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“The G-Word with Adam Conover”: Can We Trust Obama to Criticize the Administration?

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Comedian Adam Conover’s new Netflix show begins by assuming that while a good chunk of Americans have an opinion about the federal government, they don’t actually know much about how it works. But it’s not about showing the “how”, he says. “I want to know if it works and for whom.”

In six half-hour episodes to air Thursday, The G Word With Adam Conover examines and critiques how the US government handles matters ranging from food production to weather disasters to military defense weapons. Conover’s approach requires pointing out flaws in the system, which he sometimes does through comedic sketches. The show presents itself as “Schoolhouse Rock!” with one thing – advocating for solutions.

Given that agenda, it’s notable that The G Word is from Higher Ground Productions, a company founded by former Presidents Barack Obama and Michelle Obama. Barack Obama makes his presence felt by appearing in the first and last episodes, which includes a conversation between himself and Conover about the feasibility of real change. The Obamas lend The G Word a degree of legitimacy in Netflix’s vast ocean of offerings, but they may also make viewers wonder: why should we trust a show produced by a former president to offer an objective critique of the government ?

To be fair, there are others involved. The show is based on “The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy” by Michael Lewis (“The Big Short”, “Moneyball”), and Conover seems to exercise a decent amount of creative control. He doesn’t always let Obama off the hook, especially when Obama suggests Americans be more patient because government “is a human institution like any other, which means there will be mistakes. … If you change direction on anything, it means it’s going to take time.”

But, Conover asks, what if a significant number of Americans have been demanding change for some time? What about criminal matters? What about police violence?

“Of course you’re frustrated by this, and you should be,” Obama replies. “The reason it’s getting better is because people are impatient. The only thing we can’t do is get cynical and say, ‘Well, because that hasn’t changed at the pace it should, there’s nothing we can do about it.’ Because every time we vote and choose people who are more responsive, there is an opportunity for us to make some changes. Normally it won’t be 100 percent of what we want, but if we make things 10 percent better…”

“Yes, but 10 percent for climate change is not enough,” says Conover, interrupting him. “When you ran in 2008, you were the change guy. You didn’t say, ‘Hey, if we improve things by 10 percent,’ you know?”

When the Obamas launched Higher Ground’s partnership with Netflix, the former president said they hoped to “foster more empathy and understanding between peoples and help them share their stories with the world.” The Obamas have starred in some of their company-produced projects, like the children’s show “Waffles and Mochi” and the documentaries “Our Great National Parks,” and stick with others like the Oscar-winning documentary “American Fabrik.”

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Similar to American Factory — which explores the reopening of a former General Motors factory in Ohio under a Chinese company that makes auto glass — The G Word champions the rights and fair treatment of ordinary people. The final episode is titled “Change,” which Obama — in an effort to placate Conover, a proxy for frustrated Americans — acknowledges is difficult to achieve “by design.”

“We don’t want a situation where one omnipotent, omniscient individual or small group of individuals is able to make decisions for everyone,” he continues. “So we’re going to spread the power, which means things are going to be slower. That means people have to make compromises.”

That particular statement might not go down well amid widespread concerns about the leaked draft Supreme Court ruling that would overturn abortion rights introduced nearly 50 years ago Roe v. calf. Politico reported five judges could overturn the precedent, although polls show a majority of Americans support maintaining the precedent roe Decision.

But instead of confirming Conover’s initial skepticism, “The G Word” ends on an affirmative note. Government is imperfect because the American people are imperfect, he says, echoing Obama’s comment about the “human institution.” Conover adds that “our government, in its best days, is a tool that we can use together to build that better world for ourselves and each other, should we choose to do so.”

Americans could use an extra dose of hope, but these closing remarks offer a somewhat disingenuous view of what the government must do to truly serve its people – perhaps the most obvious indicator of its producers’ bias. A show of this nature would do well to take the mic away from career politicians and continue to elevate those who are less heard. For example, at one point in the last episode, Conover speaks to a Philadelphia resident who says she aspires to one day run for office.

“This system that people keep calling a broken system is not a broken system,” she says. “It was built to do what it has been doing for all these years, all these decades, [which] is to put our people behind cages. So what we need to do is break down the system and… put the right people in the right places. folks, this is for us. Guys, this is for the people.”

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