Review: In her first Netflix special, Trump mime Sarah Cooper goes for a 2020 mood: dark
Sarah Cooper, who got famous this year lip-syncing audio of President Trump on TikTok and Twitter, has been anointed with a television special, “Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine,” premiering Tuesday on Netflix.
Directed by Natasha “Russian Doll” Lyonne, with a well-credited writing staff that includes former “SNL” head writer Paula Pell, it is, at 49 minutes, about 48 minutes longer than anything most viewers will have seen her perform. But it is studded with stars and sketches and something of a through line, all of which point directly or in a roundabout way — but mostly directly — to our national four-year nightmare. If the phrase “national four-year nightmare” offends you, you will probably not enjoy this special.
Even for a fan, “enjoy” might not be quite the right verb. “Everything’s Fine” is a dark and uncomfortable hour, in its glitchy mix of the banal and the bizarre something more likely to show up on Adult Swim or IFC than Netflix. It’s funny, but it won’t necessarily make you laugh. Nor is it the stand-up special one might expect from a late-rising comedy star, though Cooper has done stand-up for years; a few lines of that comedy, which you can find on her YouTube channel, have been spliced into her special.
If never significantly successful on that circuit, Cooper has nevertheless known viral fame as the author of “10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings,” a 2014 blog post that became a book deal. But it’s as a mime that Cooper got really famous, recontextualizing the words of an old white guy into the person of a young Black woman; for many this will be the first time they’ve heard her voice — in a way, she has been working as a silent comedian. Her approach to the Trump pieces is physical, facial, adding the commentary of her person to the president’s voice, applying a kind of light wash of hysteria to his ad lib ramblings that has been carried through into “Everything’s Fine” and amplified.
Sarah Cooper has become one of the social media sensations of the coronavirus era thanks to her lampooning of President Donald Trump.
The framing device is a morning show, “Everything’s Fine,” hosted by Sarah Cooper; there are interview segments and special reports and cutaways to commercials, and appearances by the president, which is to say by Cooper mouthing the president’s words, though where we have until now only seen Cooper in her own apartment, “Everything’s Fine” takes her presidential pantomime out into the world — a golf course, the “Access Hollywood” bus. The special’s narrative “reveal,” such as it is, is nothing new and not surprising — indeed, it is a very old and much used device — but it’s hard to see what other way they could go, given … the world. And it is nicely played.
Understandably, much of the material has to do with sexism and racism.
“Looks like 35% of our audience likes that you’re Black,” says a producer, played by Marcella Arguello. “Thirty percent of our audience doesn’t like that you’re Black, 50% of our audience doesn’t know that you’re Black” and “80% of our audience feels extremely threatened by you, Sarah.”
“It’s that attitude of yours,” says another producer, played by Eddie Pepitone.
“I don’t think I have an attitude,” says Cooper.
“There it is.”
Fred Armisen plays her director, I guess, wearing ever more layers of protective gear as the show goes on, with Maya Rudolph, who brightens any set onto which she steps, as the show’s weather person (“She’s a scientist”) reporting on a temperature of “123 degrees with a humidity index so high that a friend of mine who works at the EPA called me crying — he’s a grown man” to be followed by a cold snap “most likely not survivable — so wear a jacket.”
Jane Lynch plays a guest on the show, a cupcake maker, who refuses to acknowledge Cooper, demanding “some kind of permit that shows me that you’re allowed to be on the premises” and calling the police (“I would say at least 70% African American”), before the special slides into a brief parody documentary, in Ken Burns style and narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, on the subject of Karens: “In 1876 a Boston Karen bemoaned to her husband how taxing it was for her to walk miles into town every time she wanted to get a Black person arrested.” (It leads to the invention of the telephone.)
The Lincoln Project and other “Never Trump” Republican groups are taking on the president. Like Sarah Cooper’s web videos, they are as much comedy as politics.
Aubrey Plaza appears as the host of a QAnon shopping channel (“Just a note, this is the real QAnon, not the other one people were saying was the real QAanon on 4chan”); Megan Thee Stallion demonstrates her pandemic workout (“Grab some Cognac, add a little squat to it … All you gotta do is dip and sip”); and Jon Hamm, without whom apparently no alternative comedy special is allowed to air, plays the creator of “Mr. Pillow,” pitching a coronavirus vaccine and feminine hygiene products. There are appearances by Connie Chung, Marisa Tomei, Winona Ryder, Danielle Brooks and Jonathan Van Ness, with Ben Stiller as a sexually harassing robot CEO (“Unlike Elon Musk, I have a human side”) and a demonic Helen Mirren lip-syncing reporter Billy Bush in a re-creation of the “Access Hollywood” tape that is somehow even more disturbing than the real thing.
The question is whether Cooper, having had extraordinary success in a very particular sort of comedy, will go on to flourish in the wider world of show business and be remembered as something more than that Trump Lady in a segment on MTV’s “I Love the ‘20s.” (You know it’s coming.) The signs are good: It may have taken her ages to become an overnight sensation, but she’s smart and personable, holds her own among her starry guests in “Everything’s Fine” and is adapting her pre-TikTok book “How to Be Succesful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings” as a single-camera comedy for CBS. A year that saw her appearing at — in? — the Democratic National Convention and guest-hosting for Jimmy Kimmel will have enviably swelled her Rolodex. Of course, there is a chance she will be kept busy for another four years, making more of those Trump videos — though, as “Everything’s Fine” suggests, that might be more than a mind or body can bear.
As with everything else in this mind-melting moment — and in show business — it’s a question that time will tell. But whether or not Cooper’s career survives Trump, she has helped many of us make it this far.
‘Sarah Cooper: Everything's Fine’
When: Any time, starting Tuesday
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