Review: Graves 1×1-1×2 (US: Epix)

Mumble, fumble, Nick Nolte, ex-president, mumble, grumble


In the US: Available on Epix

It is a conservative truism that Hollywood has a liberal bias. The likes of Fox probably escape that accusation, with shows like Rosewood and APB even arguing that the police force would be better run by the private sector; it’s also a rare action show that has a proper liberal conclusion, with everyone sitting down to a negotiated peace and holding hands with the definitely-not-Middle-Eastern-Muslim terrorists. But on the whole, this is a truism that’s probably true.

This is perhaps best demonstrated through depictions of politicians. Take The West Wing, which was also nicknamed by some as The Left Wing, which gave us liberal heroes fighting all manner of problems liberally and ultimately demonstrating through the fierce application of logic and sarcasm that that’s the correct and only solution at all times. And that conservatives are racist dummies who can barely string two words together unless those words are ‘God’ and ‘guns’. 

Graves, Epix’s first scripted comedy, is a pretty fine demonstration of the same principle. It stars Nick Nolte as a former US president. A sort of composite character of Ronald Regan, Richard Nixon, George HW Bush and George W Bush, 25 years out of the job, he’s now reduced to opening retirement homes and the like. Perhaps, that’s because in part, he’s a huge dick to everyone, including his family.

Then one day, having got himself a new assistant (Ground Floor‘s Skylar Astin) who used to idolise him as a kid, he finally does what he’s avoided his entire career – he Googles himself, and discovers he’s regarded as the worst president in American history. Having a crisis of self-confidence, he ends up deciding to turn over a new leaf and become a better man.

Now, if I were a Republican, Graves would confirm pretty much my every stereotype of liberals. Because Nolte doesn’t decide he failed to reduce red-tape sufficiently for small businesses, cut unnecessary government departments or bolster marriage. He doesn’t even advocate greater tax breaks for the private sector to help give jobs to those who need them. No, Graves becomes a better person by switching from being a right-wing dick to being a left-wing, bleeding heart. He starts advocating moving military spending into cancer research since “if we spent the $60bn for cancer research we’d cure cancer by the end of the decade” (well, maybe but that’s actually only a little more than what was spent in the US in 2011). He wants to be nice to illegal immigrants and let them live in his compound. He starts smoking pot.

In other words, he wants big government, big time. Because when people have personal revelations about how to be better people, they realise the liberal way is the right way, don’t they? I can’t imagine Ronald Reagan would suddenly have started welcoming the man from the government who said he was here to help, but there you go – Hollywood’s liberal bias. Except for Ronald Reagan, obviously.

Insulting politics to one side, there’s also precious little that’s funny about Graves, although it is at least funnier than 1600 Penn. Partly, that’s because it’s almost impossible to understand 75% of what Nick Nolte is saying, so although he might have the funniest lines in the world, we’re never going to know what they are without subtitles. But the show seems to think that simply have a president behaving badly is funny enough in itself, which unfortunately is in an incorrect assumption. The show also exists in a presidential bubble, only willing to attack long-dead presidents, rather than anyone within living memory, which at least The Ex-PM had the balls to do, meaning it has no satirical content either. And the Secret Service agents due an ex-president and his family have an odd habit of disappearing whenever they’re needed, leading to all manner of implausible events taking place.

On the plus side, it does have a good cast. Astin’s probably a bit too weak and ineffectual to really credit as a tiny conservative all grown up, but Sela Ward (House) is great as the former First Lady and possible future senator – indeed, it’s with her the show actually shows some sign of nuance and even respect when it comes to Republican politics. Heléne Yorke is amusing as the disaster-area First Daughter who’s gone from having ranges of dolls made after her younger likeness to chain smoking and divorce. Ernie Hudson has surprising gravitas as ‘a fixer’ who makes problems go away for the First Family, too.

Even more interesting is the celebrity guest cast of real Republican politicians, with Rudy Giuliani showing up in episode one and Michael Steele showing up in episode two as themselves, although they never do anything that requires either any self-deprecation or any acting skills. 

Graves is short on laughs and political insights, long on growling mumbles. You’re better off with your West Wing/Threat Matrix DVDs, depending on your political leanings.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.