All the world’s a screen anymore, and in everyday life, as used to be the case just in celebrity and politics, we never stop acting. At best that is a type of considered, even examined, life that supposedly-isolating technology has facilitated; at worst, it’s Mr. Student Body President, the most hilarious pilot I’ve seen since the age of print.
This concept, in which The West Wing is repeated as Doogie Howser, is a savage satire of the logical conclusion of youth culture, competitive hipness, and first-world problems consuming our civic bandwidth. Hollywood used to worry about that scary younger generation taking over the government (Wild in the Streets, 1968); now, it frets about young people each collapsing into a country of one (Men, Women & Children, 2014); in Mr. Student Body President the titular popularity-contest winner strides through the highschool hallways with a team of advisors in tow, spouting Sorkin-cadanced solemnities about pep-rally plans and defaming rival schools’ sports teams as in a democracy/terrorist clash of civilizations.
The triviality of the concerns and the soberness of delivery hilariously burlesque the misplaced priorities that people under 70 would see real-life leaders sputtering if any of those people watched the news, and the trappings of poise and seriousness are a little-remarked consequence of a media-saturated culture; people have not been dumbed down by TV and movies and gaming and wifi, they’ve been given a mynah-bird sophistication, and the comedy and tragedy of Mr. Student Body President is that the senior-year executive doesn’t know how funny he sounds OR what his misspent talents could actually accomplish.
Nicholas Barasch is a prodigy of suave self-importance as the title character, Tyler Prendergast; Jenn Lyon a pillar of appalled, receding civilization as Principal Helfrick; Maggie Ross a bundle of existential anxiety as Mrs. Mayer, the embattled media advisor; and Dolores McDougal and Bill Weeden paragons of flummoxed lifetime-functionary earnestness as student council advisor Mrs. Honeychurch and Assistant Principal Leslie Klemmer, respectively. At one point Honeychurch nods up to helplessly look for a google reference for something unrelated to what the kids have queried; at several points Klemmer is reporting his hapless-Hoover surveillance of students’ tweets to the principal.
Sorkin of course banged out a Facebook movie, and Mr. Student Body President more accurately maps how quick these buzz-thoughts pass us by; Tyler gazes with the weight of the world at the empty space on a wall gallery of pep-rally skits past — Wayne and Garth, “Gangnam Style” — and hopes that his planned (and banned) “Turn Down for What” variation will take its place among the relics. This pilot is the wittiest skewer and scalpel of such self-delusion since Conan O’Brien and Adam West’s Lookwell, which is on no one’s wall, and I hope the greenlight gods will not make the same mistake with Mr. Student Body President — the future of comedy actually does depend on it.