A Trump-shaped monster returns to the Jan. 6 hearings
As the Jan. 6 hearings resume this week, they will advance what has become the must-see TV series of the summer: Compulsively watchable and DVR-ready, the proceedings of the House committee investigating the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol have been expertly produced with a keen eye toward building suspense, audience engagement and relentless forward momentum.
Not surprisingly, the hearings have also exhibited some of the most time-honored tropes of classic cinema: Taking a page from Star Wars, they’ve maximized the benefits of serial storytelling, with callbacks to previous episodes and tantalizing previews of scenes to come.
Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson’s opening remarks play like one of George Lucas’s opening crawls, bringing viewers up to speed on how much ammunition the Rebel Alliance has gathered in its fight against the Galactic Empire.
And the hearings have obeyed a cardinal rule of moviemaking: Keep the villain off-screen as long as you can.
Lurking unseen during the hearings, former president Donald Trump might as well be the shark in “Jaws” or Keyser Söze in “The Usual Suspects,” his threat looming larger the longer we can’t see him.
As witnesses to his lies, manipulations and shameless efforts to overthrow the 2020 election have come forward, what has emerged is less an evil mastermind than a petty, tyrannical bully, desperate to hold onto power at any cost.
At varying points, Trump has resembled the Great and Powerful Oz, terrifying until he’s revealed to be a frightened little man. Or he has shape-shifted into Orson Welles’s Harry Lime — the oily, amoral black marketeer at the center of the 1949 film noir “The Third Man.” Or a James Bond baddie throwing world-ending tantrums in some faraway lair.
Or maybe Logan Roy secreted away in a Manhattan penthouse or absconding on his private jet.
That’s the image purveyed by “Unprecedented,” Alex Holder’s three-hour documentary that premiered on Discovery Plus on Sunday. Holder, who testified before the House committee on June 23, goes out of his way to compare Trump and his children to the wealthy, entitled Roys, whose dysfunctional squabbling and dizzying ambition anchor HBO’s runaway hit “Succession.”
Each episode of “Unprecedented” begins with swooping music reminiscent of Nicholas Britell’s magnificent “Succession” score, accompanying scratchy montages similar to the TV show’s enigmatic opening credits.
Its dramatic production values notwithstanding, “Unprecedented” doesn’t add much to the Trump canon. Rather, it repackages what we already know into a psycho-biographical Shiv-vs.-Kendall narrative of dynastic competition and generational trauma, following Ivanka, Eric and Donald Trump Jr. on the 2020 campaign trail as they “audition” for their father’s approval, as one of the film’s talking heads puts it.