Home from prison and with his famous mop-top hairdo now mostly silver and gray, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is in his Ravenswood Manor home, recording a birthday Cameo video for a guy named Andrew. The entire message is supposed to be “Andrew, you are f---ing golden,” a play on Blagojevich’s legendarily self-incriminating recording in which he said the U.S. Senate seat he controlled was, well, f---ing golden.
What follows is a truncated version of Blagojevich’s message.
“Here’s what Corey wants me to say to you: Andrew, you are f---ing golden. Happy Birthday, buddy. Now that’s all he wants me to say and yet I feel like it’s not enough. … I want to let you know, I didn’t let you down, I didn’t break a single law, cross a single line, it was all politics, routine political conversations initiated by then President-elect Obama. … Eight years into that wretched journey, who’d a thought a Republican president, Donald Trump, would reach in to rescue me, a Democrat governor, and restore my freedom. … President Trump is the only president in American history to have fired and freed the same guy. Even Abraham Lincoln didn’t do that.”
He. Just. Can’t. Help. Himself.
Illinoisans and Chicagoans in particular have been Blago’d and Blago’d and Blago’d through the decades and one can understand why some would be just fine never hearing from or seeing Rod Blagojevich again, and yet the four-part Hulu documentary series “Being Blago” (premiering Friday) is an addictively digestible, darkly funny, well-photographed and expertly edited work that serves as a reminder of the wild rollercoaster that has been Blago’s personal and professional life — and a fascinating update, as Blagojevich literally opens the door to his home and allows the filmmakers to capture him and his reluctant-participant wife Patti as they try to move forward with their lives.
Problem is, only one of them really wants to move forward. The other one is still glad-handing the public, crying woe-is-me and openly speculating about running again, even though the state Senate has passed a resolution prohibiting him from running for any office in Illinois. (Blago’s lawsuit to overturn that ruling is pending.)
“Being Blago” is produced by ABC Owned Television Stations, with Justin Allen and Matt Knutson as co-directors and co-executive producers, and it features a plethora of familiar faces providing insights and analysis, including radio/TV personality Roe Conn, the hilarious Maze Jackson, legendary ABC-7 investigative hound Chuck Goudie and former ABC-7 great Paul Meincke. (In the interest of transparency: I do not appear in this documentary and had nothing to do with it, but I am a paid contributor to “Windy City Weekend” on ABC-7.)
The production values include some nifty touches like an opening title card with two portraits of Blago combined to make him look like Harvey Dent/Two-Face; a brilliant use of graphics as commentary in one sequence. and a corny but amusing scene in which actors portray Chicago barkeeps and customers who explain the ins and outs of Democratic Machine politics and the power carried by certain alderpersons, including one Dick Mell, who served in the Chicago City Council for nearly 40 years and not so coincidentally happens to be Blagojevich’s father-in-law.
Mostly, though, this is a straightforward, fast-paced, traditional documentary, alternating between news clips and old interviews and election night reports chronicling Blagojevich’s quick rise to power and spectacular fall from grace, and present-day glimpses of Blago’s life in which he’s still that fascinating combination of charismatic and irritating, upbeat and reflective, narcissistic and self-deprecating. (Typical quote: “I gotta tell you: I was a f---ing good governor.”)
Meanwhile, Patti speaks with admirable candor and sincerity as she discusses the difficulties within the family when her husband came home after eight years in prison, creating a situation with “four people who really didn’t know each other. The girls were grown up by the time he came home. When he left, they were still children. We went from eight years of nothing to 24/7.”
And when you’re with Rod 24/7, Rod would be the first to tell you that might be too much Rod. At one point, as he discusses a possible run for office one day even as Patti has made it clear she’ll be gone if he makes that move, Rod tells his interviewers, “I was so blessed and fortunate to fall in love with somebody like Patti. Thank you so much honey, for walking through life with me.” Patti laughs and says, “For the cameras …” and keeps on laughing as she says, “What’s the point?”
Rod: “What’s the point? No, I’m grateful to you.”
Patti, still chuckling: “OK.”
We’re often inside the Blagojevich home — the oversized bungalow structure with the raised “Evita” staircase just made for impromptu press conferences — as Blago putters about, cleaning up dog poop on the back patio and taking the crew into a family room to say, “This is where I said, ‘f---ing golden.’ Right there on the floor.”
You half expect to see a plaque commemorating the spot.
Blagojevich talks about his prison experiences, including performing onstage with his band, G Rod and the Jailhouse Rockers (Lord help us), and seems to be constantly on the go, making appearances at churches and bars, all the while pumping hands and trading jokes as if he’s never left the campaign trail.
As “Being Blago” makes clear, he really never has stopped campaigning and most likely never will.