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Jewish World Review April 13, 2001/ 20 Nissan, 5761


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Consumer Reports

I COULD PLOTZ! -- LEAVE it to a Slate writer to spread a Michael Kinsley-inspired pall over the new baseball season. (Although praise is deserved for Hugo Lindgren, whose sports pieces for the webzine are about 100 times more interesting than Timothy Noah's dilettante "Chatterbox" meanderings about bestiality, the death tax's beauty and providing nicotine patches to high-schoolers.) David Plotz, in an article posted April 3, thinks President Bush's T-ball diamond on the White House lawn, for the benefit of local kids, is "sleazy," and "a conflict of interest," a payoff in the form of publicity for Major League Baseball, where Bush made a profit after selling his small share of the Texas Rangers.

Plotz must've been the last kid picked for softball games when he was in junior high, judging by his near-hysterical rant about Bush and baseball. (Although, to his credit, he apparently didn't knock off any of the popular kids with a purloined pistol; I'm sure he took the wiser course and let off steam by reading the collected works of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. instead.) There must be some reason for his weird essay; ridiculing T-ball as "notable for being the only American sport more tedious than baseball" is simply uncharitable, especially when there are so many other more serious sports infractions that might attract his attention. Like basketball or football players shepherded through a "college education" by agents; or Darryl Strawberry, the wife-beating coke addict given a free ride by the media while it pillories John Rocker for mere trash talk.

I won't go on any longer, but will leave you with this Plotzean gem: "The tee-ball scheme [risky, no doubt] reeks of banana republic politics. It's embarrassing to have the leader of the free world whiling away his days watching tot tee-ball and exhorting Manager/Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to put in a pinch-hitter. (It conjures up images of Idi Amin or some other tin-pot dictator ordering his ministers to wrestle for him.)"

It doesn't require much imagination to "conjure up" what Bill Clinton's downtime at the White House consisted of, although perhaps Democrat Plotz doesn't think it was "sleazy" of the ex-president to let his loyal aides incur huge legal fees because of his perjury.

COMEDY CENTRAL has been running some slick print ads for its new show That's My Bush! One featured the headline "Since George W. Bush Took Office, We've Yet to Encounter Any Awkward Cuban Refugee Incidents," followed by the tag, "A Brilliant Man Deserves a Brilliant Sitcom." Too bad that's where the "brilliance" ends. I had high hopes for That's My Bush!: With South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone in charge, the long-lost Timothy Bottoms (a dead-ringer for Bush) starring and, let's face it, enough material for at least a four-year run, this satire could've been the funniest presidential send-up since Vaughn Meader's hilarious First Family album about the Kennedys 39 years ago. (Meader, certainly the top presidential impersonator, was pop culture's most notable victim after JFK's assassination, disappearing into a cloud of flower power, drugs, divorce, religion and obscurity after his celebrity-ticket was snatched away.)

But the first two episodes of That's My Bush! are a surprisingly dull and obvious mishmash of fart, execution, abortion and sex jokes-plus tedious references to past sitcoms like The Honeymooners and Diff'rent Strokes. There's also the notion-surprise!-that Laura's really in charge. I did like Kurt Fuller playing Karl Rove-a deadpan performance that recalls Richard Deacon's role as the sadsack Mel Cooley in The Dick Van Dyke Show-but that's about it.


I'm also mystified by the better-than-middling reviews the show's received so far, from both sides of the political spectrum. Tom Shales (on the Blue Team) gushes in the April 4 Washington Post that the comedy is "a criminally insane new live-action sitcom" that "zooms around like a runaway rocket, quirky and berserk." National Review's Michael Potemra is a fan as well, writing on April 6: "There's something about this Bush guy that people like, and even TV gag writers can see it; he'll have a bright future no matter what happens to the show."

It was with horror that I agreed with Slate's left-wing film critic David Edelstein that the show's a bomb; although his political jibes are as dumb as That's My Bush! Edelstein writes on April 3 of his initial hopes for the Parker-Stone creation, seeing its potential as a perfect tonic for the Democrats' anger last fall. In Edelstein's perverse universe, Bush is "an unholy spawn of Bush Sr. and Dan Quayle, with the voice of Yogi Berra as reimagined by George Orwell." He sadly concludes: "Turning Bush into a lovable dolt might be the biggest gift to the GOP since thousands of Florida Jews cast their ballots for Pat Buchanan."


But for nostalgia's sake, I was glad to see Timothy Bottoms resurface, despite the lousy material he's given. Bottoms made a stunning debut in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1971), one of the top-tier classics of the last 30 years. Bottoms' interplay with Jeff Bridges, Cloris Leachman and especially Ben Johnson was spellbinding; it was at turns poignant, sardonic and mostly downright sad. I was 16 when I first saw the black-and-white film, and hadn't yet visited Texas, but the combination of tumbleweeds, Hank Williams, Dr Pepper, petty gossip and high school losers in a dying town left me so dazed that I saw it again the next day. Bottoms was also excellent in the forgotten Johnny Got His Gun, then uneven in The Paper Chase. After that he pretty much disappeared, consigned to crummy parts in even crummier films.

Bottoms, it seemed, was headed for leading-man stardom, but just fizzled out. In a March 25 New York Times interview, Bottoms says he's now trying to get any work he can, even if it's nonunion, since at times he couldn't even make his SAG payments. As for his lack of visibility, he tells John Leland: "I worked for a surveyor, sold cordwood. I worked horses for people. I've worked with my dad. I had a tree nursery for a while. Helped manage some apartments. I've moved boats for people. I worked as a sailor for many years, moved a lot of cargo."

Reading between the lines you detect a whiff of boomer burnout, and unfortunately I don't think That's My Bush! will revive Bottoms' career.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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