Disclosure: This is not a review of Showtime’s “The Comey Rule” because I couldn’t bring myself to watch the first half of the two-day miniseries Sunday. It is, rather, a look at how one writer who clearly dislikes Trump views the glorious myth of James Comey as tragic hero of the Russian collusion investigation.
It’s a Herculean effort, whitewashing former FBI Director’s James Comey’s role in the investigation to make it appear noble and necessary to the safety and security of the nation. But Showtime — using Comey’s own book about himself — has undertaken it and it’s led to 4 hours of silliness over two days (second half premieres Monday night). At least according to Sam Thielman, a New York-based culture critic writing at NBC, who harbors no love for Comey’s supposed nemesis Trump, but still comes away with the conclusion that Comey is telling tall tales about his own heroism.
How’s this for a lead-in: “The show based on Comey’s memoir wants to be a Shakespearean tragedy — but that would have required a hero, and he wasn’t one.”
Yikes. And it gets funnier from there.
Well, now I know, having watched Billy Ray’s two-night, three-hour extravaganza, which has been released by Showtime under the name “The Comey Rule,” possibly because “But Her Emails: The Movie” seemed insufficiently momentous. It’s styled as a political thriller about the tragic hero, former FBI Director James Comey, based on his memoir “A Higher Loyalty,” and is Shakespearean in tone and Wagnerian in length — airing over two hour-and-a-half-ish segments Sunday and Monday.
Here’s the problem: Ray has tried to craft a film about a great man’s downfall, but there are no great men in this tale. Lacking any, he had to grant both Comey and President Donald Trump the grand stature neither deserved but is necessary to the project, to make the movie’s hero and his nemesis seem important and not silly. He’s betrayed from the outset by his source material: What makes a tragedy a tragedy is that the protagonist, though flawed, suffers more than he should. Comey has not suffered more than he should; he lost a job after a series of totally avoidable bad acts that cost the rest of us dearly, and then Showtime acquired his corny tell-all and hired Jeff Daniels to play him.
When you’ve lost a critic who thinks Trump is just a series of “grotesque mannerisms” lacking an internal life, you’ve simply lost. And Thielman seems almost offended by Comey’s hero worship of himself with lines like, “Daniels’ Comey is stoic, understated and impossibly dry; his only crime is a selfless devotion to the virtues represented by his agency and the Constitution and embodied in himself.”
And the annoyance grows with each paragraph.
This is in stark contrast to the actual James Comey who, as deputy attorney general (alongside his predecessor at the FBI, Robert Mueller), oversaw the unprecedented expansion of federal authority under first the Bush administration and then yet further under the Obama administration. That Trump has as much legal authority as he does — which liberals, Comey and the film all seem to bemoan — can be credibly laid at Comey’s feet because of his work at the Department of Justice even before he personally tossed Trump that October surprise about Hillary Clinton’s emails that probably won him the presidency.
Well I’ll be…is this writer suggesting that we have Comey to blame for Trump, and not just because of “her emails” but because Comey himself worked to grow the power of the executive office under previous presidents? It sure seems like it.
And Thielman isn’t alone in his assessment. There are others.
There are, of course, many people who do not view Trump as a bumbling fool or merely a crafty new president who set about eliminating those who would speak truth to his power. A great many Americans instead see a man who, along with the help of some justice-minded legislators and leaders concerned about abuses of power emanating from the incumbent administration, caught the bad guys.
But it’s refreshing to find common ground on the subject of the very dubious “heroics” of James Comey.