Review: Triumph’s Summer Election Special on Hulu

A foul-mouthed puppet dog has persuaded me to finally sign up for Hulu.

Hulu just announced this week it’d end its free streaming service (although you can find some of that programming via Yahoo! in a new deal), putting it more in line with Netflix with $7.99/month (ads) and $11.99/month (no ads) subscription options. Which means you’ll have to pony up to watch the new Triumph the Insult Comic Dog special filmed during the 2016 Republican and Democratic national conventions. At least if you forget to unsubscribe after accepting a free trial subscription. But that’s another story for another day.

Robert Smigel and his band of writers for Triumph earned an Emmy nomination this year for Hulu and Funny or Die for their February special covering the primary campaigns in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Their efforts are much more focused here in Triumph’s Summer Election Special.

It helps, of course, that Smigel has taken Triumph to the major party political conventions since 2004, back when he worked for Conan O’Brien. So he knows the territory. And having seen what worked and what didn’t after following the 2016 presidential candidates, they could expose and amplify the true ridiculousness of this election season.

Even from the cold opening scene, jumping ahead chronologically past the RNC to the burn the Bernie or Bust crowd protesting in the hot streets of Philadelphia, Triumph fires off zingers such as “Bernie is like the Dave Matthews of politics. I can never hate him as much as I hate his fans,” and “Why don’t you learn to compromise, like your Tinder matches did?”

They tie the segments within the 65-minute special together with a series of panel discussions in a New York City studio moderated by Triumph, with a hodgepodge of folks from former Congressman Bernie Frank and political reporters from Politico and The Atlantic, to the “Dell dude” from TV ads 15 years ago and Blackwolf the Dragonmaster, which, well, just makes you want to get back out to the convention floors. None of the panel segments turn out nearly as valuable as Triumph ad-libbing off the leash with unwitting delegates and protesters in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

For every political operative or security official unaware of Smigel’s Triumph shtick, there are just as many passersby (and especially cable TV anchors and personalities) who do recognize him. He has plenty of fun with the CNN people, from photobomb pranking to outright heckling of Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper to their faces. A couple of Republican delegates call out to Triumph, momentarily saving him from getting kicked out by RNC security. A Roger Ailes impersonator by his side also proves amazingly effective.

A walk through the streets of Philadelphia with actor Dennis Haskins (Principal Belding from Saved by the Bell) as a Benjamin Franklin impersonator leading a fake tour, fed all of his lines remotely by Triumph, is amusing on the face of it, albeit a tangent from actual election narrative.

Three segments in which Triumph backs off into a supporting or virtually non-existent role work extremely well.

In a Cleveland park, they set up a dunk tank where agitated Trump supporters could throw balls to collapse first a Muslim man, and later a gay married man, into the water. The taunts by the “Muslim man” actor toward the Trump supporters would win any roast battle. Later, also in Cleveland, the production rented an actual tank to roll through the streets of a predominantly black neighborhood, with a Trump impersonator inside the tank trying his worst to appeal to them all while only waving his hand out the top of the tank. Makes you understand why recent polls have Trump ranking fourth (fourth!) among black voters for the 2016 presidential election.

Nevertheless, another segment — in which they paid for an actual focus group of actual Trump supporters (all of whom turned out to be white) to offer opinions and suggestions on potential TV ads — makes evident just how disturbingly racist and ignorant Trump’s appeals have become. And how much they’re connecting with some voters. It’s one thing for Jimmy Kimmel Live producers to ask pedestrians on Hollywood Boulevard for their opinions about fake news headlines to demonstrate how willingly strangers will lie just to be on TV. It’s quite another for people to openly support outrageous propositions such as putting electric collars on Mexicans to zap them at the border, or openly question whether Hillary Clinton is a woman, and then get them to sign a release afterward once they’ve known they’ve been pranked. Yeah. They’re totally still cool with it. Just like how they’re still totally cool with Trump.

As Smigel’s Triumph asks when he introduces viewers to this summer election special: “And through it all, I wondered: Are Americans ready to be led by a woman? Or are they pretty confident they’d survive a nuclear war?”

The answer’s a no-brainer. Sadly, I’m wondering how many voters have lost their brains already, and what it’ll take to learn them by November. If Triumph’s insults don’t do the trick, what will?

Watch Triumph’s Summer Election Special on Hulu.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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