Jack and Bobby
“Jack and Bobby” was a one-hour drama on the WB in 2004. It used the allure of a future President to put a teenage-drama spin on liberal political themes already expressed in other Thomas Schlamme productions, such as The West Wing and Studio 60.
I started watching the show on Netflix recently after getting feedback from a screenwriting judge that my script for The Making of an Idealist reminded him of the show, and that I needed to be sure to avoid that comparison. It hadn’t occurred to me that a show might have used the premise of combining past and future story lines like I had done, so I checked it out.
The comparison is imperfect at best. J&B is a typical teen drama, with teen angst. A few minutes of each episode are devoted to high-minded retrospectives from a future president’s former rivals and advisors, giving voice to the show’s political issue of the week before the episode transfers that angst to teenagers and high school concerns. But, ultimately, the presidential stuff is superfluous and unnecessary, adding little value to the show except the simple allure of knowing the younger brother becomes President.
The only true value I see is that its differentiates this show from other teenage-dramas, and allows the writers to mine explicitly political themes explored in their political dramas for story ideas.
Take for example, the episode “A Man of Faith.” I’m sorry, but I can’t buy that a 9th-grader visits a Jewish temple for his friend and suddenly has a breakdown and spiritual crisis that leads to a shouting match with his mom, who just spent the week defending her offensively anti-religious sentiment to a crowd of church-going student activists. We never find out what faith he ends up in, but in the very brief moments of documentary we’re told that this sudden interest in religious eventually sends him into the clergy for an unspecific but protestant denomination (he’s a reverend before entering politics) and then as President he’s a liberal, super-ethical guy who shuns religiously-oriented special interest groups, ends religious strife in America, and leads non-denominational surmons on Sundays for his White House staff. The two don’t connect in any way that makes sense.
And to top it off, other details about President Bobby McAllister emerge that show a typically Hollywood approach to politics (the guy ends political apathy with a speech, wins the White House in an unbelievable squeaker despite having “won the election with that first speech [after leaving the GOP]”, is a former Republican who leaves the party to run for President as an Independent because the GOP attacked him in the primaries, is adored by Democrats, etc.).
I’m sorry, the show is good for what it is. As a teen drama with two brothers confronting their hippie, over-bearing mother, along with the hell of high school, it works. It does not need the politics every week to work, and the desire to press (mostly) liberal viewpoints on political themes every week often detracts from the show, particularly in the manner in which they do (however briefly) connect the present with the future.
3 out of 5 stars.
P.S. My script needs work, but one strength it has over this show is that it actually shows how the past and future are inter-connected, with parallel story-building, and tries to be realistic about both elements – something this show certainly lacked.