One day, there will be a stunning adaptation of the 2016 election that takes America by storm. Unfortunately for The Comey Rule, that day is not today.
To be perfectly honest, there are several factors working against the series, the most influential of which being that we are still living in a Trump presidency. It’s too soon to have any sort of retrospective about what happened…because it’s still happening. Everyone already has an opinion on the election, Russian interference, Hillary’s emails, the investigations into both, and James Comey himself. There’s no point in rehashing it all. Not yet.
The miniseries largely functions as a defense of James Comey and the decisions of the FBI under his leadership. Largely based on Comey’s own book, A Higher Loyalty, the story is told almost completely from the former director’s perspective, dedicated to showcasing how he was unfairly treated and did the job to the best of his ability. To be fair, it does a decent job at this and the audience does get to understand what an incredibly terrible position he was put in. There certainly were not any good options for him to take.
And yet, there is still the feeling that the point of the show is for Comey to make himself a victim in the eyes of those who hate him. He is constantly portrayed as a saint, who takes the time to get to know the FBI staff, and is motivated almost 100 percent by his love for the department. Everything he does is to make the institution as credible as possible, but 2016 created a situation that made this task impossible.
Perhaps Comey is this great a man in real life as he is depicted in the series and maybe he really did get screwed, but it makes for bad and, quite frankly, boring television. Protagonists need flaws to make them real, but in this depiction, his only flaws are his optimism and stringent moral compass. He consistently does what he thinks is the right thing to do, both for the American people and the reputation of the bureau. Though he’s questioned on these actions, the framing always indicates there was never a reasonable alternative.
The casting is also lacking, as Jeff Daniels neither perfectly captures James Comey nor makes him very interesting. Despite being heavily featured in the marketing campaign, Holly Hunter has surprisingly little to work with as Sally Yates. Scoot McNairy’s Rod Rosenstein narrates the story, for reasons I have yet to figure out, whose portrayal is so disparaging of the former AG that it feels like the writers had a personal vendetta against him. And, for some reason, Barack Obama’s actor is in his early 30s, which really took me out of the show in his scenes.
But there’s no greater misfit in this series greater than Brendan Gleeson’s Donald Trump. This is not a knock against Gleeson, who certainly is able to replicate a decent number of Trumpian quirks; it’s just that, like the show as a whole, it’s too early to see anyone play Trump. I expect half of the people alive right now to be dead by the time an actor is able to successfully portray the current president outside of an SNL sketch.
This series appears to be an attempt to highlight why Comey was misjudged by the American people. To a certain extent, they succeeded, but its very existence feeds into the biggest criticism the country has of him: he wants to be a character in a story that’s not about him. The series largely stays away from what happened after Comey was fired, where he leaked information and basically became an activist. Daniel’s portrayal, however, is someone who would never seek the spotlight again after his dismissal, which is untrue to say of the man in real life.
Ultimately, Comey’s story is a good one and deserves to be told, but it needs to happen years down the line and be a small part of the much bigger mess that was 2016.
Comey Had No Political Motive
Comey hurt both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump through his actions. Simply by that standard, it should be obvious that the man did not make any of his decisions based on who he wanted to become president. In fact, most of what he did was to try to keep the bureau as politically neutral as possible. Regardless of whether he was self-aggrandizing, it should be fairly obvious that anyone hated by both Clinton and Trump supporters was not on either player’s side.
The FBI Made Some Mistakes, But How Could They Not
The series highlights how complicated it is for the FBI to be investigating matters surrounding presidential candidates. Every decision that is made could influence the public and swing the election. It is truly a terrible situation to be in where notifying congress of matters related to these candidates will almost certainly be leaked and used as political ammunition. As such, the attempts to follow precedent, but also be fair to both candidates, lead to faults being made. Given how utterly absurd the situation was in 2016, it’s not fair to hold the bureau to such an impossible standard.
It’s Impossible To Brief President Trump
My god, this miniseries made it seem like a nightmare to work in the West Wing. There are only short scenes of the FBI briefing the president, but given how much intel there must be on a daily basis, dealing with the president’s short attention span and lack of interest in the duties of the office, it must be exhausting. If the information doesn’t benefit him personally, then no threat or humanitarian issue means anything to Trump, which must make the lives of those in the intelligence agencies feel both infuriated and incredibly defeated round the clock