White House Plumbers Season 1 Review – Gilt-edged choices make Watergate retelling funnier and more entertaining

Season 1

Episode Guide

Episode 1 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 -|Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 -|Review Score – 4/5
Episode 4 -|Review Score – 3/5
Episode 5 -|Review Score – 4/5


Authentic, straightforward, and thoroughly entertaining is how HBO’s new series about the Watergate scandal should be described. You do not need to know more to dive straight into the five-part season. Woody Harrelson and Justin Theroux disappear into their characters, Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy, respectively, who are also the central “plumbers” in the debauchery.

The Watergate scandal still remains politically relevant and will be for decades to come. It shook the very foundation of the idealistic institution of American democracy, maligning its undemocratic military actions outside its sovereign borders. But more significantly, it led to the resignation of the first sitting POTUS – Richard Nixon – and gave the source material to this brilliant mini-series.

Under the garb of catching the culprit behind the Pentagon paper leaks, Hunt and Liddy are recruited to do something even more “patriotic.” The right-leaning Republican men make every attempt to keep the “country’s interests” above their own in their bid to re-elect Nixon. A committee is formed to that effect and both these former spies are indulged in ridiculous acts, rather shenanigans, that do not suit their stature. Among the final approved plans is Project GEMSTONE, which requires these men to bug the office of the DNC in the Watergate complex.

Although they’re disappointed with this menial task, it speaks to them as an opportunity to get their “hero back into the Oval Office.” White House Plumbers follows the story’s authenticity from the start point to the end with unwavering conviction. The long period – almost five long years – is crisply expanded over five episodes. Carefully thought-out decisions on how to shape the narrative make sure that the storytelling is easy to follow and the viewers do not miss out on anything important.

Even though the show is committed to the retelling and its surrealism, there is also a focus on Howard and Gordon’s lives. Through these failed spies, WHP also explores the romantic ambition they have for a second chance and to prove themselves to their higher-ups. They see it as an opportunity to make things right and continue doing their part for America. There is a direct slight on the conservative right and the traditional ideals of patriotism that gripped the country through the 70’s and 80’s.

The writing is witty, self-aware, and in equal parts, serious-minded and respectful. Even though we see the intense exchanges between the two men as funny, in their minds, however delusional it may be, they are doing it with pure intentions. Their seriousness is reflected in their emotions and stout disposition. It clearly means a lot to them, especially Howard. Through the initial episodes, we see Dorothy being proud of how happy Howard is as he finally has a purpose in life again. It is almost as if that call from Chuck Colson brought Howard out from a long slumber that he was relegated to after the CIA.

Both these men represent not just a political ideology but also an aspirational version of the common man. Even though they aren’t “common men” by any stretch of the imagination, everyone below “the king” is the same, as is proved by the final outcome of the investigation. Howard realizes that in the final episode as well and looks back at his decisions with regret. The will to “do something for the country” might get vitiated when it meets the corruptive debauchery of political power.

White House Plumbers makes guilt-edged creative choices to characterize the story in a certain way that makes the narrative interesting. Among all the retellings we have seen thus far in cinema, WHP stands out for its uniqueness in handling the affair through an unexplored lens. There might be other perspectives as well, like Bob Woodward’s in All President’s Men. But seeing the story from the perspective of the men who did it provides even more intrigue to the show. The creators tap into the vast and exciting potential that Howard and Gordon inherently had quite meaningfully.

There is no getting past the exceptional performances that make the time spent worth every second. Harrelson and Theroux are incredible. One could simply watch them be the men and talk gibberish, for all we care about is seeing them be those men! The diction and tone in their voices were plausibly superimposed on the dialogue, giving it the dual nature of absurdity and seriousness referred to above. If these men hadn’t been played with this amount of belief and detailing, WHP would have seemed more of a caricature than a true retelling. Theroux must be unequivocally in the race for an Emmy.

Going beyond the scope of the actual events and into the dynamics of these men with their families and colleagues was revealing and insightful. WHP is an all-inclusive look at the era of shady politics and the social interaction of people with the institute of government told without remorse or fear of what could go wrong. The brazenness of the show must be the first thing appreciated, although it is certainly not the last, as you will discover.

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  • Verdict - 7.5/10

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