Monday, November 07, 2016

Cult-TV Theme Watch: The President

Tomorrow, November 8th, 2016 we elect a President to lead this great nation for the next four years.  

In cult television history, as in life, we’ve had some really great United States Presidents and some bad ones. 

Of all the real-life Presidents to be featured in this medium, Abraham Lincoln seems to be the hands-down favorite.  Lincoln (as played by Barry Atwater) appeared in an early episode of the paranormal anthology called One Step Beyond, in the episode titled “The Day The World Wept: The Lincoln Story.” 

This tale aired on February 9, 1960 and involved a survey of all the psychic phenomena surrounding Lincoln’s assassination, including Lincoln’s own portentous dreams of his demise, and the strange case of a printer in East Pennsylvania who hammered out a headline ours before the assassination occurred: “Lincoln murdered – NATIONAL TRAGEDY.”

The Twilight Zone also featured a strange tale involving President Lincoln, “The Passersby.”  This tale by Rod Serling aired on October 6, 1961, and concerned a Confederate widow, Lavinia Godwin (Joanne Linville) watching a parade of the Civil War dead march by her Southern home.  In the last scene, Abraham Lincoln (Austin Green) himself came walking down that road as “the last casualty” of the war that pit brother against brother.

On Star Trek, the third season episode “The Savage Curtain,” broadcast on March 7, 1969, saw the U.S.S. Enterprise encounter the image of President Abraham Lincoln (Lee Bergere) above the volcanic planet Excalbia.  Although sent by the planet’s inhabitants to determine the nature of good and evil, this image of Lincoln looked and acted like President Lincoln, a hero of Captain Kirk’s.

In terms of fictional presidents, cult-television has featured some memorable personalities.  

A riveting and terrifying early episode of The Outer Limits, “The Hundred Days of the Dragon” features President William Lyons Selby (Sidney Blackmer), a candidate who is secretly replaced by a Chinese imposter before his election.  Only Selby’s daughter and vice-president, Theodore Pearson (Phillip Pine) begin to suspect that that something is wrong with the new Commander-in-Chief.  Incidentally, this creepy episode aired only weeks before the assassination of President Kennedy, on September 23, 1963.

In the year 2001, the action series 24 introduced the world to democratic Senator David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) from Maryland.  A terrorist attempted to assassinate Palmer on the day of the California primary, and CTU agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) was assigned to protect him.  

By 24’s second year, Palmer had ascended to the Presidency, and had become (in this timeline/universe) America’s first African-American President.  President Palmer retained the presidency in season two, but dropped out of his re-election bid in season three.

Later in the same series, a dark figure, Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin) ascended to the presidency when President John Keeler was injured.  Logan is a weak man, psychologically-speaking, and makes several terrible decisions during the course of his accidental presidency in seasons four and five.

Seasons 7 and 8 of 24 brought a new Chief Executive, President Allison Taylor, to the White House.  Jones has described the character as part Lyndon Johnson, part Eleanor Roosevelt, part Golda Meir and part John Wayne.

In the Battlestar Galactica universe, we’ve seen two very memorable and different Presidents.  In the original 1978 series, President Adar (Lew Ayres) was a foolish pacifist who delivered destruction and death upon the human race after trusting the Cylons during a detente. 

In the remake of the mid-20002, Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) ascended to the President after the death of Adar and shepherded the rag-tag fleet through a time of cataclysm and chaos.  She did so, incidentally, while suffering from cancer.

One final example: the valedictory season of Smallville (2001 – 2011) gave the world one of its most terrifying and downright evil U.S. Presidents: Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum). 

At least Luthor is not on the ballot tomorrow.

Intriguingly, Sliders predicted a Hillary Clinton Presidency (at least in an alternate world), back in 1995.  

Lastly a personal note: Make certain you vote in this election.  If you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain about the outcome. At least not here.

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