Audacious, inventive, chock full o' chuckles and faster than a fast-food commercial, "Lily for President?" is Lily Tomlin's "Of Thee I Sing," her "Nude Descending a Staircase," her "Godfather, Part Two," her Baskin-Robbins German Chocolate Cake, her "Hooked on Classics," her "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen." Oh, and her Gettysburg Address.
Yes, the plucky little person has done it again, with the same production team that worked themselves up to last year's many-Emmy'd frenzy, "Lily: Sold Out," having perpetuated another tumultuous video torrent, more rapid than eagles, and almost as rare. It runs riot tonight at 10 on the CBS Television Network (Channel 9), which will never be the same until 11 o'clock when it ends with a giggle from the star.
The program--written by a slew of writers, executive-produced by Jane Wagner, produced by Rocco Urbisci and directed by Tom Trbovich--spoofs the media Machiavellis of modern American politics, but also takes a poke or two at show-biz Utopians hell-bent on do-gooding. Tomlin plays many of her regular characters, and some new ones, but also plays herself as a conscience-stricken superwoman who dreams not only of becoming president but of simultaneously completing "The Seven Ages of Woman--The Movie," a film version of the tipsily topic-heavy Las Vegas revue she performed in "Sold Out."
Taking a break from writing, directing, producing and starring in the movie (and trying to de-sexitize the language with each new brainstorm), Lily heads for a Regis Philbin talk show where her feet are to be immortalized in cement for Hollywood Boulevard, but on the way, there's an accident, and such a dream sequence as you wouldn't believe, with hit-and-run guest stars that include Penny Marshall, James Garner, Sally Field, Linda Lavin and Jane Fonda, who appears in the secretary role she played in "9 to 5," offering an endorsement of Tomlin's candidacy and saying, "I've never done anything like this before. I'm not very political."
Lily Tomlin even brings out the fun in Jane Fonda. She could bring out the fun in David Stockman. No, I take that back. She's only human.
Two shady, smoke-filled manipulators see in fair Lily a chance to grab a little of the old mazuma, and some of the old garbanzo, too. "Look," one of them says, "she has appeal, visibility, access to the press, and she doesn't know what the hell she's talking about. She has all the necessary prerequisites of a good politician."
But little do they know--she also has A Mind of Her Own! Soon she is off and running on a platform built around the need for a stop sign at a certain streetcorner of Los Angeles, caring and supportive human-type being person that she is.
The Stop It Party holds a rally, at which Tomlin introduces a new outrageous impersonation, "The Messiah of Love, Mr. Purvis Hawkins," a simmering soul singer who merely has to stroll around the stage murmuring "deeper" to drive the fans into carnal fits. Earlier, Tomlin reprises her Tommy Velour character (essentially a cross between Wayne Newton and Sammy Davis Jr.) who sings, "My country, 'tis of thee, hip land of liberty . . . "
Also at the rally, fresh from the '60s, is another Tomlin creation, the agonizingly sincere Holly Oneness, who sings "We've got to stop more, and go ahead less," and Tomlin also appears as the titular head of the puckish punkish "Agnes Angst and the Manic Depressives, doing their never-to-be-released 'National Tantrum.' " Ms. Angst sings, "I'm angry at the waiter, who won't give me a table /I'm angry at the networks, and I'm angrier at cable." She's angry.
Then she collapses in a fit of "Clair De Lune," pulling her purple hair out by its pink roots.
Naturally, Lily is elected, swept into the White House on a tidal wave of Stop-It fever; her victory is declared in a headline in The Washington Star (remember, this is a dream sequence). When Tomlin shows up on the White House lawn, we hear "Tara's Theme" on the soundtrack, and Lily, now looking fiercely Mildred Piercely, vows, "As God is my witness, no one in the world will ever be hungry again!" After an inaugural parade with commentary borrowed from Barbara Walters and Ted Koppel, Lily embarks on her New Feederalism.
"Stock Market Up, Valium Sales Down," trumpets another headline some time later.
Tomlin and company pelt the eyes and ears with so many jibes and jests, all of them whirlingly edited into freefall, that a lame duck or two doesn't impede the dazzling comic momentum--not even the uncertain ending, which seems to go serious suddenly but then pulls back to scoff, more or less, at the idea of going serious suddenly, as if Lily felt obliged to say a word or two against nuclear doomsday but then remembered that she is not likely to be the one to prevent a nuclear doomsday, but then, if everybody felt that way, who would prevent a nuclear doomsday? Show business, show business! It brings such heavy responsibilities.
This program may be particularly Betamaxable because there is so much flying by that it's hard to catch it all. You have to look fast to see a Nancy Reagan look-alike march into the Oval Office to retrieve a piece of china ("I just don't want to break up a set") or spot Tomlin's consumerist Judith Beasley finding the presidential desk in the Oval Office a good place for a Stick-Up, or even to appreciate fully the wittiness of President Lily's plan for bolstering the country's morale, a national Give-Yourself-A-Hug day.
Nobody throws more into a TV comedy special than Lily Tomlin and the company she keeps. Things do get out of hand here and there, but there is good getting out of hand, and there is bad getting out of hand. In "Lily for President?" the getting out is good. As Tommy Velour says, "Too much, man, too much," but just too much enough.