TV critics nationwide have performed an invaluable service by recommending captivating but unheralded series to binge-watch during this time of pandemic. And now, I am pleased to suggest a little-noticed gem that has escaped their searchlight gaze.
It’s called “The Markey-Kennedy Debates,” and like all quirky shows, the series defies easy description. It proceeds this way: Senator Edward J. Markey and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III appear before a panel of inquisitors who try to discern whether Kennedy has a legitimate reason for challenging fellow Democrat Markey for a safe US Senate seat — or if the congressman is siphoning away millions of dollars and countless activist hours from Democratic efforts to win control of the Senate merely for reasons of entitlement and ambition. Once the series is over, the audience gets to vote on the matter.
I have now watched three episodes, and each is better than the last! Heretofore best known for (1) being a Kennedy and (2) giving the Democratic response to Donald Trump’s 2018 State of the Union speech with ChapStick smeared on his face, JPK III always turns in a diverting performance.
Mind you, as in ChapStick-gate, it’s not always for the reasons he intends.
Which brings us back to the show’s central question: Why is Kennedy challenging Markey? At this point in the series, it remains as big a mystery as ever, at least to this viewer.
On Monday’s episode, Kennedy’s big reason seemed to be that during the last election cycle, he traveled to 20 states to help Democrats take back the House. That, alas, undercuts one of his principal rationales from a previous episode. To wit: Such a constant presence in Massachusetts is he that he understands voters’ every vexation and velleity almost telepathically.
Another Kennedy argument consisted of criticizing Markey for matters on which Kennedy himself never had to declare a contemporaneous position or where his own record is as wispy as fog. Deconstructed, one such attack ran this way: Back when I was in middle school, you voted yes on the big crime bill that’s now out of favor with Democrats. Since I’ve now decided I would have been against it, it’s a fundamental difference between us.
Yet another deconstructed Kennedy attack left viewers with this: As a House member in 2009, you got a climate-change-battling cap-and-trade bill through that chamber, but it died in the Senate, so you are less effective than I am — even though I’ve never gotten anything of the same magnitude through any legislative chamber anywhere.
Like an aging but still able matador, Markey has some tricks he employs to pirouette clear of his snorting, charging contender. He’s wont to employ logic, facts, and history, which Young Kennedy obviously finds confounding.
In an episode last week, set in Western Massachusetts, Kennedy suggested he had spent more time thereabouts than Markey, whereupon Markey riposted: “My visits to Western Mass. are so frequent that I now have seven of the mayors of Western Massachusetts who have endorsed me, from Chicopee to Agawam to North Adams to Pittsfield.” Unless absence makes the heart grow fonder, which isn’t usually the case in politics, that point went handily to Markey.
On Monday, responding to Kennedy’s silly attempt to paint him as beholden to the fossil fuel industry, the senator noted that the big environmental groups have looked at both of their records — and endorsed him. Score for that point for Markey as well.
For good luck, Markey likes to invoke the name of a mystical hero of Young Kennedy’s generation — Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — while noting, delightedly, that she has endorsed him.
Anyway, if you’re looking for a new series on which to binge, try it out. Initially, it was categorized under political thriller, then mystery. These days, thanks to Joe Kennedy III’s madcap performances, you’re most likely to find it under comedy.