NEW YORK – It's a world where George W. Bush decides he is against the death penalty after witnessing an execution, and swings in favor of gun control when someone tries to assassinate him.
Yet, according to its creators, That's My Bush! isn't meant to be political satire or a president-bashing fest.
"We wanted to do a sitcom that made fun of sitcoms, because we just really don't like sitcoms," co-creator Trey Parker said in a recent conference call with journalists. "We thought that it would be so subversive to take someone who's real and maybe a little vilified and try to make everyone love that person like the American sitcom would do."
But despite what Parker and co-creator Matt Stone say, the show does poke fun at the new first family — and it's not always flattering. Witness a few of the theme song's lyrics: "He's kind of in charge ... That's my Bush! I can't believe he's in the White House ... That's my Bush!"
Even the show's first lady calls into question her husband's ability to run the country at times. During the final scene of the premier, the couple is snuggling in bed after Bush has tried unsuccessfully to keep a date with Laura the same night he hosted a state dinner.
"You may be a bad president, but you're an OK husband sometimes," says Laura with a gleam in her eye.
Parker and Stone came up with the idea to do a sitcom about the president about a year ago and thought of making it about Bill Clinton — but realized there would be a new president by the time the show was ready to air.
The pair planned to go ahead with the program no matter who was voted into office, but for most of last fall firmly believed the comedy would be about Bush's Democratic contender Al Gore because they thought he'd win the election.
"We really thought we were going to be doing a sitcom about Gore — right until Election Day," Parker said. They even wrote half of one episode with Gore as the protagonist. But show production was delayed by the recount process in Florida after the election was deemed too close to call.
"Like everyone else, we had to sit on our hands for five weeks, but we were fully ready to go do The Al Gore Show as compared to The George Bush Show," Stone said.
That's My Bush! incorporates many of the prototypical characters television viewers have grown accustomed to seeing in a situation comedy: the lovable, bumbling husband (Bush); the down-to-earth, moral wife (Laura); the dumb, sexy blond secretary (Princess); the all-business voice of reason (advisor Karl Rove); the saucy housekeeper (Maggie); and the meddling neighbor (Larry). If it sounds like Three's Company meets The Honeymooners or The Brady Bunch meets Married With Children, it's supposed to.
"What we have here is a parody of the genre," said Lisa Chader, a spokeswoman for Comedy Central. "They're tweaking the classic sitcom formulas. They want to have fun with that whole convention."
In that vein, the creators fiddle with an exaggerated, canned laugh track and have the "audience" — the show wasn't taped before live spectators — shout lines with the characters. The program also includes some outrageous, unprintable scenarios and comments typical of the Parker-Stone humor that inspires either devoted love or vehement hatred in South Park viewers.
Cast of Characters
Bush is played by Timothy Bottoms, of The Last Picture Show fame, who has a striking resemblance to the president and an uncanny knack for imitating his facial expressions and gestures. Carrie Quinn Dolin plays Laura Bush, Kurt Fuller is advisor Karl Rove, Marcia Wallace is Maggie the housekeeper, Kristen Miller plays the sexy scheduling assistant, and John D'Aquino is Larry the nosy neighbor.
Comedy Central has agreed to air eight episodes of the half-hour show. It's an ambitious project for the cable channel — the most expensive endeavor they've ever undertaken — but the channel won't reveal exactly how much it cost.
The White House has so far kept mum about That's My Bush! — other than a directive to the producers to stay away from parodying Bush's twin daughters (there was talk about portraying them as lesbians); Comedy Central hasn't heard from the Head Honcho himself.
A White House spokesman did not return calls seeking comment.
"The point of this show is not to really go after or bash George Bush or the Republicans," Stone said. "We've been working really hard on actually making George Bush a really likable guy."
Regardless, it's anyone's guess as to whether That's My Bush! will have the effect of softening the president and satirizing an old TV genre — or wind up incensing viewers instead of amusing them.
"It's definitely the creators of South Park doing a sitcom," Chader said. "I'm sure somewhere along the line someone will be offended. But it's comedy. It's funny stuff."