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Tanner '88: The Criterion Collection

Television used to be where cinematic careers would go to die, but with the advent of HBO original movies, and the subsequent popular TV shows, made-for-TV efforts can now re-energize a falling star. One of the first of these phoenixes was Robert Altman. Coming off a decade of mostly misfires (like 1985's Fool for Love, and 1987's barely released O.C. and Stiggs) his 1988 mini-series Tanner '88 led to 1989's Vincent and Theo, and then to 1992's crossover success The Player. The concept of the miniseries was to place a fake Democratic candidate among the numerous presidential contenders of 1988, having candidate Jack Tanner (Michael Murphy) intermingle with the likes of Bruce Babbitt, Bob Dole, and Gary Hart (all of whom cameo). Considered a dark horse, Tanner works hard with support staff T.J. Cavanaugh (Pamela Reed), Stringer Kincaid (Daniel Jenkins), and Emile Berkoff (Jim Fyfe) to come up with a credible campaign. And though Tanner never becomes a front-runner, he does earn some heat after an impromptu speech that leads to an impressive TV spot giving his candidacy a slogan: "For Real." On the campaign trail they're joined by Tanner's politically aware daughter Alex (a teenage-looking version of "Sex and the City"'s Cynthia Nixon), who helps her father get arrested at a anti-South African demonstration, while he's also followed by the press, led by Hayes Taggerty (Kevin J. O'Connor) and NBC's Molly Hark (Veronica Cartwright). Hayes is put in an awkward position when he notices that Tanner has been carrying on a secret relationship that the other press members don't know about. The 11 episodes of Tanner reflect the rigmaroles that a politician has to go through to become elected, with stops at rustic farm houses, concert fundraisers, and trips to Hollywood. Produced and released during the actual primaries, the show must have seemed an eye opener at the time because it was reflecting the changes around them, with Dukakis taking the primaries, and having the cast participating in the Democratic National Convention — but for those with vague recollections of that political era, the series can't have the same bite that it did upon airing. That said, the show avoids some of Altman's more sardonic tendencies and plays to his strengths by using a large ensemble cast that riffs well off each other. Working from scripts by "Doonesbury'" creator Gary Trudeau, Tanner '88 mixes its satire with melodrama and shows how the presidential election has become more about the sound-bites and talking points that have entwined modern politics. Released in tandem with both the 2004 presidential elections and 2004's sequel Tanner on Tanner, The Criterion Collection presents the six hour series on two platters, with each episode including the introductions (featuring Murphy, Nixon, and Reed) done for the show's run on The Sundance Channel. Extras consist of a 20-min. interview between creators Altman and Trudeau. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.

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