Showtime recently finished airing its documentary miniseries The Reagans, a biographical portrait of US President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy, and how their carefully curated media performances led them into the White House. After decades of across-the-aisle praise for Reagan in the mainstream — a unrepentant warmonger whose thirst for deregulation created nearly every problem we face today — it was a breath of fresh air to get its more critical perspective on him. In that spirit, here’s how you can stream that series and other dissenting takes on Reagan’s legacy.
The Reagans (2020)
While four hourlong episodes might not seem like enough to cover such a consequential presidency, the documentary series is less about the Reagans themselves and more about how they cultivated their respective public images over time. Vitally, it draws a line between this elevation of image over compassionate politics to the rightward drift of the Republican Party and, of course, the eventual apotheosis of Trump.
Available on Showtime.
The Reagan Show (2017)
This documentary is composed entirely of archival and behind-the-scenes footage from the Reagan administration, and frequently juxtaposes the public with the private. In doing so, it creates a direct study in selective media framing and messaging. Coming several years before The Reagans, it acts as a great showcase for the subjects the show discusses.
Available on various platforms.
Wet Hot American Summer (2015, 2017)
This one is just for fun. When Netflix revived the cult classic 2001 comedy Wet Hot American Summer for two follow-up miniseries (First Day of Camp and Ten Years Later), Reagan (played in a purposefully cartoonish manner by film and series co-creator Michael Showalter) popped up in both series as a recurring villain. In keeping with the parody show’s absurd plotlines, the most powerful man on Earth makes it his personal mission to destroy a kids’ summer camp. It is a bracing, if silly, rejoinder to the idea of Reagan as “the Great Communicator.”
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