This HBO Alternative-Reality Show Has Really Gotten Out of Hand

Like you, I enjoy guilty pleasures in my entertainment choices—a horror movie with gruesome murders, a hugely destructive battle between superheroes, the contestants on “The Price is Right”—but sometimes writers let their imaginations go too far. In this case, I’m talking about HBO’s latest creative endeavor, “Amerikkkan Reich.”

The concept is solid, but it has really spiraled out of control.

Look, I understand the appeal of the idea. Authoritarian movements are horribly fascinating. It’s disturbing hearing the news out of Venezuela, for example—yet spell-binding at the same time. It’s upsetting reading about the troubles in the Philippines, or the nightmare existence that is life under Kim Jong-Un—but it’s hard to look away, probably because they are at such a remove from our own relatively prosperous and secure lives. The American public seems to have an endless appetite for such tragedies, whether as news or as thought experiments about our own society. The success of “Game of Thrones”—an alternative-reality version of West Virginia—is a case in point. We only watch it because people die regularly, often in the nude, and that reminds us how close we are to accidentally traveling through West Virginia.

Naturally, one would think that audiences would be interested in speculative visions of American history. What if the Confederacy had won? What if universal suffrage had never happened? What would have been the consequences—surely unthinkable—if Adlai Stevenson had been elected? These are all titillating questions. But HBO’s alt-reality series, backed by a hefty marketing budget that supports innovative tie-ins to social media and actual news channels, has jumped several sharks. A fascist in the White House? A President who suffers from severe attention-deficit disorder, not to mention undiagnosed clinical megalomania? Who has ties to the mob and Russian oligarchs?

Please, HBO. I simply cannot buy that any President would defend neo-Nazis and white supremacists. I can’t imagine our government headed by a man who praises the “beauty” of Confederate statues and compliments the “fine people” who chant translated versions of 1930s fascist slogans. Would he really largely ignore one of these extremists using a car to mow down (and kill) a counter-protester? And instead harangue the media about “both sides?” I mean, you have him spreading easily disprovable propaganda about World War I generals! It’s hard to believe he wouldn’t be impeached immediately, if this were really happening.

It’s so far beyond the pale that I find myself rolling my eyes, crawling under my sheets, curling up in a ball, and sobbing uncontrollably. Not what you want your audience to experience!

I will compliment the producers for realistic touches, however. I thought the part about surreptitiously canceling government-sponsored grants to fight white extremism was well done. The subplot about an Attorney General from the Deep South stoking racial resentment by opening an investigation into reverse discrimination in college admissions was also spot-on—subtle, chilling stuff. And the allusions to conservative states considering legislation to allow vehicular manslaughter to be treated lightly were spot-on—I can almost see that happening.

But everything else needs to change. Alternative reality can’t be so ludicrous as to begin to lose all plausibility. People will simply change the channel and move to Canada.

Imagine some other outlandish scenarios, for example. What if I told you that election systems in a bunch of states were targeted for hacking? Or that your fictional businessman-President encouraged a foreign enemy to disseminate stolen information to embarrass and weaken his opponent ? Or that the obvious problem—a broken Presidential election system designed for 18th-century conditions, and which had already failed several elections ago—was being ignored by nearly every one, left and right?

You wouldn’t believe those things, would you?

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