All day long, I despair over the state of the U.S. Then, at 10 p.m., I laugh about it. The Daily Show has a gift for making comedy out of national tragedy. Comedy Central's mock newscast lays bare the hypocrisy, mendacity and idiocy in politics and media, fighting absurdity with absurdity.
Of course, The Daily Show is not just absurd. Beneath the gags is a savage indignation worthy of Jonathan Swift. On some nights, host Jon Stewart is not only the country's best political comedian, but its best broadcast journalist. He asks probing questions that the real news networks don't have the courage to ask. In the interview segments, he's capable of challenging political figures more vigorously than his counterparts at CNN or CBS. If you don't believe me, Google his April 2007 jousting match with John McCain over the Iraq War.
For some, the presidential campaign will end with a sigh of relief. I plan to watch The Daily Show's live election special (Tuesday, 9 p.m.) to make sure it ends with a guffaw.
Sunday, 7 pm (Fox)
Oh my God! The geniuses at The Simpsons have created another "Treehouse of Horror" Halloween parody! Purely for our enjoyment! And it's all free! (Sorry - every once in a while I'm struck all over again by the wonder of TV.)
This year's trilogy includes a Transformers satire, a Mad Men satire and a Peanuts satire about a Grand Pumpkin who goes on a Halloween rampage after observing human atrocities against his fellow gourds. ("You roast the unborn?!" he cries when offered a tray of pumpkin seeds.) Typically, many of the best jokes lie on the margins, as in a quickly glimpsed daycare billboard: "Where Your Child Learns to Trust Strangers."
The prologue exploits the nightmare of the moment: malfunctioning electronic voting machines. When Homer pushes the button for Barack Obama, the machine counts his vote for McCain; he tries again, and it's yet another vote for McCain. "This doesn't happen in America!" Homer moans. "Maybe Ohio, but not America!"
All the President's Men
Sunday, 7 pm (TCM)
Watergate felon John Dean introduces a screening of the 1976 movie about criminal activity in the Nixon White House. It's weird how yesterday's devastating political scandal has become today's polite cable entertainment, featuring a once-despised, now-avuncular wrongdoer who was at the center of the scandal. Can we expect a TCM screening of W. sometime in the next decade, introduced by a grinning Scooter Libby?
First Class All the Way
Monday, 8 pm (Bravo)
Sarah Ryan Duffy is an "elite travel concierge." She sets up dream vacations for rich people, tagging along to make sure everything goes well. In this new reality series, we tag along too as Sarah pampers her clientele in glamorous spots around the world.
I usually love traveling on TV's dime, but in this case the company spoils the trip. Just when you're trying to enjoy Paris or Monte Carlo, Sarah and her clients open their mouths.
On Paris' Grand Hotel: "Oh, my gosh! Are you kidding me?"
On an elegant French meal: "Oh, wow!"
On a world-class French wine cellar: "Awesome!"
These aren't just the Ugly Americans, but the Ugly and Stupid Americans. The only time they truly engage the exotic world around them is when they demand a privilege. The pilot's central drama is whether Sarah can spare a client the horror of flying coach on a last-minute flight overseas. I mean, can you imagine?
First Class All the Way was produced before the financial collapse inspired widespread disgust for the filthy rich. If I were Bravo, I would immediately begin production on a more timely spinoff called Second Class All the Way.
In the past month, I've become increasingly alarmed by evidence uncovered by John McCain, Sarah Palin, Fox News and right-wing pundits. Barack Obama, it seems, is not simply a Democrat who takes a different approach to policy than Republicans. He is a traitor, a Muslim, a radical, a socialist and a sexual pervert who seeks to undermine our military and destroy our country from within. I plan to stay up late to see if, should he win, Obama lets loose a satanic laugh and introduces Osama Bin Laden as his new Secretary of Jihad.
Wednesday, 9 pm (History Channel)
I saw a UFO in St. Louis (orange, noiseless, football-shaped), so this is the one spooky Sci Fi reality series I will not make fun of. This week, the UFO Hunters head to Trumbull County, Ohio, where police officers and a 911 operator saw a blue-green cylindrical object hovering over the tree line. One officer reports that his radio went out of commission as he approached the mysterious craft.
As if the Iraq War and the economic crisis weren't enough, here's yet one more problem for the new president to deal with.