A common reaction to Donald Trump’s presidency has been a sense that reality has outstripped even the most feverish fiction. The only thing to do when the world has come to feel like the implausible output of an ambitious but not particularly talented television writer is to cover it that way. Welcome to our recaps of “The Trump Show.”
When “The Trump Show” went into production, it did so with a four-season commitment, providing an unusual level of stability to a freshman show. This could have given the showrunners an opportunity to approach it differently: to play with pacing, or to avoid cliffhangers and other ways of raising the stakes, such as firing or killing off key characters. But throughout the show’s first-season run, “The Trump Show” has showed a decided — and in some ways admirable — dedication to operating like an old-fashioned soap opera. And as this season enters its final two weeks, “The Trump Show” is pulling out pretty much all the stops as if it has to earn its renewal, rather than taking it for granted.
It is the perfect illustration of “The Trump Show’s” style and pace of storytelling that this episode kicked off with Trump escalating his war of words with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un via a crude double entendre and then ramped up from there. Trump’s obsession with size has long been an element of “The Trump Show,” most notably in flashbacks to the Republican primary debate in which Trump defended the measurements of his hands and by extension another part of his anatomy, declaring “I guarantee you there’s no problem.” This spectacle was insane enough, but there is no absurdity that “The Trump Show” cannot find a way to top, including having its main character resort to nuclear brinkmanship in order to assert his manhood. Whether this is a healthy thing for all of us to witness is one thing, but simply from a creative perspective, I have to admire the show’s audacity.
The North Korea storyline is the most sheerly jaw-dropping element of this episode of “The Trump Show,” but the verve and speed with which the rest of the episode whipped by are accomplishments in and of themselves.
The most important provocateur in this installment isn’t even Kim; it’s a newer character, journalist Michael Wolff. “The Trump Show” has long been notable for the way it has brought a New York sensibility to Washington, and Wolff extends this characteristic of the series into the parts of the show that deal with reporting. He’s a highly distinct character, unlike the earnest denizens of the White House press corps, or the road warriors of the campaign trail press. He’s a more lizard-like figure, one whose work has been defined by a certain amount of ethical creativity, and he is, inevitably, a significant figure in his own stories, which makes him a perfect fit for “The Trump Show.”
And because this is television, the content of Wolff’s book, which caused such a splash in this episode, is actually less important than the way all the other characters on the show have responded to it. Thus far, the book has been a great season-ending device. It prompted a definitive-seeming break between Trump and his former campaign chief, Stephen K. Bannon, who was a major source for Wolff’s book, with Trump thundering that when he fired Bannon from the White House, Bannon “not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” and slamming him on Twitter. Bannon’s financial patron, the billionaire Rebekah Mercer, kicked him to the curb, siding with Trump. Wolff’s book has prompted questions about the relationship between Trump and his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, who has been under increasing legal and financial pressure all season. The short-term explosions from these revelations have made for a terrific dash to the finale, and they set up potential major developments for the season that begins in late-January.
This isn’t even to mention a series of slower-burn developments that “The Trump Show” introduced in this episode, from Sen. Orrin Hatch’s retirement, which clears the way for fierce Trump critic Mitt Romney to run for Senate in Utah, to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s square, malevolent crackdown on marijuana, which promoted some Republicans to break with the administration.
I would ask how “The Trump Show” is going to handle all of this tsuris, but the truth is, I already know: with the same sense of frenzied chaos that has defined this season from the very start. From the get-go, “The Trump Show” was unusually confident and clear on its brazen appeal. The series is diving over the finish line of its first season with its identity squarely intact, and the rest of us riveted.