Primal Screen: The Sinner-in-Chief
Published: February 15, 2012
American Experience: Clinton (9pm Monday and 8pm Tuesday, KLRN)
In 2008, American Experience presented a whitewashed portrait of President George H.W. Bush’s presidency, presumably to avoid Republican charges of liberal bias. Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton, gets a more balanced treatment in a new two-part documentary. I guess PBS doesn’t worry about Democratic charges of conservative bias.
In any case, Clinton is the juiciest soap opera you’ll see on TV all week. In hindsight, Bill Clinton looks like an outsized character from American folklore, with his string of catastrophes and reversals of fortune. Commentators identify “resiliency” as his central quality. “He disappoints [supporters] every time on some level, but he always gets up and tries to make it better,” says former press secretary Dee Dee Myers. “What else can you ask of a sinner?”
The documentary doesn’t stint on sin, particularly Clinton’s love of the ladies. But commentators across the political spectrum can’t help acknowledging his gifts, both intellectual and political. Staff members from his early Arkansas days refer to the “extra battery” that allowed him to campaign for 20 hours at a stretch. He wouldn’t leave a factory or a restaurant until he’d met every person there, making each one feel like the most important person on earth.
Even if you lived through the Clinton presidency, you’ll find this an entertaining rerun. Part one focuses on the monumental failures of his first two years, from the scandals to the foreign policy missteps to the health-care fiasco. When gleeful Republicans won both house of Congress at the midterms, a comeback was finally beyond Clinton’s reach.
Or was it? Part one ends with a quote from former cabinet member Robert Reich: “Bill Clinton was constitutionally incapable of not coming back.”
Billy the Exterminator (9pm Saturday, A&E)
This reality series has lost none of its crazy intensity in season five. Billy Bretherton still holds your attention as he deals with a variety of pests, decked out like a heavy-metal roadie in stringy blond hair, shades, and tattoos. In this week’s episode, he visits New Orleans to remove a bee colony from a condominium. Things start out promisingly enough as Billy takes measures to protect himself. “I’m trying to calm them down with this smoker,” he says, letting the smoke waft into the second-story hive.
But as usual, the situation gets out of hand, and Billy gets hysterical. Perched on a shaky ladder, he becomes a target for 30,000 very angry bees. “I’ve started to wonder if I’ve stirred up a hive of bad-tempered little assassins,” he says after the first few stings. After a few more, his language turns apocalyptic. “Holy hell! I’m staring into the mouth of the DEVIL HIMSELF!”