Original Airdate: Monday, November 6, 2000
Authored by Prighlofone and She-riff Lobo
Many sitcoms try and fail to address the political in a way that is educational, not overly sentimental, and fairly balanced. In season two, episode nine of Dad’s Casa, we finally see Dad engage with the topic at the forefront of nearly every heart and mind in America in the fall of 2000: the Bush vs. Gore presidential election. In what was no doubt an extremely risky and potentially polarizing move, “Dad’s Halloween Election” sought to remind viewers of the importance of participating in democracy and instilling a sense of voter pride in communities.
In the cold open, Dad wakes up the very groggy on the day prior to the presidential election. He thinks that today is Halloween. Carmella explains that he has been delirious for the past week due to salmonella poisoning that he got from eating a McDonald’s Bratwurst.
Dad is understandably upset that he has missed Halloween, his favorite holiday. He explains that his Dad never took him trick or treating on Halloween, which has led to a lifelong obsession with all things All Hallow’s Eve. He was determined to make sure that he didn’t let down the kid’s similarly, and wants to make it up to them by celebrating a week late.
Carmella reminds him that the presidential election is tomorrow. She thinks it is more important to teach the kids about their civic duty of voting than a dumb kids’ holiday. Dad goes to his closet and pulls out the Regis Philbin costume he had prepared in advance of Halloween. Donning a wig, his answer is simple: Can’t we do both?
Very early the next morning, the day of the election, Dad rolls out of bed now wearing a full Regis Philbin costume. He goes into the kids room banging pots and pans yelling “Halloween Election! It’s Halloween Election Day!” to wake up the kids, who shove pillows over their ears to block the awful sound. Dad explains to the kids that voting is your duty as an American, and is the most American thing one can do. Dad loads up the kids and lots of spooky decorations into the Dadmobile and drives downtown to the Civic Center, where voting will take place.
Dad arrives at the polling place and wants to put up the Halloween decorations he brought to help “make voting fun.” He begins putting fake cobwebs and skeletons on the grounds outside of the building, until Civic Center employee Gary (Andy Buckley) comes outside to see what he is doing. Gary at first thinks he is really Regis Philbin, and Dad explains that, no, he is just an active citizen. Gary says that he cannot put unlicensed decorations on municipal property. Dad says that he is trying to put the fun back in voting. Gary acquiesces, as he and several other townspeople prepare for Election Day. However, Dad’s relentless desire to shape the voting “experience” and his obsession with Bob Dole and talking about how much he prefers them to either candidate, and what a great President he would make, starts to grate on the nerves of Gary and his fellow workers:
However, Dad decides to volunteer with Gary to make sure the polls are running smoothly, and realizing his sincerity, Gary reluctantly allows it. Dad, Gary and the kids finish decorating the building so that it will be ready for the voters when they arrive. Dad eagerly joins Gary to help usher in the first voters.
Dad hands out voting stickers for the rest of the day at the precinct and takes his new role very seriously, actually running out the door to chase down folks who have left without stickers (always accompanied by the squalid skeleton, in one of the show’s best-known and loved montages). Eventually Carmella arrives with the kids. The kids run around chasing each other with oversized fake spiders while she waits in line to vote. Carmella votes, but won’t reveal who for. Gary, seeing his diligence with this seemingly unimportant task, gradually warms to Dad. In a tidy bit of fan service, Gary asks for Dad’s name, and thus the audience learns Dad’s name for the first time:
Here, Dad’s last name being Casa, of course, functions as a play on words as “casa” also means house in Spanish.
Once Dad and Gary part ways, Dad sees that his watch says 6:50 pm. In all the excitement of promoting democracy, he has forgotten to vote, and the polls close at 7:00 pm sharp! He frantically runs to the back of the voting line. When he gets to the front, he shows his ID, and almost isn’t let into the voting area because his Regis Philbin costume is so convincing. He whips off his wig in a dramatic fashion to prove that he really is Dad.
Dad goes into the booth, and begins filling out his paper ballot. From behind, you see the curtain of the polling booth slowly open. There is heavy breathing and a hand reaches into the frame and taps Dad on the shoulder. Dad turns around and shrieks, clutching his ballot to his chest, as the lights in his polling booth flicker. Big surprise! It is Bob Dole in a vampire costume.
Dad breathes a sigh of relief. Dole explains that he, too, loves Halloween and was driving by the Civic Center when he saw the decorations. He decided to come back in costume and thank the person responsible for making election night so exciting for the townsfolk. Voting percentages are up 80% over the 1996 numbers for the precinct, and Dad’s efforts are solely responsible. However, Dole also says that there is a difference between encouraging citizens to vote and harassing them, and while he appreciates Dad’s support, that he made his peace with his defeat in 1996, and that grace is one of the most important American virtues. Dad understands, shakes his hand gratefully, and puts his ballot in the ballot box.
The episode ends with a title card that says: “November 7, 2000. Please Vote!” As the show aired on Mondays, the episode premiered only one day before Election Day, with some of it taking place on the actual day it aired.
All in all, while the episode perhaps isn’t perfect, it’s pretty darn close. The viewer and critic response speaks for itself. Votership among the key demographics beat the projections, which certainly cannot solely be attributed to Casa, but the show’s cultural influence at the time cannot be understated. Furthermore, the episode was critically acclaimed by contemporary critics, netting the series’ first Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series at the 53rd Primetime Emmy Awards. (Its first win would come two years later, with “Dad’s High School Reunion,” also written by Justin Scerlack.) “Dad’s Halloween Election” was the third-highest rated primetime sitcom to air that week, with an impressive 25.4 million viewers, beaten only by Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond. It was higher-than-average numbers, as well as the season’s most viewed episode, and it was helped by heavy advertising both in TV commercials and on the Internet (Casa had one of the best viral marketing campaigns for any TV show that debuted in the late ‘90s) that guaranteed a special guest.
In hindsight, some modern viewers are eager to discredit the episode for refusing to take a political stance. Indeed, a show airing in 2019 might have a difficult time staying neutral. However, it seems that any piece of art–and, yes, Casa is art–that encourages viewers/readers to engage in the democratic process is one worth making.
- Andy Buckey guest stars as Gary, the Civic Center employee running the polling booths. He would later get his big break on The Office in 2006. Greg Daniels was a script supervisor for Casa, which would lead directly to his decision to cast Buckley as Dunder Mifflin CFO David Wallace.
- Originally, the showrunners hoped to get John McCain for the guest spot that eventually went to Bob Dole. Having just recently lost the Republican primary to George W. Bush, McCain thought that the primetime network appearance would be “too soon.” Producers felt Dole, who was frequently appearing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart at the time, was an obvious alternate choice to fill the slot, and they praised his appearance and his general demeanor which was “a lot more fitting for a sitcom, from a politician, than I ever would have imagined,” said writer Justin Scerlack.
- It is never actually stated who Dad votes for. In the DVD commentary, writer Stan Merman explains that it was understood amongst the writers that Dad would probably have voted for George W. Bush, while Carmella voted for Al Gore. However, they elected to leave it ambiguous so as to not alienate any viewers. In February 2001, shortly after George W. Bush’s inauguration, an Internet forum debate titled “Who Did Dad Vote For?”–which got over 200 responses from devoted fans–briefly became an Internet sensation. A sequel episode was planned for 2004, but numerous controversies and problems filming (in addition to the showrunners’ worry that it would be “too political”) precluded it from happening.
- Prigh’s favorite part of the episode:
DAD: “You must have felt pretty bad after losing the election a few years ago. I’m so sorry about it.”
BOB DOLE: “Well, I can’t pretend that I didn’t at first feel…Dole-ful.”
First time I saw that episode, I was laughing for a solid five minutes.
- Lobo’s favorite part of the episode: In the background at the civic center, you can briefly see a fading poster advertising “Carmella’s Caramel’s.” This is of course a call back to season 1, episode 19 (“Dad’s Casa-mels”), in which Dad helps Carmella with her fledgling caramel business (coincidentally, this happens to be one of Lobo’s most favorite episodes). These in-jokes would later become one of the things the show was most known for.