Sarah Cooper’s spot-on parodies of President Trump turned her into a social-media sensation, a promotional opportunity that didn’t present an obvious way to translate that into a more expansive version. Happily, her guest-star-studded Netflix variety special incorporates her most famous shtick – satirically lip-synching Trump speeches and interviews – while adding a few extremely clever sketches and, perhaps inevitably, a couple clunkier bits akin to the last 15 minutes of “Saturday Night Live.”
The central concept of “Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine” casts the comic and writer as the host of a happy-talk morning show by the same title, slowly losing her mind (understandably) as she tries to maintain a perpetual faux smile while a pandemic-plagued world crumbles around her.
That provides the excuse for a mix of news segments (including a Trump call-in, with Cooper portraying him on the golf course), commercial spoofs and bizarre flights of fancy, punctuated by a parade of big-name guests (the best by far being an interlude with Helen Mirren) indicative of how many admirers Cooper has amassed.
Directed by Natasha Lyonne, this exercise in what might be called “SC-TV” provides a nifty showcase for Cooper’s talents. That said, the hour (OK, 49 minutes) frankly might have been stronger by skipping the detours and adhering more tightly to the news-satire conceit, such as when Cooper discusses the problems faced by zoos before cheerfully adding, “We’ll sugarcoat what happens to all the animals.”
The long list of cameos includes Maya Rudolph (who’s also among the producers), Jon Hamm, Ben Stiller, Jane Lynch, Megan Thee Stallion, Marisa Tomei and Winona Ryder, putting its star in very good company. Still, this is clearly Cooper’s showcase, with a throwback feel to those old variety shows built around comedic standouts like Richard Pryor, albeit with a bit more thematic adhesive and a more consistently pointed political edge.
Television has a spotty track record in seeking to capitalize on performers that have achieved prominence via newer platforms, which tend to innovate out of necessity. By that measure Cooper’s Netflix debut is on balance impressive, especially factoring in the logistical challenges of turning it around during a pandemic. (One gag involves the producer of the fictional show, played by Fred Armisen, wearing a series of increasingly elaborate get-ups to protect himself.)
At its best, “Everything’s Fine” is a reminder that everything is most certainly not fine, conjuring laughter by capturing the sheer absurdity of it all, much like Cooper’s Trump-channeling videos. That’s the gift, in essence, that Cooper has doled out in 60-second bites to those slowly losing their minds, and if nothing else, the special feels like well-deserved recognition for services rendered.
“Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine” premieres Oct. 27 on Netflix.