comedy review

Everything’s Fine Is a Frantic Hour of Hot Potato

Sarah Cooper in Everything’s Fine. Photo: Lacey Terrell/Netflix

In the closing credits of Everything’s Fine, Netflix’s new comedy special featuring Trump lip-sync TikTok sensation Sarah Cooper, Cooper’s standing on a golf course. It’s a wink back at an earlier moment of the special when Cooper performed a Trump lip sync, promising great plans for the future while futzing around on a golfing green. Cooper, now playing herself, strides out onto the course and takes a deep sigh of relief. She has spent most of the special playing the role of a forced-to-be-cheerful morning news anchor, locked in the downward spiraling nightmare of 2020 but required to declare, as the title suggests, that everything’s fine. Now she’s escaped, and she’s standing on the green, finally free.

Cooper then looks up at the sky and sees a meteor hurtling toward Earth, pointed straight at her. Her face gapes in horror. She starts running, first this way and then that. The scene cuts a few times, too, so there’s an extra emphasis on the futility of it. The meteor is coming and she’s just down there on a golf course, running in fruitless circles. Nothing matters and nothing she can do will stop it. As the closing-credits music kicks in (lyrics: “It’s so nice to be in hell!”), our last image of Cooper is of her crouching behind a pitifully thin pine tree. It’s funny because the apocalypse is coming! What the hell is that tiny pine tree going to do to shield her?

The whole special feels like those closing moments. It’s frantic. There’s a smorgasbord of celebrity appearances, current-events nods, pop-culture references, and a few bouts of sheer silliness. The individual bits are tightly written, and the production values are sky high. The mostly slickly made pieces include Jon Hamm as the CEO of MyPillow, touting a pillow that can cure the coronavirus; Maya Rudolph as a meteorologist who loses her grip on decorum while announcing a nightmarish forecast thanks to climate change; and Aubrey Plaza as a home-shopping channel host desperately trying to convince her viewers that she’s not part of QAnon. When it’s all sewn together, though, it feels both over- and underproduced. It’s full of tight edits and bouncing, helter-skelter slides from one fast thing to the next. It is an hour of comedic hot potato, and no one has any room to breathe.

I’m sure that’s purposeful. It seems like the chief goal of Everything’s Fine is to replicate what it feels to be alive at this moment, and if that’s the case, the feeling of the special is not wrong. It is a nightmarish, frantic, unstoppable stream of a million different things happening all at once. But that unstoppable stream and the fast-edited, overproduced bits are borrowing from digital rhythms. Everything’s Fine picks up a touch of the speed and fast-change discordant transitions of the ever-refreshing news feed, and it doesn’t seem ideally suited when stretched to the length of an hour. Some elements seem to run too long (we get it, Fred Armisen, you can’t close the door while wearing your goofy social-distancing suit), while others get cut off too quickly. As a whole, Everything’s Fine struggles to feel grounded in itself.

There are some moments that feel memorable and sticky and worthwhile. Aubrey Plaza’s slow descent into QAnon world is as weird and uncomfortable as much of the rest of Everything’s Fine wishes it were. Maya Rudolph’s meteorologist turn works because Rudolph is, as always, an absolutely undeniable screen magnet. There’s a legitimately strange and discomfiting scene where Cooper is joined in the Trump lip-syncing game by none other than Helen Mirren — they’re performing the Access Hollywood bus scene, with Cooper playing Trump and Mirren in the role of Billy Bush. Mirren’s Bush is so bizarre, and the sight of two people acting out that audio tape while actually inside a bus ogling a leggy beauty is weirdly intense. It’s one of the few moments in Everything’s Fine that approaches the shock of illumination Cooper became famous for, the immediacy and energy of her original Trump lip syncs.

But it feels notable that the most memorable, exciting pieces of Everything’s Fine come from those celebrity appearances and not from moments where Cooper herself is holding the center stage. Clearly the pace of the special is intentionally reflecting a growing sense of panic about the state of the world, but the game of hot potato inside Everything’s Fine also seems designed to let Cooper keep passing that potato to someone else so she never has to hold it for too long. The up-close format of her social-media videos lets small nuances of her face play outsize roles in her performance. She is a master of eye twitches and lip curls. In a wider frame, that control and animation does not always translate, and her voice doesn’t always succeed in cutting through the broader mayhem of the special. If Everything’s Fine sometimes feels ungrounded, it’s at least partly because Cooper herself should be at the center, and yet she often gets lost.

What Cooper does effectively communicate is precisely what the title of the special points at: that feeling of tap dancing over the void. She is desperately trying to continue everyday life while the world falls apart around her, and she’s good at expressing the alarming cognitive dissonance of that desperation even though there’s a meteor fast approaching. That kind of cognitive dissonance is a luxury, of course. It’s a privilege that applies only to the people for whom the meteor has not already arrived. Perhaps it’s not a comedy special’s job to reflect that awareness. But Cooper has become famous for a form of comedy that largely erases her point of view, and I was left hoping this Netflix special would give me more from Cooper’s own perspective, would give me more of a sense of who she is outside of a substitute for Trump’s face. What, beyond the dog sitting in a burning room meme, is Cooper trying to reflect here?

Everything’s Fine is painfully aware, at every moment, that things are terribly, terribly bad. Beyond frantically running in circles and landing on a Twin Peaks reference, though, I’m not sure what it’s trying to do. I’m also not sure what I even wanted it to do. Should Cooper and all these other performers collapse and give in? Pivot to sincerity? Cooper is a comedian; the aim is to be funny, not make sad PSAs. Plus, Cooper had to capitalize on the shockingly fast rise to fame she experienced after going viral for lip syncing along with the president. So here she is, doing the comedy version of silly, desperate arm-wheeling sprints around a golf course as a meteor burns its way to the ground, hoping we can all hang in long enough to laugh.

Everything’s Fine Is a Frantic Hour of Hot Potato