The Arts & Life staff has recommended election-themed watches, from documentaries to satires, to fulfill your entertainment needs this Nov. 8.
“All the President’s Men” (1976) — Trevor Louis
41 years before 2017’s “The Post,” we had “All the President’s Men.” Coming out less than two years after the Watergate scandal it was based on, Alan J. Pakula’s political drama-thriller helped instill an ideal in American society about what journalism can be at its best — a true fourth branch of government and check on power. In the film, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman tag team as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the famous duo that broke Watergate for the Washington Post. As the film demonstrates, they were in serious jeopardy of losing their careers because, as clear as the truth may seem, it’s not always easy to pin down the facts … on the record.
The story of how the movie was made is almost as amazing as the story itself. Redford took a serious chance, deciding to produce the film at a time when movie stars didn’t regularly take charge of the business behind the camera. He brought on William Goldman, one of the greatest screenwriters of all time, and later Pakula to direct. Working hand in hand with the actual Woodward and Bernstein, the group created a masterpiece. The film garnered a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards, a Best Adapted Screenplay win for Goldman and, in a surprise twist, a Best Supporting Actor win for Jason Robards (who steals the show in a movie with two of the biggest A-listers of his era).
“Cheers” Season 11 Episode 21: “Woody Gets an Election” (1982-1993) — Elena Vasilache
In its 11th and final season, “Cheers,” the much-beloved sitcom about a bar where “everyone knows your name,” shows Woody Boyd — a simple country boy turned bartender — running for City Council. A bar patron and disillusioned voter, Dr. Frasier Crane bets the bar’s owner that Woody can win the election because “the voters of Boston are sheep.” After realizing the damage an inexperienced person can do in office, the doctor has a change of heart and asks Woody to pull out of the race. Of course, fate and Woody have other ideas, and therein lies the hilarity.
The episode was filmed in the ’90s, and much has changed since then in both the electorate and the candidates they support. Political experience and bona fides are no longer prerequisites to attaining any office; in some cases, political outsiders are preferred. To see the surprise ending, find the episode online and enjoy a good laugh.
“Dave” (1993) — Peyton Lee
While devoid of election imagery, “Dave” maintains a surprising relevance to today’s political climate. The film answers a simple question: what if an ordinary American with no political experience became president? The titular Dave is recruited to impersonate the fictional president Bill Mitchell, finding himself in both comedic and consequential situations while repairing Mitchell’s reputation as a president and as a husband. Central to the film’s plot are issues of employment, welfare, popularity and scandal, all of which are handled better by Dave than the seasoned politicians around him. Funny, well-produced and surprisingly profound, “Dave” is a realization of my naive optimism for the potential of America’s institutions.
“Parks and Recreation” (2009-2015) — Anthony Martinez Rosales
Michael Schur’s mockumentary “Parks and Recreation” highlights the faults existing in government, but it also suggests the need for leaders with strong passion. Protagonist Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is an optimistic and sometimes pushy leader. She is an anxious, perfectionistic waffle lover, but at the end of the day, she cares for the people she represents and her close friends.
The show’s cast members — Aubrey Plaza, Retta, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari and more — give the show soul and loveable characters. Despite some political references that are outdated, Parks and Rec remains relevant in making fun of the bureaucracy that exists in government. It emphasizes the love and leadership that is needed to truly help people. I promise you it gets better after the first season and, in my opinion, it’s better than “The Office.”
“The Politician” (2019-2020) — Blyss Cleveland
Ryan Murphy’s first Netflix show is “The Politician,” a satirical comedy that will help distract you from all the contentious races in the current midterm elections. Set in Santa Barbara, California, the first season chronicles Payton Hobart’s (Ben Platt) ruthless campaign for senior class president. Yes, it will take some strong will to suspend your disbelief that Platt is a teenager and that Payton (who is wealthy, ambitious and characteristically annoying) has managed to assemble a team that is willing to scheme and commit crimes to help him win a high school election. However, once you take this leap of faith, the show is a fun ride.
The characters’ wardrobes are stylish, the sets are opulent and the storylines raise philosophical questions about the dark side of youthful ambition. Power corrupts, but as long as you work for the greater good, does it matter if you’re really a good person or not? Gwyneth Paltrow’s role as Payton’s out-of-touch yet overly supportive mother is pitch perfect. While “The Politician” stays true to Murphy’s style and burns through plot lines, the storytelling mimics the twists and turns of a real election. If there’s a recount in this year’s midterm elections, you’ll finish both seasons by the time the final results are announced!
“Boys State” (2020) — Amelia Butala
Close your eyes and imagine sitting in a room filled to the brim with one thousand teenage boys. Not nightmarish enough already? Add to this image that every single one of these boys is here to discuss and debate politics, including women’s reproductive rights. The 2020 documentary “Boys State” follows every twist and turn of these surreal circumstances, offering a magnified view of a situation that some of us wouldn’t dare to approach.
The film documents a roughly week-long program in which teenage boys are tasked with creating a government from the ground up. The boys are compelling, sometimes disgusting and really passionate about what they do. I guarantee that by the end of the film, you will have become more invested in the success of at least one of them than you ever could have expected.
Since coming to Stanford, I have met people who have participated in Boys State and their descriptions of their own experiences are just as bizarre. I could not have come up with the concept of this program in my wildest dreams and watching it all unfold from a view as close up as this documentary was a fascinating experience. This was my favorite documentary of 2020 and I could not recommend enough the sheer absurdity of a thousand teenage boys determining the winner of an election by who can do the most push ups.
“Derry Girls” Season 3 Episode 7: “The Agreement” (2022) — Cameron Duran
The third and final season of Netflix’s “Derry Girls” culminates in a touching finale episode about Northern Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday Agreement Referendum. The young adult comedy traverses the highs and lows of teenage life during the “Troubles,” a decades-long conflict surrounding the issue of Northern Ireland’s departure from the United Kingdom.
The series finale centers the protagonist’s indecision while deciding how to vote in the referendum for peace, which is held soon after her 18th birthday. The finale balances lighthearted jokes about the agreement’s complexity with sincere discussions around the vote’s implications, including an expertly-written conflict among the series’ core cast of friends.
“Derry Girls” has rightfully deserved its must-watch status. The series expertly juxtaposes the characters’ everyday high school drama and the intense political strife all around them. The writing handles a controversial topic with grace, focusing on the human impact of the issue with nuance and humor. The montage of each character standing in the voting booth, feeling the weight of this moment in history, will stick with you.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.