The original version of The Twilight Zone was no stranger to taking on contemporary social issues. And Jordan Peele's reboot — with new episodes Thursdays on CBS All Access — hasn't shied away from (so far) taking on race, conspiracies and (slight spoiler here) pie.
And so I was expected a bit of a head fake with "The Wunderkind," the fifth episode in this new season. The preview certainly was compelling enough. Raff Hanks (John Cho, of Star Trek, Harold and Kumar) is a political operative who decides to help elect a vlogging kid as President of the United States.
Surely they're not taking head-on the state of politics in 2019, which is at once incapable of rising above our baser instincts while also remaining indecipherably complex.
Yeah, they went there. And they're also taking more than a few shots at the state of online entertainment, where it takes nothing more than a phone and a YouTube account to become more instantly recognizable than some past presidents were.
So there's a lot going on here, and it starts with Raff in an operating room. We don't know why. We don't know what happened. We do know (and is TWZ's usual MO) that he made some sort of choice that led him here. It's on him, though we do learn that it was the president who put him here. Somehow.
But then we flash back five years. He's been instrumental in the re-election campaign of what is said to be the most unlikeable human being in the history of American politics. (That's certainly saying something.) And as someone who grew up in the late 1980s and early '90s, I couldn't have been happier to have John Larroquette yelling at me as President James Stevens. (Between Dan on Night Court and Lionel Tribbey on The West Wing, the world simply needs more of John Larroquette being John Larroquette.)
But Stevens loses. Badly.
Raff does exactly what you'd expect in this situation — he ends up in a bar, doing his time exactly how you'd expect someone in that position to end up. (Reminder to self: This is a not a good coping mechanism, nor is it as romantically cliche as you'd like to believe.)
But that's when he sees a TV news story about Oliver Foley (the still-young Jacob Tremblay from Room), who's been innocently making his case for the presidency on YouTube. It's all feel-good stuff, and exactly what you'd expect from someone who has yet to fall down the PewDiePie/Shane Dawson/Logan Paul pit of despair that ultimately engulfs those who get famous on YouTube while lacking the social, intellectual and moral means to cope.
Yeah, Oliver is going to break bad. It's just a matter of time, right?
And it's certainly painful to see a young kid like that perform exactly how you'd expect in a grown-up debate. And even worse to see his mother literally carry him away from it.
That's not nearly as painful as the abrupt resolution to the whole thing. There's nothing particularly surprising about the entire episode. Most everything works out exactly as you'd expect — and as more than one character predicts.
And the whole thing is wonderfully acted, from Larroquette's brief bit, to Cho and Tremblay, and the excellent Allison Tolman (who you'll know from Fargo, Castle Rock and others). And a shout-out to Tremblay's real-life sister playing Oliver's sister.
But the reason Raff ends up in surgery is a let-down. There's no real twist. (Even when you think that maybe there's a twist to the twist.) There's nothing too subtle about the lesson learned, either. Yeah, it's a bad idea to have an uneducated, emotionally impotent person as the leader of the free world, never mind how much he resonates with his fans. Never mind how "real" he seems.
And it also was a bad idea to elect Oliver.
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