George Carlin's American Dream Review: HBO Documentary Falls Short

Chris Rock equivocated comedians as modern-day philosophers, but when it comes to the tireless efforts of George Carlin, his continued influence seems to be much more as an institution indicated in the HBO documentary George Carlin's American Dream. While so many comedians remained relevant to their respective eras, directors Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio try to encapsulate his legacy in a two-part documentary.

George Carlin's American Dream HBO Doc Trailer: Comedian's Evolution
George Carlin's American Dream. Image courtesy of HBO.

Apatow and Bonfiglio have the Herculean task of trying to define Carlin's life and legacy, but in all honesty, the legacy alone would need to be at least three-four parts and we could spend years researching and evaluating the impact his social commentary had and continues to have. The first part focuses on his early life in the more traditional straight-forward storytelling, told by those closest in his life including his long-time producerJerry Hamza and family members, the late Patrick Carlin, widow Sally Wade, and daughter from his first marriage, Kelly Carlin. Many of the comedian's contemporaries (including the aforementioned Rock, Paul Reiser, Steve Martin, Patton Oswalt, Bill Burr, Jerry Seinfeld, Eugene Levy, and more) discuss the influence he had on their lives and careers, with Carlin's Bill & Ted co-star Alex Winter and Dogma director Kevin Smith offering additional perspective.

George Carlin: HBO Teams with Judd Apatow for Documentary on Comedian
George Carlin as Rufus in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989). Image courtesy of Orion Pictures

Our introductory part barely scratched the surface of the man Carlin would be, focusing on his early beginnings as a traditional straight-laced comedian with the gift of song & vaudevillian-timing stemming from his own source of inspiration in Danny Kaye. The second part focused on Carlin as he emerged from his artistic cocoon into the angry, pseudo-cynical, counter-culture icon while also trying to sustain a career in acting. The documentary showcased various clips of his more animated rants, combining aspects of his whimsical roots with a wave of anger & passion aimed at many societal woes (including politics). Following his surge in the 80s and 90s, the documentary focused on his more-than-usual nihilistic final shows in 2001's Complaints & Grievances, 2005's Life is Worth Losing and 2008's It's Bad for Ya! The original title of Complaints & Grievances was I Like It When a Lot of People Die and his original ending actually ended up being one for this 2005 show. Both creative decisions factored from the events of September 11th, 2001.

My biggest problem with American Dream is that it almost seems to be a disservice to Carlin to tell his story in such a traditional, by-the-books documentary style. For example, Apatow and Bonfiglio could have looked at various examples of Carlin's influence on both comedy and activism over the years since his death. Instead, we're presented with a solid, decent examination of Carlin's art and impact. Definitely worth a watch if you're new to Carlin and want to learn more but in the end, this could've been so much more. There's a thorough docuseries examination of Carlin out there somewhere, in someone's mind as you're reading this. I'm looking forward to seeing when that one gets made.

George Carlin's American Dream

George Carlin’s American Dream HBO Doc Trailer: Comedian’s Evolution
Review by Tom Chang

6.5/10
My biggest problem with HBO's George Carlin's American Dream is that it almost seems to be a disservice to Carlin to tell his story in suck a traditional, by-the-books documentary style. For example, Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio could have looked at various examples of Carlin's influence on both comedy and activism over the years since his death. Instead, we're presented with a solid, decent examination of Carlin's art and impact. Definitely worth a watch if you're new to Carlin and want to learn more but in the end, this could've been so much more. There's a thorough docuseries examination of Carlin out there somewhere, in someone's mind as you're reading this. I'm looking forward to seeing when that one gets made.
Credits

Directors
Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio

Enjoyed this? Please share on social media!

About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
Comments will load 8 seconds after page. Click here to load them now.