Election night is the climax of any political campaign, and yet many of the greatest political films (like Wag the Dog and Primary Colors) run right across it – after all, all the hard work has been done on election night, and the team is just waiting for results.
Over the years, however, we have seen a number of television shows with political themes that deal with election night and give viewers something to watch in case the wait for the actual election night this year gets too tense. From the re-election of President Jed Bartlett to Betty Boop’s surreal candidacy for president, here are some of the best films and TV episodes shot on election night.
The West Wing, “Election Night”
In probably the most optimistic television show ever made about the political process, the West Wing gave us two different presidential elections and some midterm elections. The best of these, however, was “Election Night” in season 4, episode 7, in which Jed Bartlett (played by Martin Sheen) competed against the Republican Robert Ritchie (James Brolin).
Where you can watch: Streaming on Netflix.
Veep, “Election Night
Whatever your opinion about the 2020 candidate, be grateful that in real life we have been spared President Selena Myer (Julia Louis Dreyfuss), who will be addressing Bill O’Brien (Brad Leland) in Veep Season 4, Episode 10. The episode takes place entirely in Selena’s hotel room, where she presents her unique perspective on the election process (after winning Vermont and Connecticut, for example, she says, “Calm down. A bowl of hair could win these states”).
Where you can watch: Streaming on HBO Max.
RuPaul’s Drag Race: “Turn off the voting!
RuPaul’s Drag Race has become political in election years. In a few years, the Queens were commissioned to make campaign videos, but in the 2012 season, season 4, episode 9, there was a real and hilarious political debate between such memorable candidates as Lady Pimp Michaels (whose main campaign promise was to give the Capitol an “up-do”), Latrice Royale (campaign slogan: “For peace, vote Latrice”) and eventual winner Sharon Needles.
Where you should watch: Now available on CBS All Access, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.
The Comey rule, “Night One”.
While we are waiting for news about whether President Trump will receive a second term in office, it is a good time to remember election night in 2016, when Trump went from candidate with no chance of winning to elected president. One of the first dramatizations of that night comes from the first part of Showtime’s latest drama The Comey Rule, which well illustrates the pre-election bomb by James Comey (Jeff Daniels) and the shock of many people waking up after election night.
Where to watch: streaming on Showtime.
Kamala Harris is the third woman to run as vice president for a major American political party. Game Change told the story of the second, Sarah Palin, with the governor of Alaska, played by Julianne Moore alongside Ed Harris as John McCain in a story about the pitfalls of not properly vetting a candidate before letting him run for president a heartbeat away.
Where you should watch: Watch now on HBO Max.
Tear down the house
Not every documentary film about the political process is emotional enough to bring tears to your eyes. But not every documentary film is also Knock Down the House, the story of four progressive women democrats who set the established democrats priority challenges. At the top of the field is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is followed by the documentary from working in a bar to running for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Where to watch: streaming now on Netflix.
The candidate, Oscar winner for best screenplay in 1972, tells a story that many fence politicians surely dream of. Although he is almost 50 years old, the story of a senatorial candidate (Robert Redford) who quickly betrays his values in front of an electorate is still disturbingly topical today.
Where to watch: streaming on HBO Max and TCM.
“Betty Boop for President”
Of all the many fictional characters who have run for president, Betty Boop is one of the least likely. But in this charming short film from 1932 she does just that: she promises to keep the streets clean, offers door-to-door stops and huge umbrellas to protect the city from rain. Although her impressions of Herbert Hoover and Al Smith may not mean much to today’s viewer, the seven-minute short film is a great palate cleanser for when real life begins to become a little surreal on election night in the early hours of the morning.
Where you should watch: Right here.
The Good Wife, “In Sickness
The political campaigns of the “Good Wife” ran mostly in the background, but things came to the fore in season 2, episode 21 of the series when Alicia Florrick (Juliana Marguieles) learns some important revelations about her marriage as her husband’s prosecution race reaches its final day.
Where you can watch: Streaming on CBS All Access.
The War Room
Political campaigns have been the subject of many great documents, from elementary school in the 1960s to the 2009 referendum: the election of Barack Obama. One of the most dramatic, however, came through the masterful documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, who followed Bill Clinton’s campaign staff from the primary to the White House as they were beset by scandals and made all the campaign decisions.
Where to Watch: Streaming on HBO Max, Kanopy and The Criterion Channel….