As novel a nightmare as the Trump administration was, a new docuseries based on its final days — including the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol — does a remarkable job of making an unprecedented moment in American history seem remarkably boring.
On Sunday, Discovery+ released the multiepisode “Unprecedented” from filmmaker Alex Holder, which boasts of unfettered access to former President Donald Trump, his family and his closest allies. After reports surfaced that the Jan. 6 House select committee subpoenaed raw footage of the interviews from the film, it sounded like it might make for appointment viewing for those hoping to get a better sense of how Trump and his inner circle responded to the attack on the Capitol. Unfortunately, you don’t hear anything about the attack until the final 20 minutes of the last episode — and it is anticlimactic at best.
What you largely get from “Unprecedented” is Holder’s attempt at making a political version of HBO’s “Succession,” starring a narcissistic politician with dynastic dreams for himself and his offspring.
Unsurprisingly, the best way to gain access to people like that is to take it easy on them about their actions.
Speaking to The Guardian earlier this month, Holder said he went in to the interviews with Trump and his children with the idea that it would be best to be deferential.
“If I start pushing a guy who I know is not going to change his position, and then he throws you out of the room, then it’s all over,” Holder explained. “I don’t need to argue and debate him because we contextualize his position with journalist interviews.”
He went on to say: “And also, this English guy from north London isn’t going to change Donald Trump’s mind about the election. Then we would have just wasted our entire hour together while I try to persuade him I’m right and he’s wrong.”
Holder might be British, but he sounds like many American journalists who have treated the allegations of Trump and his administration as a content farm for books, podcasts, and TV and film projects.
It’s easier for some to justify not forcefully challenging Trump. While I understand the financial benefits to this practice, in terms of retrospective looks at that period in American history, we need less emphasis on the spectacle of “The Donald Trump Show” and more focus on how dangerous the former president is and continues to be.
Do people care that Ivanka Trump’s first memory of her father was that he “used to sing to me when I was little, and nobody knew this except me and him until my mom caught him on the baby monitor, which I cannot imagine him doing now”? Or that Eric Trump calls his dad his “best friend” while Donald Trump Jr., who so evidently wants to be his father’s political successor, acknowledges that while the Trump kids could have time with their dad, “it was on his terms”? Do we need to know that he routinely pitted his kids against each other — which, based on what is shown, appears to be an ongoing ordeal for all parties involved?
To quote Melania Trump’s ill-advised jacket, “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?”
By the time we get to what counts in the film, it is only Eric Trump who directly addresses the attack on the Capitol by way of the commanding note to Holder, “Yeah, let’s skip the 6th.”
Not even former Vice President Mike Pence wants to discuss it in an interview that took place less than a week after members of the Trump-supporting mob sought to hang him.
What we do see is Pence saying, “Excellent,” as he looks at something on a cellphone. According to the filmmakers, he was reacting to a draft resolution demanding that he invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.
A spokesman for Pence disputed that claim, telling NBC News that he was reacting to a confirmation that a letter from him had been sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejecting her attempt to invoke the amendment.
At one point in the documentary, he says, “I’m always hopeful about America. I always believe that America’s best days are yet to come. I still believe that.”
I was surprised he didn’t wrap the sentiment with a wink and a preview of Pence 2024 merchandise.
The silence from Pence and everyone else in Trump’s orbit makes for boring programming. Thankfully, there are the ongoing Jan. 6 hearings, which, thanks to a former TV news executive, manage to be as illuminating as they are informative.
The seventh hearing, held Tuesday, focused on the origins of the mob and what the committee says is Trump’s role in inciting it.
It covered a period from Dec. 18, 2020 — the day of an apparent contentious meeting between Trump White House aides and conspiracy-minded outside advisers in the Oval Office that lasted more than six hours and included lots of insults — to the morning of the Jan. 6 riot.
According to people involved in the plans, President Donald J. Trump planned to lead a march to the Capitol on Jan. 6 but wanted it to look like a spontaneous decision.
And as some witnesses showed in their testimonies — including former White House counsel Pat Cipollone — Trump had been repeatedly told that he lost the election and needed to concede. He ignored those requests, and his allies looked to violent extremist groups like the Proud Boys to assist in efforts to overturn the 2020 election, the committee argued. In fact, Trump sent out his infamous “Be there, will be wild“ tweet about Jan. 6 just hours after that Dec. 18 meeting that came across as coup d’état prep.
As the public has been able to see, the committee has managed to captivate audiences without trivializing the seriousness of the charges leveled against Trump. It has done this by not only speaking truth to power but by asking the right people how the former president abused his power and sought to redefine the American government for no other reason than ego.
At the start of Tuesday’s hearing, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said: “President Trump is a 76-year-old man. He is not an impressionable child. Just like everyone else in our country, he is responsible for his own actions and his own choices.”
At the end of the hearing, Cheney revealed that Trump had reached out in the last two weeks to a committee witness from whom the public has not yet heard, and she said the committee had informed the Justice Department.
“Unprecedented” makes it obvious that Donald Trump does not care about the violence he sowed on Jan. 6 because power is all that matters. As he teases in the docuseries’ final moments, he will likely seek to regain presidential power in 2024.
The Jan. 6 committee hearings clearly explain why that is a horrible idea and why Trump should not be let off the hook.
If there is a choice to be made on what’s more important to watch, go with the programming that highlights the evils of Trump’s penchant for corruption and violence, not the show that merely gives you a needless close-up to it.