9 classic TV episodes about heated elections
Batman, the Fonz and Barney Fife got political in these fascinating shows.
Running for office always makes for great television, whether it be reality or fiction. It's no wonder there have been entire series built around politics, from Benson to The West Wing.
Even sitcoms occassionally work in an election storyline, spanning every level of goverment from student councils to president. On television, politics have pitted father against son, brother against sister, castaway against castaway, Batman against Penguin.
Here are some of our favorite election episodes from the past.
Batman - "Hizzonner the Penguin" and "Dizzonner the Penguin"
You have to read the fine print of the law. Turns out, a felon can run for office in Gotham City. Naturally, the villain in the tuxedo throws his top hat into the ring and runs for mayor. The Penguin claims to have gone straight, but we know that is not the case. Mayor Linseed convinces Batman to run in opposition to the Feathered Fiend, who in turn tries to smear the reputation of the Caped Crusader. So, a typical election, then.
The Andy Griffith Show - "Barney Runs for Sheriff"
The homey sitcom frequently dipped into the small town politics of Mayberry. In one of the last episodes, "Sam for Town Council," Sam Jones (Ken Berry) runs against Emmett Clark for a seat. Years earlier, way back in the first season episode "Ellie for Council," Andy's sweetheart, Ellie (Elinor Donahue), runs on behalf of women in the male-dominated council. But perhaps the most memorable election episode is when Barney runs to replace Andy as sheriff, only to have to end up challenging his good friend in a debate.
The Brady Bunch - "Vote for Brady"
It's Greg versus Marcia for student body president! In this early gem from season one, Marcia shows her tenacity but ends up conceding to her "new older brother."
Columbo - "Candidate for Crime"
Jackie Cooper (Perry White in the original Superman movies) plays crooked senatorial candidate Nelson Hayward. Not only does Hayward have a mistress, he'd rather kill his campaign manager than ditch his lover. He tries to make the murder look like a botched assassination attempt. Enter Lt. Columbo, who, naturally, is wise to the scheme.
Gilligan's Island - "President Gilligan"
We made a fake political ad that wondered what a Thurston Howell III campaign might look like, but Gilligan's Island did have an election episode. The Skipper makes his case with a "Don't Change Skippers" sign. The gang's shower acts as the voting booth, so naturally Gilligan pulls the wrong cord and wets himself. He wins the election thanks to the women's vote, and power quickly goes to his head. Turns out, being in charge isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Cheers - "Woody Gets an Election"
Frasier claims he could get a monkey to win 10% of the vote, and sets to prove his point with puppet candidate Woody. The dimwitted Woody runs for the District 3 city council seat, and his success leads Frasier to have a panic nightmare of a dystopian future in which Woody is president and drops a nuke. Who knows — because this episode came near the very end, perhaps that is what ended up happening in the universe of Cheers.
Happy Days - "The Not-Making of a President"
It's always a struggle when you go against your parents politically. With its cinematic, single-camera look, the first two seasons of Happy Days look surprisingly current. The show stuck to realism beyond its visuals. (There would be no musicals about American history yet.) In this year two outing, liberal Richie butts heads with Republican Howard by supporting Adlai Stevenson over Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1952 presidential election.
Mission: Impossible - "Wheels"
The IMF was constantly meddling in the political affairs of exotic countries. In "Wheels," Barney, Rollin and crew head to a Latin American country where rigged voting machines are unfairly tilting an election for the right wing party in power. Years later, the plot gets a little more complicated in "The Visitors," when the IMF agents pose as aliens in order to get a UFO fanatic to expose dirty candidates in the pocket of organized crime.
The Rockford Files - "Deadlock in Parma"
More gripping city council action! In the series finale, Jim heads to a small town in the mountains for some fishing and ends up tangled in the net of local politics. Jim sits on the council as a proxy for an environmentalist, which draws the attention of mobsters looking to swing the result a certain way.