(LHN) The prospect of a fascist movement gaining power in the US is a topic worthy of inspection in the present day, just as it was in 1935 when It Can’t Happen Here was first published. A modern retelling of Sinclair Lewis’s classic book as a TV serial could have provided fertile ground for poignant political commentary — an opportunity that was missed by a mile, based on the first few episodes.
Of its many weaknesses, the show’s main character is the biggest. For whatever reason, the writers have bastardized the original strongman’s name, from “Buzz Windrip” to an even more cartoonish “Donald Trump”. Taking the place of the industrialist and senator of Lewis’s original novel, Trump, a loud celebrity billionaire, is a regrettably one-dimensional buffoon.
Trump reminds me of two other rulers from recent works of fiction with similar flaws: General Zia-ul-Haq in Mohammed Hanif’s hilarious debut novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes, and the equally fictionalized George W. Bush as portrayed in Oliver Stone’s film W. When every scene oozes with the contempt an author feels towards his or her own creation, the result is likely to be uninteresting storytelling.
An unbelievable comic book villain with no redeeming qualities, Trump is clearly despised by his own creators. He is a bore and a simpleton, unable to speak in full sentences, a brute with no convictions, not even a shrewd businessman but an oligarch born into wealth. With his unnatural orange tan and comb-over, he is a grotesque sight (for which the show’s hair and makeup team deserves praise). How, then, are we supposed to buy the premise that this foul-looking dimwit has a fanatic and loyal following? The sense of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip as a real flesh-and-blood charismatic leader is completely absent in “the Trump”.
In a contrived effort to make the show current, the writers have also decided to make their antihero a reality TV star. It is clear what message is meant to be conveyed: that our years-long election cycles are circus for the masses rather than a display of democracy. But the point is lost with presidential debates that devolve into implausible Jerry Springer-type showdowns, with Trump bullying other candidates while bragging about the alleged size of his penis. With all its finger-wagging towards our inane popular culture and vacuous political discourse, the show ends up being the pot that calls the kettle black.
Some of the debates pitting Trump against an array of seasoned politicians have, admittedly, had a few deliciously comical moments. Familiar-looking characters are regularly brought on stage and made into cannon fodder. After a while, though, this gimmick gets old. Like the reality TV schlock that it supposedly pokes fun at, the show is not only exhausting but makes one feel a little stupider for having watched it.
In the unlikely event It Can’t Happen Here survives into its second season, Trump’s presidency is likely to be even dumber and more farfetched than his candidacy. I, for one, am ready to change channels.