Monday is Presidents Day, and as I mention that fact, I can hear the collective groans. Whether you’re in the Hate Trump or Love Trump camp, you are probably thoroughly sick of politics. Believe me, I hear you. However, today we are going to look at presidential moments in television. And before you exit out, be assured I am not talking about the Nixon-Kennedy debates. We’re going to look at my top television episodes that featured a president.
Several series have included presidents with people dressed in costumes at Halloween parties. George Washington showed up on Growing Pains in 1990 and on the first episode of The Munsters in 1964, while Thomas Jefferson appeared on Mike and Molly in 2011. I mention the roles, but we’re not going to concentrate on them.
Several candidates also made whistle stops campaigning on television. Thomas Jefferson was on Simon and Simon in 1986 when they were trying to recover a family journal, Teddy Roosevelt was on The Virginian in 1962 fighting with the Rough Riders, and Franklin Roosevelt was a minor character on Wonder Woman in 1975, when she used her super powers to return a wounded WWII pilot to Washington. In 2002, Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson all made an appearance on Sabrina the Teenage Witch to convince her aunt not to run for city council. Because these were minor appearances and the shows were not about the presidents, I did not include them in my top five.
Here are my top five television episodes featuring a president as a character.
No. 5 – Bewitched: “George Washington Zapped Here” – 1972. When I saw a Bewitched episode that starred George Washington, I was sure I had my number 1 show for this blog. Then I watched the show. I tend to look at Bewitched almost as two different shows. I love the first five years and include them in some of my all-time favorite tv episodes. It was one of the best fantasy shows ever created, but by the last season the fantasy had died. The last season, including this episode, is like trying to watch a wrinkled, saggy grandmother trying to pull off wearing a mini skirt and go-go boots. It’s a bit frustrating, a bit humorous, fairly sad, and extremely uncomfortable. If George Washington had a premonition about appearing in this episode, I’m sure he would have found a way to ban television in the Constitution.
Trying to help Tabitha with her homework, Esmeralda zaps George Washington to the present time. George is played by Will Geer. I feel like this theme of zapping historical figures happened more often than it should have during this show’s run. Also, Esmeralda is not as likeable a character as Aunt Clara or Uncle Arthur. Of course, Washington wanders off and is arrested for speaking without a permit. The only thing more painful than watching this show was the realization that it was a two-parter; the second episode has George going before a local judge and finally being exonerated by the truth. Talking about truth reminds me when George said, “I cannot tell a lie”, and I have to admit this episode is dreadful. Apparently, politics was just as painful 45 years ago as it is today.
No. 4 – Dharma and Greg: “Dutch Treat” – 2001. Numbers 3 and 4 are really a toss-up. Abraham Lincoln stars in both shows, and he appears in dreams in both episodes. This sitcom was on the air from 1997 to 2002 starring Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson as a young couple who eloped on their first date. She was raised by hippy parents and he comes from a wealthy family. The show earned eight Golden Globe and six Emmy nominations, and Elfman won the Best Actress Golden Globe in 1999. This episode was a bit too formulaic for me, so Drew Carey beat it out for number 3 in my list.
In this show, Dharma and Greg argue about being a role model for their young college friend. During the argument they both claim to be independent, so they decide to go dutch for a week to find out which one is truly independent. Of course, they end up realizing they are dependent on each other during the experiment. Peter, Greg’s coworker, has some weird dreams during the show. At the end of the episode, Peter leaves for lunch with a bunch of Victoria’s Secret models who think he’s hot (he’s not), and Abraham Lincoln arrives at the office for a consultation with Peter. Dharma and Greg inform him Peter is out and invite him to lunch with them. He takes off his hat to reveal it is full of waffles. At this point, Dharma informs Greg that they are now in Peter’s dream and the show ends. Abe is played by Ryan Stiles and, by chance, our no. 3 show features Stiles as a cast member.
No. 3 – The Drew Carey Show: “Drew’s in a Coma” – 2001. From 1995-2004, Drew portrays the average guy. He works at a department store and has a group of friends he hangs out with, primarily at the Warsaw Tavern. Ryan Stiles is one of these friends, who played Abe Lincoln in the Dharma and Greg episode. He also appeared on Drew’s improv show, Whose Line Is It Anyway?.
In this episode, Drew is in an auto accident and goes into a coma. His friends and family try to bring him out of it, but he is enjoying his unconscious dreams. We see him in an apartment with a bunch of sexy women. Mimi is his sister-in-law who wears flamboyant make-up. They have a love/hate relationship, but in his dreams, she is very conservative looking and tells him she is his slave, being very respectful. He has a pizza tree, a beer fountain, and a door that opens to the greatest moments in sports featuring himself. After several attempts to bring him out of the coma, his family gets ready to pull the plug to see if it shocks his body into waking up. When they unplug the respirator, Drew is in the middle of a Trivial Pursuit game with William Shakespeare and Abe Lincoln. (Abe is played by Charles Brame, and he also was Abe Lincoln on the Growing Pains episode mentioned in the second paragraph of the blog.) Abe is excelling at all the history questions, until Drew reads him a shocking question. The card asks “Who shot Abraham Lincoln?” The shock Abe feels equals the one Drew feels when he is unplugged and it forces him to realize he has to choose between going on to heaven or back to his life on earth. In the words of his fellow gamer, he had to decide “to be or not to be” and he chooses to return to earth for a while.
No. 2 – Spin City: “A Tree Falls in Manhattan” – 2001. Spin City is about a group of city hall employees who work to help the mayor. Mike, played by Michael J. Fox, is great at his job but he is leaving to get married and travel around the world. The staff covers up for the mayor who is not very competent, but they struggle with their personal lives. I did not watch Spin City a lot when it was on the air from 1996 to 2002. This was a funny episode, so it came in at number 2, even though Washington is only an on-air character for a minute or two.
Trying to impress his new girlfriend so they can watch the sun rise over the East River, the mayor orders a tree outside the mansion to be cut down, not realizing that it was a tree planted by George Washington and is protected. Charlie tells a girl he picks up that night about the tree story, not knowing she was the campaign manager for the opposition. She tells her boss, and they go on the air to make an announcement. When Charlie sees her, he realizes what has happened. Four George Washingtons appear in this episode played by David Hayman, Jack Wright, Gelbert Coloma, and Anthony Provenzano Jr. They are part of the Revolutionary War Society picketing city hall. After all this mayhem, Mike realizes he needs to be back in city hall and returns to his job. He arranges for the mayor to go on television saying “I cannot tell a lie, I chopped down George Washington’s tree, but I used the wood to build a shelter for the homeless.” At this time, Fox was dealing with Parkinson’s Disease and announced he would be leaving at the end of this season. When he did eventually leave the show, the explanation was that he accepted a job as an environmental lobbyist who moved to Washington, DC. He met a senator there named Alex P. Keaton, the name of Fox’s character on Family Ties.
No. 1 – My Friend Flicka: ”Rough and Ready” – 1956. I had heard of the book and movie My Friend Flicka, but I did not know that it was ever a television show. It was only on the air one year, and only 39 episodes were made, airing between February 1956- February 1957. It was a mid-season replacement for The Adventures of Champion, a show starring Gene Autry. Unfortunately, neither show could compete with The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin which was on another channel during this time slot. The show was later aired Monday nights on the Disney Channel in the mid-1980s. Ken McLaughlin, played by Johnny Washbrook, is devoted to his horse Flicka. He and his parents live at the Goose Bar Ranch in Coulee Springs. After this show was cancelled, Washbrook appeared on several shows, including three different characters on My Three Sons, but then went into the banking profession and moved to Martha’s Vineyard.
This episode was a delightful and charming show featuring Theodore Roosevelt played by Frank Albertson. Young Ken McLaughlin decides to write a letter to the president because there is too much overgrazing going on due to the government failing to put restrictions on the lands. A couple of weeks later, the newspaper has an article about Vice President Roosevelt coming to Coulee Springs for a vacation. In the meantime, several families are forced to put their ranches up for sale and move because there is no place for their cattle to graze. Ken meets a man fishing and shows him lures he makes himself. The man is quite impressed, and they make plans to meet again in the morning to fish. The next day, Ken explains what is happening with the land, saying he wrote the president but never heard back, and then tells the man that his family had now put their ranch up for sale also. The man tells Ken to have his father come to town, and he will arrange for him to talk to the vice president. He also has Ken take his picture with a large fish they caught. When he and his father go to town for the meeting, he realizes that the man he has been fishing with is Vice President Theodore Roosevelt who takes care of the situation, putting regulations in place. A few weeks later, Ken gets a letter. Theodore Roosevelt is now President Roosevelt and he wanted to make sure Ken did get a letter back from the President. He also included the photo that Ken took of him and the fish. Albertson did a bully good job playing Teddy.
Hopefully watching some of these episodes will convince you that it is possible to have a Happy Presidents Day. Watching the influence these men still have in our modern-day history reminds us that our Constitution and government were created and modified by great men such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt, creating a strong foundation that is hard to destroy. All you have to do to enjoy politics today is to choose one of these five episodes to watch. And wearing red, white, and blue while you do so wouldn’t hurt.