This Grass Roots Campaign Gets Out the Laughs

The 2008 election saw a major rise in grass-roots political activism on both sides of the fence, but how much of that Capra-esque enthusiasm for democracy has lingered? And now that those who showed up in droves to campaign for their candidates have returned to their regular lives, who remains to proselytize for elections large and small? TV writer and comedian Aaron Hilliard has one take on that question with his new series Grass Roots, a comedy about two low-level staffers on a state senate campaign whose enthusiasm for politics is matched only by their incompetence.

The Rosencranz and Guildenstern of local politics, Miles (Hilliard) and Harry (Kirby Heyborne) are in theory hoping to get their man Jim Clarkson into office. However, the major obstacle they face isn’t the other opponent, but Harry’s naivete and Miles’ arrogance. Full of both big jokes and subtle humor, the sharp characterization brings out the comedy in even the most mundane of situations, whether it be">Harry’s buying coffee for the office only to be told that creamer makes coffee a dessert, or Miles campaigning door-to-door and asking a female potential voter about where “the man of the house” might be. It’s not exactly a love song to politics, but serves instead as a reminder that political campaigns aren’t just scandals and grand speeches, but hard work and shoe leather, too.

Hilliard’s inspiration for the series came from visiting Des Moines during the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucus, when the campaigning was at its peak, and being interested in “really unimportant people, who have a skewed perspective of what they bring to the table,” he said via phone. He wrote the role of Miles for himself specifically to break him out of a bad habit: “I like to perform, I like to act, but every time I gear up to shoot something, I always end up giving myself the straight man part.” By tailoring Miles to his own talents and enlisting Heyborne for the role of Harry, he was able to give himself the best lines — but give Heyborne the best reaction shots.

Having been confined to the writer’s room on a number of TV shows, most recently HBO’s The Life and Times of Tim, Hilliard created Grass Roots primarily to flex his directorial and performing muscles. His approach — writing something simple in execution to allow for an emphasis on performance and character interaction — goes a long way to ensuring the show’s high production value on a limited budget. Two of the six episodes of Grass Roots‘ first season have already been released, with future updates happening on Wednesdays. And whether or not the first season ends with Jim Clarkson rising to elected office, there should be plenty of life in the premise beyond the initial six. One of the many advantages of a democracy — no one escapes re-election.


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