If Sarah Cooper’s Netflix special were secretly an avant-garde commentary on the challenge of making comedy in and about the year 2020, it would be a huge success.
Instead, it’s more likely what it appears to be on the surface: a star-making vehicle that stalled out in the driveway. Although Everything’s Fine certainly does capture some of the horror of going about your life in a uniquely terrible year, it is ultimately just about what you might imagine out of a Netflix special from the president’s chief lip syncer.
Prior to six months ago, Cooper was a comedian and former Google employee with a modest Twitter following, best known for her two satirical books—100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings and How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings. Then the president suggested people inject disinfectant in their bodies to combat COVID-19, forever altering the trajectory of Cooper’s life.
In that moment, she was moved to film herself alternately lip-syncing, and reacting to, the infamous bleach-injection press briefing. Little did she know that she’d captured viral lightning in a bottle. Although she initially uploaded the video dubbed “How to Medical” to TikTok, Twitter is where it blew up, earning 23 million views and high-placed fans such as Ben Stiller and Jerry Seinfeld. Further videos inevitably followed.
What made Cooper’s lip-syncs so compelling in a sewer of vapid Trump content is how she provided visual proof that the president often comes across as a spicy, if spaced-out, Toddlers and Tiaras contestant. Although Cooper’s expressive face and sharp editing choices bring more to the table than a simple gender-flip, her femininity further punctured his macho myth-making. (Although, in truth, the un-lip-synced Trump already appears far less macho than many of his followers are willing to admit.)
Considering that Trump is a malfunctioning fountain of syntactic wackiness, gobsmacking fabrications, and pathological braggadocio, Cooper was never hurting for material. Her resulting videos catapulted the comic to instant fame online—and beyond. In short order, she racked up several profiles in glossy publications, millions of Twitter followers, a guest-hosting gig on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and even an appearance at the Democratic National Convention back in August. Cooper quickly went from positioning herself as a leading figure in #Resistance comedy to having Democrats tout her as an arrow in their quiver against the incumbent candidate. When Trump announced plans to shut down TikTok late in the summer, her fans playfully speculated that it was a bid to block the service from disseminating more Sarah Cooper videos.
The excitement around Cooper has now boiled over into anticipation for her biggest, boldest offering yet: a Netflix special. By dropping the special one week out from arguably the most important election in modern history, Netflix is signaling that it considers Everything’s Fine something of an October Surprise—a slightly preemptive victory dance on Donald Trump’s political grave.
If anything, however, it’s more of an October Surprise in Trump’s favor—a gift to MAGA die-hards who think they’ve gotten better at comedy than liberals and leftists.
The concept of the special is that, ever since the spring of 2017, Cooper has anchored a morning news show called Everything’s Fine, and that having to pretend the titular phrase is true is getting to her. The news show setting is a framework that allows for guests like Megan Thee Stallion (as herself), fake commercials and infomercials, snippets of other programming, and appearances from a harried weather lady (Maya Rudolph). Many possibilities abound.
Few of these vignettes really connect, though. There’s a QAnon QVC sketch, because both of those things have Q’s in them. Jane Lynch plays a Karen whom we know is a Karen because she is uncomfortable with Cooper’s Blackness and is also named Karen. A sketch featuring Jon Hamm assumes that Cooper’s fans have more than a glancing familiarity with the MyPillow guy and his whole deal, and have been champing at the bit to see him taken down a peg.
The jokes occasionally hit notes as mystifying as they are unsatisfying. Like the special altogether, many have a rushed, unfinished feel, as though time and safety constraints dictated the terms in which they were conceived and executed. Perhaps that’s exactly what happened. It would explain why the lengthy list of amazing comedy minds in the writers room—Natasha Lyonne, Paula Pell, Cole Escola, Jake Fogelnest, and Rudolph, among others—turned in something rather beneath their collective talents.
All the sketches are essentially like so many garnishes around the real meat of this dish: Cooper’s lip-syncs. Over the course of the special’s 47 minutes, she offers many different kinds of lip-syncs, from many different eras of Trump, with higher production values that tend to chip away at the simplicity that made them funny in the first place. By the time we get to the climactic lip sync of the notorious Access Hollywood tape— with Helen Mirren as Billy Bush and Jonathan Van Ness as a woman he and Trump are ogling—it should be clear to anyone watching what an empty exercise it is to build an entire special around lip-syncing to Donald Trump.
As short insta-videos mocking whatever bonkers bon mot Trump just made in real time, they were funny, urgent, and refreshing. In this format, however, they’re the synthesis of four years of Trump-era SNL cold opens: famous guest-assisted rehashes of moments we’ve already processed. They’re not making points. They’re not changing minds. They’re patting viewers on the back for recognizing that Orange Man Bad, a service one never need leave Twitter to receive.
In one telling scene from the special, Donald Trump is ostensibly watching the Everything’s Fine show and tweeting about it live. It’s clear how much Cooper and her collaborators want to manifest this sketch into reality, fulfilling the prophecy of those fans who thought Trump might be threatening TikTok just to take her down. They want Trump to call Cooper a third-rate nobody who is very unfair and mean to him, thus advertising her special to his 88 million Twitter followers and potentially the Fox News viewership, and finally proving, on the eve of his potential reelection no less, that Sarah Cooper lives rent-free in Trump’s head.
As of this moment, however, Trump has never tweeted about or publicly mentioned her once. There’s no indication he’s even thought of her at all.
It’s doubtful this special will change that, or anything else.