A group of extreme conservatives, highly devoted to the ideology set by the current President of the United States as if he were a cult leader, and out of extreme disdain of the Democratic Party, who they think want to implement a communist society in the country, are tasked with and perform a set of illegal activities that are meant to influence the outcome of an upcoming election.
Does that sound familiar? This is, of course, the story of the Watergate scandal, which HBO’s latest five-episode miniseries, White House Plumbers, depicts with strenuous detail through a satirical lens.
THE CHARACTERS IN WHITE HOUSE PLUMBERS
Meet Woody Harrelson’s Howard Hunt, a former CIA agent who is so convinced the only way to avoid a communist takeover of the United States is to make sure Richard Nixon is re-elected, whatever the cost. Being a true patriot means adhering to the traditional way of life, where kids who have thoughts of their own should practically be cut out of the inheritance, and where wives must be patient with their husbands’ dedication to work. To him, the biggest enemy of the country this past century was probably Kennedy.
And yet his views are quite liberal when compared to the Nazi-wannabe Gordon Liddy (Justin Theroux), who is so devoted to Nixon, he would literally hold his hand above a candle to prove it or take a bullet for him any day, at any place. If the President ever called him to defend him, he would leave his house and would do anything he had to do to ensure maybe the greatest President the country had ever had got a full-throated defense.
The two are called in by the White House to chase down the origins of the Pentagon Papers leak that happened weeks prior (see Steven Spielberg’s The Post for more on that). After clumsily completing the mission and earning the title of “White House Plumbers” for “fixing” the leak, they are hired by the Committee to Re-Elect to make sure the evil Democrats don’t get away with their traitorous acts. The honor they feel for getting such an assignment is only surpassed by the absolute incapability they are of getting it done.
OVERALL THOUGHTS ON THE SERIES
Much like what happened with Prime Video’s Citadel, after watching the first scene of the series you will know exactly what you are in for. It serves as an announcement that this is not for everybody, not because of political reasons, but because this is a pure satire that might turn off a few viewers that will go in for something a bit more serious.
The series hails from some of the creatives behind Veep, and it shows. Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck wrote all five episodes (David Mandel directed), which means they are all very consistent with each other. However, it also means that if you are not on board for the first 20 minutes, the series is unlikely to win you back.
White House Plumbers is very well structured, and while it takes its time to get to the actual Watergate break-in (possibly the reason why many will watch the show), it’s all for good reason. It rarely loses its focus, and every scene adds something to the overall story, or is used to build up characters.
The relationship between our two protagonists is the very core of the show, and their hilarious dynamics make it all the more entertaining, while also doubling down on the disturbing side. Another key element is their relationship to their families. Lena Headey plays Woody Harrelson’s on-screen wife and mother of four children (one of which is played by Kiernan Brennan Shipka, who played Sally Draper, and I was delighted to see her in the cast).
This is a key part of the story because while the series never intends to humanize Howard (in fact, it makes it abundantly clear that he is a very problematic person, to say the least), it does try to differentiate him from Theroux’s Gordon Liddy, whose kids we barely meet and whose wife (Judy Greer) is more of an afterthought for him than a real person.
All in all, White House Plumbers is unapologetic in its tone and approach to one of the biggest political scandals of the 20th century. It takes no prisoners in its depiction of this group of criminals, led by Harrelson (who channels his best Vito Corleone in the series) and Theroux’s characters, as absolute morons. And yet, the parallels that can be drawn to what is going on today both in the US and around the world are left to the viewers. People looking for political commentary through a comedic lens might have found their next big thing.
White House Plumbers debuts on HBO on May 1, at 9pm ET. The series will be available to stream on HBO Max/Max right after.
Are you looking forward to White House Plumbers? Was it even on your radar? If you have seen it already, what did you think of it? Let us know on our social media, and stay tuned for more reviews and the latest film and TV industry news!