Election Day is grimmer now as our rights and people’s very lives are increasingly up for debate. Not only that, but voter suppression—whether due to voter intimidation or restrictive voter ID laws—also poses a threat to those who just want to exercise their right to vote.
To keep things from feeling too bleak, though, we can find some solace in political comedies. Sometimes they’re straight-up outlandish satires, while at other times it’s a bit freaky how similar these TV series or films are to real life. Whether they deliver insight about political machinations or just relevant laughs, these political comedies are must-watches this Election Day:
1. American Dreamz (2006)
American Dreamz may ostensibly be a parody of American Idol, but it’s also an astute send-up of Bush-era politics. Dennis Quaid nails his role as a blundering, clueless George W. Bush stand-in (“Did you know that there are two kinds of Iraqistanis?” he says, before remembering there’s actually three), while his manipulative Chief of Staff, played by Willem Dafoe, looks an awful lot like Vice President Dick Cheney. The movie is prescient about the overlap between politics and entertainment (specifically reality TV), with the president appearing as a guest judge on the singing competition show American Dreamz. Things quickly escalate as one contestant is a would-be suicide bomber, but the ending of the movie again feels strangely apt as a rejected white man reveals himself to be the real threat.
2. Bob Roberts (1992)
Tim Robbins’ directorial debut, Bob Roberts, revisits a character he first originated on SNL in 1986. The mockumentary follows the titular Bob Roberts’ campaign to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate. As a recording artist and millionaire businessman, the conservative candidate has little experience next to the Democratic incumbent played by Gore Vidal—sound familiar, anyone? Besides the political foreshadowing in Bob Roberts, it also boasts a stacked cast: Giancarlo Esposito, Ray Wise, John Cusack, Susan Sarandon, Peter Gallagher, Alan Rickman, James Spader, and Jack Black in his film debut.
3. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)
Frankly, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to laugh at Trump followers and pandemic deniers when Borat Subsequent Moviefilm came out in 2020, but Sacha Baron Cohen has a way of surprising us all. The introduction of Borat’s much-ignored daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova), injects new life into the premise, along with Borat’s attempt to disguise himself. All jokes aside, though, the incident with Rudy Giuliani and Bakalova is a chilling reminder of what men in power are capable of.
4. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Unfortunately, the Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove is feeling all the more relevant these days due to the possible threat of a Russian nuclear strike in Ukraine. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, the film is a clever takedown of war hawks and the cold detachment of those who could wipe out millions of lives at a time. Props to Peter Sellers here, who does triple duty as British RAF exchange officer Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley, and the titular Dr. Strangelove, a scientist and ex-Nazi.
5. Election (1999)
Okay, this may be about a student body election, but hell, politicians have to start off somewhere. High school teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) detests straight-A student Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) because his best friend and co-worker Dave’s life fell apart after it was revealed he’d had a sexual relationship with Tracy. Instead of being worried about his friend being a predator, though, Jim sets out to ruin Tracy’s chances of becoming student body president. Plenty of hijinks ensue, and Chris Klein once again pops up as a dim-witted jock type, not unlike the one he plays in American Dreamz.
6. The Favourite (2018)
At its core, politics are all about relationships, like the one between Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her lover, the cunning Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). Sarah uses Anne’s favor to her advantage, but their romance (and Sarah’s political control) is disrupted when her disgraced cousin Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) comes on the scene. Everyone has their agendas to push; Abigail uses the Queen to regain her status, while the conniving Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult) uses Abigail’s dalliance with Queen Anne to advocate for war. Colman as Anne is the perfect blend of entitled and insecure, which makes her romances with both women especially fraught. Between rabbits and jabs about looking like a badger, Yorgos Lanthimos knows how to direct a sharp historical comedy-drama.
7. The Great (2020—present)
Nicholas Hoult just loves being in political period pieces! The fictionalized retelling of Catherine the Great’s life, starring Elle Fanning, is operatic, outlandish, and a whole lot of fun. While not entirely historically accurate, The Great follows how Catherine eclipsed her husband Peter III, taking power and becoming both the last and longest-ruling Empress of Russia. Fanning carries the show well, and Hoult shows just how cruel and childish Peter is, then at the last moment giving him just enough humanity for you to not completely hate him. Also, Hulu renewed The Great for a third season—huzzah!
8. In the Loop (2009) / The Thick of It (2005—2012)
In the Loop is a spin-off of the renowned BBC series The Thick of It, so we figured we’d just make them one entry—especially since (spoiler alert) there’s more Armando Iannucci coming on this list. Rarely are characters as foul-mouthed and enjoyable to watch as Malcolm Tucker, the spin-doctor and enforcer played by Peter Capaldi. There’s nothing quite like watching Malcolm eviscerate a mid-level bureaucrat or incompetent MP. (“As useless as a marzipan dildo” is still a top-tier insult.) In the Loop brings Malcolm and other Thick of It actors Stateside, with James Gandolfini and Anna Chlumsky (in a precursor to her Veep role) joining the fray.
9. Parks and Recreation (2009—2015)
Here we get to the more hopeful side of political comedies. In Parks and Rec, it’s not like the good guys always win—but, in the end, their hard work and good intentions prevail. Leslie Knope is a centrist Democrat, worshiping Madeleine Albright and crushing on Joe Biden. It’s hard not to roll your eyes at those moments now, but Parks and Rec does a good job of showing how the day-to-day running of a city depends on the work of civil servants—many of them unelected—while also providing plenty of goofs. As much as I enjoy this show, I do resent the fact that it made Chris Pratt famous.
10. Rutherford Falls (2021—2022)
Rutherford Falls—which Peacock canceled recently—examines the titular town through the eyes of Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms), a proud descendent of the burg’s founders, and Reagan Wells (Jana Schmieding), a member of the Minishonka Nation who wants to put more of a focus on Indigenous culture. They’re an odd pair of best friends, but the show works thanks to Schmieding and the town’s hilarious, vibrant characters. Plus, we get a contentious mayoral race in Season 2—what’s more fun than that? Please, please, please, someone pick up Rutherford Falls.
11. Veep (2012—2019)
Here we are, with another Iannucci. He’s the expert when it comes to crafting hilarious and biting political comedy. Veep stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the unlikeable Selina Meyer, who is unhappily saddled with the (relatively powerless) position of Vice President of the United States. Selina is surrounded by a cast of unfortunates and misanthropes, whose respective ambitions almost always land them in trouble. There’s overachieving but self-sabotaging Amy (Anna Chlumsky), groveling Gary (Tony Hale), cocky comms guy Dan (Reid Scott), incompetent comms director Mike (Matt Walsh), and so many more that make this political comedy an absolute treat.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.