You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Vice’s Latest Documentary Takes Journey to Strange Land: Washington, D.C.

Aficionados of Vice often thrill to the millennial-skewing media outlet’s reporting from exotic, unfamiliar locales. In one instance, Vice might put a reader or viewer smack dab in a war-torn battlefield. In another, it could take someone to a rat-infested temple in the small town of Deshoke in India.

On Friday, Vice will help its followers journey to another bizarre domain: the nation’s capital.

The company’s founder, Shane Smith, will take viewers on a tour through eight years of heartbreaking government dysfunction with the latest episode of Vice’s HBO documentary series, “Vice Special Report: A House Divided.” In the nearly 75-minute broadcast set for HBO at 10 p.m. on December 9, viewers will see Smith, clad in suit and tie, trek from the Oval Office at the White House to a tony Republican social club in search of the exact causes of the deep schisms widening across the country. What’s unique about the program is its desire to explain and probe rather than burnish the shouting and hysteria that have become de rigueur across the cable-news landscape.

“This election was very interesting to our demo, and to our audience, but they are sort of disappointed with the mainstream take on it,” noted Smith in an interview. “We wanted to get a little deeper into why this is happening, into what are the roots of these reactions. I think that is sort of signature Vice.” He was initially worried the documentary would be “too policy-wonky,” but realized that his viewers “are very interested in this sort of topic, and not just to have sound bites. They want a history of how we got to where we are.”

The documentary took eight months to put together, Smith said, and the reasons for the weeks of work are evident. Smith interviews President Barack Obama; former U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner; former U.S. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor; and Republican pollster Frank Luntz, among others. A previous Vice documentary on prison reform, which followed President Obama on a visit to Oklahoma federal prison, had made an impact on both Republican and Democratic sources, Smith said. Boehner and Cantor, he suggested, wanted to get their stories out after leaving Congress in the wake of the rise of the Tea Party. “Everyone had a lot to say, and wanted to say it,” he noted.

The trip is in many ways a harrowing one. Viewers see Republicans feel rejected by President Obama as he sets about enlisting support for his Affordable Care Act. He would eventually pass it without Republican assistance (writing for Poynter.org, James Warren noted Wednesday that the documentary may give too much credence to Republican complaints: “The Republican leaders’ grousing about being victimized by Obama partisanship is very much a crock”). Yet viewers will see as the documentary unfolds how Republicans’ refusal to work with the White House leads to a gridlocked Congress, and the rise of a new conservative wing of legislators sent to Washington by frustrated voters. By the time the President’s second term is near its end, the documentary notes, neither side is getting much done.

The effort also provides some insight into how the political climate fueled the news media’s intense interest in disagreement and conflagration over solution and diagnosis.  In one scene, Luntz tells how he set up a strategy for Republican to fight the President and rues what it has done to the nation, telling Smith that “we killed the goose that laid the golden egg.”

“This was bad, and now he’s set this precedent and the media has glommed on that,” said Smith.”If you go and scream bloody murder, then it’s just more entertaining than plain, logical, centrist, functional politics, and so this crazy cycle has started, and who knows where it’s gojng to end?”

Some of Smith’s interview with Boehner turned up earlier on Vice’s daily news show on HBO,  “Vice News Tonight,” and Smith suggests the company’s weekly documentaries and the nightly news shows are likely to continue sharing some content. “One of the reasons that we did the daily is because it feeds into the weekly,” he explained. Reporters who might cover the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s recent protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline can file breaking-news reports for “Vice News Tonight,” he said, while continuing to gather string for a deeper look at the conflict.

Vice’s new documentary is not likely to comfort viewers. Smith said the program suggests President-elect Donald Trump is likely to face many of his predecessor’s challenges. He will have the support of the House and the Senate at the start of his administration, but if the American people aren’t pleased, Congress could become a tough opponent and gridlock could set in anew. “It’s a cautionary tale,” Smith noted.

And not just for Donald Trump. In one of the documentary’s last scenes, President Obama openly worries that a frustrated nation may push to make changes to some of America’s bedrock institutions and laws  – and wonders where that might lead. “There could be a movement for systemic change, and that’s a problem, because when a revolution happens, you don’t know where it’s going to end up,” said Smith. One of the lessons of the program is “let’s not get so frustrated with our democracy that we blow it up, because we never know where that is going to lead. This is a guy who has seen a lot of shit in the last eight years, and if that’s his biggest worry, then that should be our biggest worry,” said Smith.

The film’s last shot shows Washington D.C. by night. As the piece ends, viewers may agree that the city looks as unfamiliar to them as many of the other places Vice visits on a routine basis,

More TV

  • Vis-a-Vis Mediapro

    Fox's Hit Spanish Drama ‘Locked Up’ Gets Spin-Off, Launching 2020

    Fox Network Groups in Spain and Globomedia, the Barcelona-based parent company of production house The Mediapro Studio, have announced a spinoff to Mediapro’s flagship Catalan series “Vis a Vis” (“Locked Up”). Set to air on Fox networks in 2020, “Vis a Vis: El Oasis” will close the circle on narratives from the original series, bringing [...]

  • ‘Peaky Blinders’ Scribe Bringing SAS Special

    ‘Peaky Blinders’ Scribe Bringing Special Forces Story ‘SAS: Rogue Heroes’ to TV

    Steven Knight is adapting “SAS: Rogue Heroes,” bringing the story of the elite British special forces unit to TV. Knight has enjoyed enormous success with his series “Peaky Blinders,” and also penned “Taboo” and the feature films “Locke” and “Eastern Promises.” His SAS series will be based on Ben Macintyre’s best-selling non-fiction book “SAS: Rogue [...]

  • ‘Riviera’ Renewed for Season 3 at

    ‘Riviera’ With Julia Stiles Renewed for Season 3 at Sky

    Sky has ordered a third season of “Riviera” with filming starting this fall. Julia Stiles will return as Georgina Clios and the action is set to move from France’s Cote d’Azur to an international stage. Stiles will also exec produce the new season, which was announced soon after season two launched on U.K. pay-TV platform [...]

  • Ari Emanuel Endeavor

    Endeavor IPO Filing Offers Details of Company's Financials, Leadership Pay Packages

    Endeavor’s IPO filing Thursday offers a hard look at the company’s financial performance during the past three years during a period of rapid growth for the company that’s home to UFC, WME, Professional Bull Riders and a clutch of other assets. Endeavor is generating solid free cash flow from operations and healthy adjusted earnings for [...]

  • Blake Jenner What If TV Show

    'What/If' Star Blake Jenner on Creating Chemistry With Jane Levy, Renee Zellweger

    Blake Jenner first rose to fame in 2012 when he won “The Glee Project” and therefore earned a role on “Glee” proper. In the years since, though, he graduated from teen heartthrob status to meatier, edgier roles in films such as “American Animals” and now the Netflix limited series “What/If,” in which he stars opposite [...]

  • Mario Lopez Candy Crush

    Mario Lopez, Seth Kurland Set Latinx Family Comedy Series at Netflix

    Mario Lopez and Seth Kurland are teaming up for a new comedy series at Netflix. Variety has learned that the streamer has given a 16 episode order to the multi-cam comedy “The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia” co-created by Lopez and Kurland. In the series, when Ashley Garcia — the world’s only 15-and-a-half-year-old robotics engineer [...]

  • HBO logo

    TV News Roundup: HBO Announces Recipients of 2019 HBOAccess Writing Fellowship

    In today’s roundup, Fox Nation announces a fresh slate of programming for the summer and HBO announces the recipients of its HBOAccess Writing Fellowship. DEVELOPMENT: HBO has announced the recipients of its 2019 HBOAccess Writing Fellowship. The eight writers selected out of the 3,000 submissions will participate in an 8-month program of master classes and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content