“We the People” is aggressively, viscerally enthusiastic. Presented in bursts of four-minute songs, the new Netflix series from Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions infuses civic education lessons with cheerful songs and psychedelic animation. Each bite-sized episode tackles a new side of U.S. government with the smiling fervor of a high school musical opening night, featuring a different performer and animation style that makes each one unique. . The collective result, which lasts only 40 minutes in total, is an overwhelming montage of information that almost immediately feels like a time capsule of past political optimism.
Created by “Doc McStuffins” creator Chris Nee, and produced by Kenya Barris alongside the Obamas, “We the People” looks more like a big-budget YouTube series than a Netflix original – but it’s essentially the goal. Aiming at the Venn diagram overlap between “Schoolhouse Rock” and “Hamilton,” the show has the overall feel and shape of one that strives to provide education and entertainment through multiple reruns. Since he leaves the creative reins to a new set of voices in just about every episode, however, only a few – like “Active Citizenship” (with HER) and “Taxes” (with Cordae) – reach the level of reveal more layers upon re-observation, or even baseline to provide a really informative earworm. (A single episode, of Janelle Monáe and Nate “Rocket” Wonder, was not available for review.) Otherwise, “We the People” is fascinating, if only because it manages to be both completely strange and totally predictable.
It’s not entirely surprising, for example, that the episode “Courts” (sung by Andra Day) ended its list of landmark cases in 2015. Almost more than anything else, it’s a series who really prefers not to talk about the noxious political discourse it has become the norm before its executive producers leave the White House. Instead, it leads Adam Lambert to sing a song about the Bill of Rights leaning on the forced smile of a line that his amendments “may not be perfect, but they so far work. ! ” (The exception to this rule is “The Morning Miracle,” the final episode featuring an original new poem by keynote speaker Amanda Gorman on bringing a better country out of the pandemic.)
The clash between the show’s overall commitment to seeing the government through rose-colored glasses and trying to be as truthful as possible is inevitably confusing. “The Three Branches of Government,” written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’s “Frozen” team, is deliberately chaotic as all branches are fighting for attention, but it’s too much overwhelming to be so effective. Brandi Carlile’s serious ballad “The First Amendment” is perfect until it has to make way for such creepy ideas as “there’s only one wisely built wall / that’s the wall between church and state! ” Perhaps the most secondary embarrassment comes from the episode “Immigration” as Bebe Rexha sings a happy song about all the amazing immigrants who made their living in the United States, simplifying the process into an unwittingly insidious line: “I have to spend a few years to master the test / take the oath saying you like this country the best…”
“We the people” is basically well-intentioned. It’s just not particularly enlightening as he would like, having preemptively prevented himself from exploring anything beyond the basics.
“We the People” is now available to stream on Netflix.
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