HBO's 2016 election miniseries was inevitable, but is still a terrible idea
Of course HBO is teaming up with journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann on a miniseries about the 2016 election. No one should be shocked that the team that came together for Game Change — the Emmy Award-winning movie about the 2008 election — would reunite to tell the story of one of America's wildest, weirdest political dramas. It was inevitable.
Inevitability, of course, doesn't make for a good idea. And this miniseries is a terrible one.
The miniseries will be based on Halperin and Heilemann's new book, which is not the problem here. That book was even more inevitable than the miniseries. (They also published one for the snoozefest 2012 election — naturally, that installment, Double Down: Game Change, was dull as well.) But this is 2016! There's plenty to be mined there, particularly for a man like Halperin, who had such a close relationship with the election's inevitable winner, Donald Trump. His and Heilemann's desire to write a book about, among other things, "Trump the man" makes total sense.
A book is one thing, though. A book is rarely a cultural event, unless the author's last name is Rowling or James. An HBO miniseries, on the other hand, is the kind of thing that gets rapturously covered, from conception to execution to release to awards run. It will, in short, be a reopening of fresh wounds probably far too soon after the end of the race. (HBO has not announced even a potential premiere date for the miniseries.)
Game Change came out four years after the 2008 election, but it's unlikely we'll get that much time before this miniseries. More than its proximity to the actual election, however, the problem here is that such a project automatically resists resolution. Game Change worked because it focused on Sarah Palin (as played by Julianne Moore) and portrayed her as a figure disastrously unprepared for the public spotlight she was thrust into.
But Palin didn't get elected. Barack Obama and Joe Biden did. Certainly, many American viewers are no fans of the former president and vice president, but they weren't the subject of the movie. Game Change spoke safely of its subject's past from the vantage point of the future, when 71% of voters found Palin unqualified for high office. It was kosher to portray Palin as incompetent at that time, because a wide majority of viewers agreed she was.
This miniseries, on the other hand, will come at a time when the United States is increasingly divided. The early days of the Trump administration have been a haphazard policy mess at best, and disastrous for the lives of the American people at worst. Frankly, there are no signs of improvement on the horizon. Are Americans really going to be in a place where they want to revisit how they got to their current state? This miniseries won't offer any happy resolutions or twist endings. No matter how juicy the revelations may be — and Game Change had some big ones — they won't change the outcome.
Art in Donald Trump's America is vital, yes, but it has to be smart as well. The inevitability of this miniseries is more worrisome than comforting, like it's being done because it was always going to be done. The decision, looked at with even a modicum of scrutiny, doesn't hold up.