George H.W. Bush turned 88 on Tuesday. So you’d think that “41,” the documentary about him that airs on HBO on Thursday, would have been scheduled that night to honor the occasion. Actually, that would have been a mistake. “41” isn’t a birthday present. It’s a valentine, doilies not included.
The title refers to Bush’s status as 41st president — a designation that took on added significance when his son George W. Bush became 43d. Forty-one is a funny sort of number, and “41” is a funny sort of documentary. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since Bush was a funny sort of president. He was the fairly incongruous caboose on Ronald Reagan’s train — and stalled on the tracks when Bill Clinton came along. Other than the end of the Cold War and Gulf War, “41” has little to offer on his presidency. That makes sense, seeing how not all that much happened during it.