8 Memorable Political Meltdowns in TV and Film History

You think Toronto has it bad these days? What about these fictional politicians who have totally gone around the bend in very public fashion? Let's all point and stare at some of our favorite political meltdowns.

Rob Ford has burdened the kind city of Toronto with a political debacle for the ages. Toronto police have released lengthy document detailing 97 allegations against the sitting mayor that outlines Ford as a living, breathing caricature of what a political figure shouldn’t be.

And as we know, political figures are always ripe for parody. Ford has generated plenty of it. You know it’s bad when even George W. Bush has a nice laugh at your expense.

Reality often is stranger than fiction as Mr. Ford has showed the world. While we eagerly await a Rob Ford biopic (boy do we ever wish Chris Farley was still with us), we came up with some memorable political meltdowns in film and television history.

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Cam Brady (The Campaign)

While running for his fifth term as congressman for North Carolina’s (fictional) 14th District, Cam Brady starts to unravel. It doesn’t help that Brady already has some of the more deplorable character traits of a certain ex-president turned up to eleven. His meltdown is triggered once someone finally steps up to run against him, Zach Galifianakis’s Marty Huggins, a sweet simpleton with pure intentions. Cam’s meltdown is multi-faceted; he leaves sexually explicit voicemails on random families’ answering machines, punches a baby square in the jaw, is arrested for drunk driving, and releases a sex tape with Marty’s wife, among other shenanigans. 

Leslie Knope (Parks and Recreation)

On P&R, Leslie is pretty much the ideal political representative. She’s an energetic, enthusiastic civil servant obsessed with improving the lives of those in her community and intent on keeping her moral compass straight and her integrity in tact. Unfortunately, the fictional town of Pawnee is filled with ungrateful dimwits that don’t appreciate Leslie’s tireless work, and in the latest season of Parks, they even try to get Leslie removed from City Council. This lack of appreciation would wear down the best of us, and when Leslie receives an international award for women in politics, she has a bit of a meltdown. During her acceptance speech, Leslie loses it and calls the people of Pawnee jerks and morons while flippantly accepting the award. Unbeknownst to her, the event is being broadcasted in Pawnee, making matters worse for poor Leslie.

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Nathan Petrelli (Heroes)

While running for congress and coming to grips with the fact that he has special abilities that have granted him the power of flight, Nathan Petrelli’s life sort of goes off the rails. In Heroes’ first and penultimate season, Nathan has an affair that is used for blackmail, gets involved with an assassination plot, and finds out he has an illegitimate teenage daughter, all while covering up he and his brothers’ powers. Regardless of all of this, Nathan wins the election, but on the night of his victory, he helps his detonating brother fly away from New York City to save the city from catastrophic damage. In the aftermath, Nathan becomes a severely depressed alcoholic and resigns from office.

Adam West (Family Guy)

In a show that prides itself on outlandish wackiness, Adam West (voiced by Adam West) is maybe the show’s least banal figure. Good luck trying to figure out what Quahog’s mayor is going to do next. He’s spent $100,000 on taxpayer money to investigate who was stealing his water, he’s sent his police force to Columbia to search for a fictional character from Romancing the Stone and he may or may not be comprised of 95 percent helium. A lot of the Rob Ford drama has stemmed from utter shock and speculation about what crazy situation the Toronto mayor will get in next. Maybe his closest popular culture counterpart is Batman himself, Mayor West.

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Sarah Palin (Saturday Night Live, HBO’s Game Change)

In the lead up to the 2008 election, SNL veteran Tina Fey frequently returned to Studio 8H to give her impassioned and highly praised Sarah Palin impression. As Palin-Mania was exploding, SNL capitalized off Fey’s excellent parody by registering its highest ratings since 1994. As we would later find out in Game Change, a book by political journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, and its HBO adaption of the same name, Palin’s unexpected rise to relevancy wasn’t the starry-eyed Alaskan dream the public bought into. Game Change dug into the pressure that Palin faced going from unknown to a full-blown celebrity virtually overnight. Without wandering off too far into a political debate, the film portrayed Palin as overwhelmed and on the verge of a breakdown as the election neared. Julianne Moore, who bares an even more striking resemblance to the former VEEP hopeful, played Palin to a tee, winning an Emmy, Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Award.

Will McAvoy (The Newsroom)

HBO is giving us a series written by Aaron Sorkin? Awesome! It stars Jeff Daniels? Sounds great! HBO gave us this trailer of the pilot’s opening scene and we gawked, dreaming of the possibilities that Sorkin would bring to his seemingly badass newsroom. Well it didn’t exactly turn out the way we dreamt it up, but The Newsroom has Will’s meltdown to remind us of how great this show could have been. Sure, he’s not a politician (though he’s a former Bush 43 speechwriter) but as a guy who makes a living bashing the Tea Party and holding our representatives to a higher standard, his “sorority girl” rant is a made for YouTube spectacle for the ages. Here’s to hoping Rob Ford pops up in season three for Will to bash.

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Col. Nathan R. Jessup (A Few Good Men)

There could be some argument made that high-ranking military officials do not play politics. Of course, that argument is hopelessly naïve. Take Col. Nathan R. Jessup in Rob Reiner’s cheese classic A Few Good Men. However, there is nothing cheesy about Jack Nicholson’s performance.

This tough as nail S.O.B. eats breakfast a few miles away every morning from Cubans who want to kill him, so that gives him carte blanche to do anything he wants, including killing his own men. So, when he is called to the stand by Lt. Daniel Kaffee and his ever-so-clean white, Navy shorts, he cannot wait to unburden his mind with the REAL truth. This is not a confession. It is a boast of proud arrogance by a man who thinks he is above the law because he perceives himself as a guardian of it. Who watches the watchmen? Apparently the whole courtroom during this full-throated meltdown.


General James Mattoon Scott (Seven Days in May)

If we’re bringing in military officers, none has had a more deafening self-destruction in fiction than General James Mattoon Scott in Seven Days in May. Played with exceptional self-righteous alpha male dominance by Burt Lancaster, he is the kind of proud peacock who believes that he knows better than anyone, including the U.S. Constitution and Fredric March’s President Lyman. When Lyman ratifies a treaty with the Soviet Union for unilateral nuclear disarmament, Scott takes it upon himself to lead a secret coup to overthrow the sitting U.S. president and instate himself into power. The scariest aspect of this Rod Serling scripted and John Frankenheimer helmed 1964 picture is how real it all seems. Like the horror version of Dr. Strangelove, Scott might have even succeeded if Lyman hadn’t caused Scott to melt before his plan could be implemented in the Oval Office. Yes, only the president was there to see this moment of weakness, but it was enough to give him the leverage to blackmail Scott out before the Constitution collapsed under the hubris of one general’s patriotism.

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