TV TATTLE

Sarah Cooper: Everything's Fine is an hour of comedic hot potato, and no one has any room to breathe

  • TikTok Trump impersonator Sarah Cooper's Netflix special, directed by Natasha Lyonne and counting Maya Rudolph as an executive producer, tries to do too much with its celebrity cameos and frantic pace, says Kathryn VanArendonk. "There’s a smorgasbord of celebrity appearances, current-events nods, pop-culture references, and a few bouts of sheer silliness," she says. "The individual bits are tightly written, and the production values are sky high. The mostly slickly made pieces include Jon Hamm as the CEO of MyPillow, touting a pillow that can cure the coronavirus; Maya Rudolph as a meteorologist who loses her grip on decorum while announcing a nightmarish forecast thanks to climate change; and Aubrey Plaza as a home-shopping channel host desperately trying to convince her viewers that she’s not part of QAnon. When it’s all sewn together, though, it feels both over- and underproduced. It’s full of tight edits and bouncing, helter-skelter slides from one fast thing to the next. It is an hour of comedic hot potato, and no one has any room to breathe. I’m sure that’s purposeful. It seems like the chief goal of Everything’s Fine is to replicate what it feels to be alive at this moment, and if that’s the case, the feeling of the special is not wrong. It is a nightmarish, frantic, unstoppable stream of a million different things happening all at once. But that unstoppable stream and the fast-edited, overproduced bits are borrowing from digital rhythms. Everything’s Fine picks up a touch of the speed and fast-change discordant transitions of the ever-refreshing news feed, and it doesn’t seem ideally suited when stretched to the length of an hour. Some elements seem to run too long (we get it, Fred Armisen, you can’t close the door while wearing your goofy social-distancing suit), while others get cut off too quickly. As a whole, Everything’s Fine struggles to feel grounded in itself."

    ALSO:

    • Despite Everything's Fine being her special, Sarah Cooper seems like a background character: Putting Cooper in the same scenes with great comedic actresses like Maya Rudolph and Aubrey Plaza only reveals her inability to keep up with them," says Hazel Cills, adding: "On paper a first-time special like this that places a comic performer in the same sketches as someone like (Fred) Armisen or Ben Stiller sounds like a great idea, a testament to Cooper’s potential star power that she’d work with such talent. But seeing how little Cooper brings to the table makes that decision seem like a crutch, as if more experienced performers were trotted in to fill in the gaping holes so that Cooper has little to do other than stand there. When she does take center stage, she does what she’s now known for: she lip-syncs. She lip-syncs to Trump audio, several times. She lip-syncs to Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump, and Kellyanne Conway speaking. She and Helen Mirren inexplicably act out, lip-syncing the whole time, the Billy Bush and Trump Access Hollywood audio, and it’s awfully hard to find the humor in it not just because of its horrible content but also because the sketch’s central set-up (that they are women, lip-syncing this sexist dialogue) has already been played out several times in the same program."
    • Cooper reveals her taste in comedy is deeply weird: "Everything’s Fine is a dramatic departure from Cooper’s Trump videos," says Shirley Li. "Darker and more sardonic in tone, with an overarching story that requires some patience to understand, the special’s high-concept nature isn’t exactly laugh-out-loud funny. The comedian may have gone viral for 'playing Trump,' but here, with her biggest platform yet, she demonstrates what her comedic taste really is—and it’s somewhat surprising to learn that it’s deeply weird. It’s also invigorating to watch. Although Cooper does lip-synch to Trump in some segments, the best material in Everything’s Fine brings to mind Adult Swim programming, fever-dream-like productions that make just enough sense to keep you mesmerized."
    • Everything’s Fine is more concerned with being a time capsule of the year 2020 than a vehicle for Cooper’s perspective, humor or thoughts: "If you want references to Karens, the MyPillow guy, QAnon, and COVID-19 vaccines, there’s plenty of that," says Ashley Ray-Harris. "If you want politically smart jokes that satirize Trump’s politics, lack of morals, or the state of the world, there isn’t much of that. Everything’s Fine is content to be a streaming sketch version of KC Green’s 2013 comic, 'This is Fine.' At most, the jokes directed at Trump don’t have much to say except that he might be a baby an alien made talk."
    • Everything’s Fine is dark and funny, but it won't make you laugh: "If the phrase 'national four-year nightmare' offends you, you will probably not enjoy this special," says Robert Lloyd. "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."
    • Cooper has an actor’s gift for saying one thing while indicating another: "She gets a lot out of a down-turned lip or a darting eye," says Jason Zinoman. "And this special shows that she can do much more than lip-sync; she has a promising future as an actor in television or movies. She’s currently developing a series for CBS. She is a perfect foil to the disasters around her, both inside the show (the Wi-Fi goes out, racist white guests ask for her identification) and in the outside world (a meteor is heading toward Earth). A production guy played by Fred Armisen keeps calm, but his constantly shifting costume, from masks to helmets to a beekeeper suit, tells another story. A staggering number of celebrity cameos (Winona Ryder, Helen Mirren, Aubrey Plaza, Connie Chung) surround the new star, whom everyone keeps calling 'Sarah Cooper' as if she’s not yet on a first-name basis with anyone. The comic ideas vary wildly in quality and tone, with a few too many decent but undeveloped ideas, like Cooper struggling to do close-up magic at a drive-in."
    • Everything's Fine provides a nifty showcase for Cooper's talents with a throwback feel to those old variety shows built around comedic standouts
    • How Maya Rudolph and Natasha Lyonne gathered so many celebs for Cooper's special: "No one remembers which came first, the chicken or the egg, but I think in getting a chance to have a meeting with Sarah, we were just so excited that we were able to talk to her about what she was doing," says Rudolph of coming up with the special. "Because it was, I think it's fair to say, the person of the moment encapsulating how we were all feeling and executing it so beautifully. I don't remember what happened next, but I think the special came about very quickly. I remember talking to Natasha [and she said], 'OK, this has to get done. I'm going to direct it.' And I was like, 'OK, we have to have it done by the election.' She just jumped into action." As for the celebrity cameos, Rudolph says: "I have to say that it speaks to people's desire to work with Sarah and be a part of what she's created that people were jumping. Helen Mirren is a case in point — just jumping at the opportunity to do this. There were several lovely people who agreed to do it that were scared at the last minute of being on a set, and rightfully so because it's a very strange time and we don't have all the answers. It sucked to lose them, but we get it. People don't want to f*ck around with their life."
    • Everything's Fine's shoot was grueling because coronavirus protocols required 15-minute mask breaks: Mirren's scene, in particular, had to be shot in 10-minute increments due to cramped quarters on set.
    • Sarah Cooper hopes to "Phoebe Waller-Bridge this thing" after Trump leaves office: Cooper would like to move on from President Trump and for Trump to move out of the White House. “I want him to go away for so many reasons,” she says. “For my sanity, this isn’t something that I want to do for the rest of my life.” As for her career, Cooper says: “I’m just hoping to Phoebe Waller-Bridge this thing, adding: “I want to make people laugh. That’s my No. 1 thing.”

    TOPICS: Sarah Cooper, Netflix, Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine, Maya Rudolph, Natasha Lyonne, Coronavirus, Trump Presidency




  • More TV Tattle: