Last spring Sarah Cooper, a stand-up comedian and former Google employee, went viral on TikTok and Twitter for pretending to be Donald Trump. Well, pretend is a generous word; she began lip-syncing to Trump speeches, making funny faces to go along with his asinine verbal tics. Cooper doesn’t quite impersonate Trump, there’s no committed attempt to actually embody the President or mimic his voice other than react alongside the supplied audio, but it’s... something. And apparently it’s something enough people find hilarious, given that Cooper’s viral fame landed her a stint guest hosting Jimmy Kimmel Live!, a forthcoming CBS comedy deal, and her own hour-long Netflix special Everything’s Fine.
So now Cooper, who has become famous for lip-syncing the words of a person who most Americans are forced to listen to near-daily, has to now be herself. And judging by the content of Everything’s Fine that’s easier said than done—even when Natasha Lyonne is directing, Maya Rudolph is executive producing, and the cast includes people like Jon Hamm, Jane Lynch, and Fred Armisen. Clearly shot in the midst of the pandemic, the special stars Cooper as a sunny newscaster struggling in the face of an increasingly apocalyptic world. Sketches sprinkled with celebrities are delivered in fake on-air news segments and passing commercials, as if someone is flipping through TV stations. In one scene Aubrey Plaza plays a host for a QVC-type program for QAnon supporters who read into her every single move on-screen, in another Megan Thee Stallion plays a call-in guest who instructs Cooper how to twerk.
Despite this being her special, Cooper seems like a background character. The few other “characters” she plays, a sexy nurse in a My Pillow-spoofing infomercial starring Hamm, a token Black Mar-a-Lago member, a close-up card magician adjusting to performing for cars in a pandemic-safe parking lot set-up, are all seemingly the same person: all smiles, gratingly sweet women with little physical or vocal differentiation. As Cooper brushes up against chameleons like Rudolph and Plaza, improv greats whose comedic timing and gestures are effortless, it only reveals her inability to keep up with them. The special tries to manufacture some intimacy with Cooper beyond her viral meme existence, but without fully establishing her personality as a comic. In one scene Cooper talks to her news show producers about being born in Jamaica, moving to America as a child, and then seeing TV characters like Tootie from The Facts of Life or Lisa from Saved By the Bell. “These characters inspired me,” Cooper says. “I feel like they ran so I could sing.” That may be true, but it’s hard to see exactly how those characters influenced Cooper, or what her approach is to comedy at all.
On paper a first-time special like this that places a comic performer in the same sketches as someone like Armisen or Ben Stiller sounds like a great idea, a testament to Cooper’s potential star power that she’d work with such talent. But seeing how little Cooper brings to the table makes that decision seem like a crutch, as if more experienced performers were trotted in to fill in the gaping holes so that Cooper has little to do other than stand there. When she does take center stage, she does what she’s now known for: she lip-syncs. She lip-syncs to Trump audio, several times. She lip-syncs to Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump, and Kellyanne Conway speaking. She and Helen Mirren inexplicably act out, lip-syncing the whole time, the Billy Bush and Trump Access Hollywood audio, and it’s awfully hard to find the humor in it not just because of its horrible content but also because the sketch’s central set-up (that they are women, lip-syncing this sexist dialogue) has already been played out several times in the same program.
Everything’s Fine is also plagued by a stale effort to remain timely. There are references to covid-19 throughout, considering most of the actors likely actually had to be distant from one another and wearing proper PPE. There’s also a dismal MeToo-inspired sketch about a robot sexually harassing a copier, and a history of “Karens” narrated by Whoopi Goldberg. As the special goes on the sketches get more manic, as the zany characters succumb to a sort of careless deference to a chaotic world being overtaken by Trump, climate change, and the pandemic. But in doing so the special also feels careless too, as if the writers (all 12 of them, as listed in the credits) collectively threw up their hands at the idea of writing anything that would have a shelf-life for more than a few months.
Everything’s Fine’s existence, and Sarah Cooper’s popularity, is perplexing. I watched as Cooper, who has written comedy books and has a few TV writing credits, go from viral lip-syncer on TikTok—a platform literally made for people to lip-sync to audio—to comedy darling overnight, with features in Vanity Fair and The Los Angeles Times. But like many funny people who get a few minutes of viral fame on platforms like TikTok, or Youtube, or Twitter, Cooper doesn’t move beyond her shtick in Everything’s Fine, a shtick that feels tiresome the third time you see it in the special.
Perhaps this is the fault of the celebrities involved, whose stardom overshadows any potential for the special’s namesake to actually, well, be its star. But I think it’s mostly the fault of a platform like Netflix jumping to build a big production around a viral personality who hasn’t actually established herself as a professionally funny person yet. What’s successful in a very online, bite-sized way won’t always be successful when you try to apply the same formula to a more traditional format, say an hour-long special. And despite the longer run time, despite the clearly bigger budget, despite the massive Netflix platform so many hard-working comedians and writers would absolutely kill for, Cooper barely steps outside the one gag that made her famous. You might as well just stay on TikTok.