Quarantine times have been tough on everybody, but amid the fear and sickness and political frustration, certain figures have emerged as focal points for our weary entertainment attentions. We're (somehow) only six months or so removed from Tiger King being an early COVID phenomenon, remember. One such pandemic-era success story has been the rise of comedian Sarah Cooper, who rose to fame thanks to a series of viral videos where she brilliantly lip-synced various insane-sounding Trump monologues.
How to cognitive pic.twitter.com/YM51OJ58qA— Sarah Cooper (@sarahcpr) July 10, 2020
The trajectory of Cooper's 2020, which she says she began by doing a late night set at a pizza place in Jersey City, has been whiplash-inducing. By August she was guest-hosting Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and today she's dropping her own Netflix comedy special, packed with A-list cameos. Co-produced by Maya Rudolph (who also co-stars), Natasha Lyonne (who also directs), and Danielle Renfrew Behrens, Sarah Cooper: Everything's Fine casts Cooper as the anchor of a morning newscast, which as you can imagine in the time of Covid and Trump and wildfires and police violence is an exercise in trying to stifle one's own scream. Cooper's on-air personality is one of forced cheerfulness, the desperation and mania barely concealed behind her eyes. This no straightforward narrative, of course, but instead a pretext for a variety of sharp-edged mini-sketch diversions that blend social commentary, A-list celebrity cameos, and an ever escalating sense of insanity. There's Ben Stiller as a slimy futurist tech exec, Jon Hamm infomercialing a pillow that distributes a dubious Covid vaccine, and Rudolp as the weather person melting down about the state of our (at times literal) global inferno.
Some of these detours exist within the framework of the newscast — like Cooper doing a cooking segment with Jane Lynch as a racist white baker, or her interviewing Megan Thee Stallion — while others are commercial-break fodder, like Aubrey Plaza playing a QAnon conspiracy theorist selling American Girl-style dolls of various Trump acolytes (each superimposed with Cooper's face lip-syncing some audio clip or another). If this all sounds like the show is going several layers deep on arch references to current-events, you're not wrong. The special starts out on the razor's edge of surreal and quickly dives right off into the abyss. If you've ever seen anything from the Adult Swim series Infomercials — the once-ubiquitous "Too Many Cooks," for example, or the even more upsetting "Unedited Footage of a Bear" — you'll recognize a similar vibe here, at least until it descends further to overtly Lynchian strangeness.
Cooper wastes little time getting down to her bread and butter in the special, namely the Trump lip-syncing. Her particular flair for pinpoint accuracy and microexpressions that crank up the already-high absurdity levels is on full display. Still, Everything's Fine may be a tough sell for those who already feel aggressed enough by the day-in, day-out experience of living in Trump's America. Cooper's special is a deliberate descent into hell on Earth, and while that's certainly an accurate and legitimate thematic route to take, for some it may feel like you've willingly committed yourself to spending the day with that person on your Twitter feed who's constantly quote-tweeting every awful thing that happens with "LOL we're fucked."
One particular litmus test for whether Everything's Fine will be for you, albeit one that comes pretty late in the 50-minute special, is when she and guest Helen Mirren painstakingly lip-sync the Access Hollywood tape, with Mirren in the so-far-beneath-her-it's-burning-up-in-the-Earth's-molten-core role of Billy Bush. If you're somehow not already so dead inside that the infamous "grab 'em by the pussy" line has ceased to register, the moment could be an audacious occasion to stare down the devil. For anyone else, it could feel like needlessly signing yourself up for PTSD.
That the current state of television is vast enough that someone like Sarah Cooper could attract the celebrity backing of a Maya Rudolph and thus rocket her way from TikTok to a Netflix special in a matter of months is actually encouraging. I'm happy to have Maya Rudolph stamping her approval on the next generation of comedic talent, and I'm happy that the likes of Lynch, Mirren, Winona Ryder, Marisa Tomei, and Danielle Brooks get to play in that sandbox as well. As a sketch special, Everything's Fine is a predictably uneven affair. The best moments — like Whoopi Goldberg narrating a Ken Burns-style documentary about the history of "Karens" (a particularly satisfying irony given Whoopi's birth name) — you wish would last longer. The rest will depend on whether or not you feel like a Trump by any other lip-dub is still a Trump.
Sarah Cooper: Everything's Fine is now streaming on Netflix.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.
TOPICS: Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine, Netflix, Aubrey Plaza, Ben Stiller, Danielle Brooks, Helen Mirren, Jane Lynch, Jon Hamm, Marisa Tomei, Maya Rudolph, Megan Thee Stallion, Natasha Lyonne, Whoopi Goldberg, Winona Ryder