You don’t watch one of Sarah Cooper’s brilliant Trump-lampooning videos just once. The moment a new one appears on your timeline, you gobble it up, then you view it two or three more times before texting the link to your friends, who humor you by responding with thumbs-up or ‘ha ha’ icons, even as they’re thinking, “Thanks Richie, I have a phone and social media accounts too.”
Cooper wasn’t exactly sitting around waiting to become a pandemic-era viral sensation; as a recent Washington Post profile noted, she had earned a master’s degree, had published three books, had been successful working in the tech industry and was doing stand-up in the build-up to 2020. But it was those short performance art videos with titles such as “How to medical” and “How to testing” and “How to hydroxychloroquine” that turned Cooper into one of the brightest lights blazing through the darkness of this terrible year, netting her millions of loyal Followers, an upcoming CBS comedy titled “How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings,” and the Netflix special “Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine,” premiering Tuesday. The format is actually akin to socially subversive variety sketch offerings such as the classic “SCTV” series and even the 1974 indie satirical comedy “The Groove Tube.”
Set within the framework of an unbearably sunny and cheesy morning TV show titled “Everything’s Fine,” with Cooper as the anchor on a lonely set, this is a wildly uneven ride, with some of the bits scoring bullseyes and others falling flat in spectacular fashion — but on balance it’s worth the 50-minute investment on the strength of Cooper’s undeniable comedic skill set and her enormous likability, and an almost overwhelming number of guest contributors, from Jon Hamm to Helen Mirren to Maya Rudolph to Ben Stiller to Fred Armisen to Megan Thee Stallion to Winona Ryder to yep, that IS Marisa Tomei as Satan.
Director-producer Natasha Lyonne (“Russian Doll”) does a fine job of capturing the basic workings of a morning TV show (albeit one that seems to be operating on a shoestring budget), which opens with Cooper doing the classic breezy tease, sounding incredibly upbeat even if the content is a bit weird and disturbing: “A little later, we’ll check in on how the sky’s doing with our favorite meteorologist, Andrea Steele. She’s a scientist! Plus, another zoo runs out of money and we’ll sugarcoat what happens to all the animals. Hope you don’t like emus!”
Within the first couple of minutes, Sarah Cooper the anchor is interviewing “Donald Trump,” aka Sarah Cooper on a golf course, doing the bit that made her famous. It’s still funny, though one could argue the comedy works better when delivered in its original, no-budget viral form. Fred Armisen deftly takes the straight-man role as Cooper’s producer, who goes to increasingly drastic lengths to cover his face and maintain social distance guidelines even as he bumbles his way through the show, which runs into more than a few hiccups.
“Everything’s Fine” alternates between faux-segments within the morning show, commercial breaks, behind-the-scenes exchanges in the control room and on the set, and a couple of stand-alone routines. Jane Lynch is pitch-perfect as a guest baker named, yes, Karen, who freaks out on set when Cooper samples one of her cupcakes, dials 911 and says, “I am with a person and my gut tells me, she is up to no good … She is a female, and I would say at least 70% Afro-American.” This leads to a mini-mockumentary segment, Ken Burns style, about the history of Karens, narrated by Whoopi Goldberg. Sharp, funny stuff.
Other gags you’d expect to be home runs go down swinging. The idea of Jon Hamm as a takeoff on the My Pillow guy named Mr. Pillow, who is promoting “The Mr. Pillow Coronavirus Vaccine!,” is funnier than the execution. Same goes for a segment featuring Aubrey Plaza as the host of the “Q-Anon Q-AC Shopping Channel,” where creepy talking dolls of Kellyanne Conway, Ivanka Trump and Melania Trump provide the vehicle for Cooper to do more of the lip-synching routines.
But every time it appears “Everything’s Fine” is losing momentum, we get a solid bit, e.g., Cooper playing Sarah Evak, a “close-up card magician” performing in the parking lot of the Allstate Arena in Rosemont. (Let’s just say it’s not easy to pull off close-up card magic when the audience is sitting in their cars, spaced far apart.) And even though the target of the satire is dated, there’s comedy gold in seeing Cooper lip-synching Trump and none other than Dame Helen Mirren lip-synching Billy Bush aboard the infamous “Access Hollywood” bus. It’s a funny and yet sobering reminder of how Trump has been awful far longer than he’s been POTUS.
Sarah Cooper is a comic force for our times, with a career that will last far after this madness finally subsides and is already expanding far beyond the boundaries of viral videos.