, in the way movies used to be, but still satisfying.

TERRY CREWS IN “IDIOCRACY”

By no means is this a recommendation of the 2006 comedy, “Idiocracy.” I actually found it a little depressing. But it accurately reflects a fear many people probably have, that our culture is elevating stupidity and celebrity at the expense of essential institutions. Crews, who I generally get a kick out of, is a kick-ass, gun-toting Prez here.

JOHN TRAVOLTA IN “PRIMARY COLORS”

As anyone who saw “Primary Colors” knows, it’s a thinly-veiled look at Bill and Hillary Clinton, complete with habitual womanizing and feel-your-pain empathy. I thought Travolta did a very good job playing a fictional version of someone we all think we understand.

TIMOTHY BOTTOMS IN “THAT’S MY BUSH!”

Remember this 2000 Comedy Central series? It lasted only a couple of months, using George W. Bush as fodder for a merging of sitcom cliches with current events. It was created by the “South Park” guys, and it had plots that included gun control, abortion, wacky neighbors and trying to impress the in-laws.

JACK NICHOLSON IN “MARS ATTACKS!”

The Martians were by far the coolest part of 1996’s “Mars Attacks!” Nicholson, overacting with wild abandon, was front and center as the president in this all-star comedy extravaganza. A few laughs, nothing more.

MARY McDONNELL IN “BATTLESTAR GALACTICA”

Believe it or not, McDonnell was a more realistic president in this TV space opera than many of the other examples on this List. She was pragmatic, deceptive, ruthless and driven. She also happened to be on a space ship.

CHARLES LINDBERGH IN “THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA”

In this 2004 novel, Philip Roth envisions a world in which Charles Lindbergh beats Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 election. The country quickly unravels in a frightening spiral of antisemitism. Roth adds his own family members into the alternate history, to great effect.

HENRY FONDA IN “FAIL-SAFE”

The burdens of the presidency weigh heavily on Fonda here, with good reason. There’s been a malfunction on one of our war planes – it’s about to nuke Moscow out of existence. Can we stop it? And if we can’t, what does the president do next?

ROBERT CULP IN “THE PELICAN BRIEF”

Pure potboiler, but lots of fun. Culp gives his supporting role as a villainous president a whiff of Ronald Reagan. He’s grandfatherly and let’s his staff do a lot of the heavy lifting.

KELSEY GRAMMER IN “SWING VOTE”

This somewhat minor 2008 comedy had a presidential election coming down to the vote of one dude out in New Mexico (Kevin Costner) who needed to recast his ballot. Grammer played the sitting president, running for re-election. I include this one mainly because it gives you a sense of what Grammer would bring to his fantastic portrayal of a Chicago mayor in TV’s “Boss.” In both comedy and drama, he’s believable as a powerful politician.

OLD RICHARD NIXON IN “WATCHMEN”

In the movie and comics versions of “Watchmen,” Richard Nixon has remained president right into the 1980s. It’s a chilling and cynical view of politics and public opinion, on a grand scale. With superheroes, of course.

PETER SELLERS IN “DR. STRANGELOVE”

What is it with these fictional 1964 presidents and their phones & nukes? Anyway, I loved Sellers in this role. His president, Merkin Muffley, was a mild-mannered guy handling an international crisis with all the bureaucratic pomposity we’ve come to expect from Washington, D.C. Here’s a typical line: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

So there you have it – a plethora of fictional presidents. Now, back to our regularly scheduled election!

TV’s Delightful Dolts

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One of the smartest things the TV sitcom ever did was introduce us to a few idiots. They say and do all the dumb stuff we do, yet we get to laugh at them. Here are some of TV’s more glorious dimwits.

 

GILLIGAN

Long before “Lost,” there was this crazy TV island where a group of castaways contended with all manner of strange twists and turns. “Gilligan’s Island” was strictly played for laughs, though. At the heart of it was Gilligan, a naive numbskull played by Bob Denver.

Professor: Listen, Gilligan, how far down was she? How many feet?

Gilligan: Professor, in navy circles, we don’t say feet. We say fathoms.

Professor: All right. How many fathoms?

Gilligan: Oh, I don’t know, about 15 feet.

 

JOEY TRIBBIANI

Matt Leblanc rode the stupid train all the way to the bank with his portrayal of Joe Tribbiani on “Friends.”

Joey: If he doesn’t like you, then this is all just a moo point.

Rachel: Huh. A moo point?

Joey: Yeah, it’s like a cow’s opinion, you know, it just doesn’t matter. It’s moo.

 

JETHRO BODINE

America LOVED Max Baer Jr. as Jethro on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” So much so that he had a tough time finding non-Jethro roles later in his career.

Cousin Pearl: Jethro, tell your Uncle Jed why there ain’t no snow in California.

Jethro: Don’t look at me, I didn’t take it!

 

EDITH BUNKER

Even with the screechy accent and all the jokes playing off her lack of intelligence, Edith came off as a real person with a heart and soul, thanks to Jean Stapleton. “All in the Family” wouldn’t have been nearly as good without her.

 

HERMAN MUNSTER

How’s this for high-concept TV? Take the Frankenstein monster and turn him into a henpecked husband with Dracula for a father-in-law! “The Munsters” did just that, with a miraculous physical performance by Fred Gwynne.

Grandpa: Hmm, what smells so good?

Herman: I cut myself shaving.

 

KEVIN MALONE

Part of the strength of “The Office” is its strong group of secondary players. One of them, Brian Baumgartner’s Kevin Malone, is a complete boob. Kevin would get a huge laugh out of that description.

Kevin: I don’t like getting advice from more than one person at a time. I’m a textbook overthinker.

 

GRACIE ALLEN

Gracie Allen’s genius as a writer and performer was masked by her stage and screen persona as the loony half of “Burns and Allen.” Yet a close examination of the jokes often showed a real edge to spacey Gracie.

George: Gracie, would you like a doctor?

Gracie: One at a time, kiddo, I’m not through with YOU yet.

 

VINNIE BARBARINO

John Travolta’s breakout role on “Welcome Back, Kotter” was hugely popular and absolutely moronic. It was the walk, the talk and the swagger that made it work, not the dialogue.

Vinnie: Up your nose with a rubber hose!

 

HOMER SIMPSON

Not only is Homer one of the best idiots in TV history; he’s one of the best characters in TV history. Voiced by Dan Castellaneta, Homer of “The Simpsons” is a juggernaut of laughs.

Homer: Maybe, just once, someone will call me “sir” without adding, “You’re making a scene!”

Homer: Son, if you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now quiet! They’re about to announce the lottery numbers.

 

MALLORY KEATON

Overshadowed by Michael J. Fox as her older brother on “Family Ties,” Justine Bateman still got plenty of good lines as Mallory.

Mallory: The light bulb is out in my bedroom! What are we going to do?

 

ERNIE PANTUSSO, WOODY BOYD, SAM MALONE

“Cheers,” one of the best sitcoms to come down the pike, gave us a trio of intellect-challenged characters to love. Ted Danson’s Sam Malone was the star of the show, of course. Woody Harrelson’s Woody Boyd also was a classic character. But I think I’ll focus here on Ernie “Coach” Pantusso, played by the late Nicholas Colasanto. Here’s to you, Coach.

Bar crowd: Let’s hang him in effigy.

Coach: The hell with that; let’s hang him right here in Boston!

 

GOMER PYLE

Not everyone’s cup of tea, Gomer had a crazy voice and enough catchphrases for a squadron of Steve Urkels. But he scored Jim Nabors two sitcoms: “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Gomer Pyle – USMC. Sur-prise, sur-prise!

 

JOE GARELLI

Before he was encouraging people to eat worms on “Fear Factor,” actor Joe Rogan was a very cool dolt on “NewsRadio.”

Joe: Look, I don’t care what you say about me, but making fun of alien technology is just stupid.

 

HOWARD BORDEN

Like everything else about “The Bob Newhart Show,” Bill Daily’s Howard Borden was all about the soft sell. Daily played Bob and Emily’s idiot neighbor, an airline pilot.

Howard: I was, uh, just decorating my Christmas tree and I was wondering, is there a trick to stringing cranberry sauce?

 

LARRY, DARRYL & DARRYL

Speaking of the great Bob Newhart, his “Newhart” sitcom in the 1980s hit a stupidity trifecta with Larry, Darryl and Darryl. The brothers were led by a terrific actor, William Sanderson.

Larry: Hi, I’m Larry, this is my brother Darryl and my other brother Darryl.

 

GEORGETTE BAXTER

Sweet and stupid, that was Georgette, who married pompous and stupid anchorman Ted Baxter on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Actress Georgia Engel always left the viewers with just a hint that Georgette might have more marbles than they realized.

Georgette: I really miss Phyllis. I never knew her very well. Maybe that helps.

 

REESE

On “Malcolm in the Middle,” brother Reese (Justin Berfield) provided brainy Malcolm with a fierce, thick-headed adversary.

Reese: A shortcut doesn’t mean it’s a shorter way. It means it’s a different way.

 

TONY BANTA

I maintain that Tony Danza has always been underrated as an actor. In “Taxi,” he was supremely consistent as Tony Banta, a cabbie who dreamed of a successful boxing career.

Doctor: Tony, has any doctor ever advised you to quit boxing?

Tony: Yeah, I suppose.

Doctor: You suppose?

Tony: I mean a lot of guys have yelled at me to get out of the ring. Some of them might have been doctors.

 

ED NORTON

Merely the best. Art Carney captured a bit of magic with sewer worker Ed Norton, Ralph’s neighbor on “The Honeymooners.” Norton was poetry in motion, all flailing arms and shifting slouch hat. And that voice!

Norton: First, you address the ball. Hello, ball.

Okay folks, who else should be on the list?